Duke is coming off an incredible 23-point comeback at Louisville, which puts them alone in first place in the ACC after Virginia knocked off North Carolina. The Blue Devils still have a few tough Games left with two against UNC standing out. That being the case, they can’t afford to look ahead of teams like North Carolina State, which is in need of another relevant win to confirm its spot in the NCAA Tournament.
There’s a chance this Game goes to similar to Duke’s recent wins against weaker teams in the ACC. That means the Game is competitive in the first half and NC State even has a lead, but Duke runs away in the second half and wins by more than 20 points. The best way for that not to happen for NC State is if it doesn’t turn the ball over. That hasn’t been a major factor for the Wolfpack, but they still struggle in most areas offensively, whether that’s making shots or getting to the free-throw line. The other problem in this Game is that they are one of the worst in the ACC at allowing free throws and two-point defense. None of those things are recipes for an upset or even to stay close.
The best way teams usually have a chance against Duke is if you’re a little bigger at the forward positions to limit the trio of RJ Barrett (22.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Zion Williamson (22.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and Cam Reddish (14.0 ppg) as much as possible. The issue is that NC State doesn’t exactly fit the bill with Torin Dorn often serving as a power forward in the starting lineup and he’s only 6-foot-5. It doesn’t get better as Devon Daniels and CJ Bryce are the same size, while the backcOurt is even smaller between Markell Johnson and Braxton Beverly. That being an issue, the Wolfpack may not even try to play man defense because they’ll likely be forced to use a guy that’s more than half a foot shorter to guard Barrett or Reddish. Already with a defense that ranks poorly, there’s a good chance Duke comes close to 90 points with huge Games from Barrett and Williamson. Tre Jones can’t be forgotten about either, who will lock down Johnson or Beverly, whichever one is shooting well.
To stay competitive, NC State has to shoot well because while it ranks well in offensive rebounding, that may not be possible in this Game. DJ Funderburk and Wyatt Walker are active on the offensive glass, but in addition to the bulk of Williamson, they still have to deal with a taller Marques Bolden down low. The Wolfpack have a few shooters in Johnson, Beverly and Bryce, but it’s rare that all of them are making shots at the same time, all below 41% from deep.
The Wolfpack also don’t have a good win on the road, which is another reason to back Duke. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that they gave up 113 points to North Carolina because they couldn’t deal with the size and continually committed fouls. There’s a good chance that happens again with the best route for NC State to cover being if Duke is lackadaisical on defense.
Our Pick – Duke -16.5