Friday, January 19, 2007

Duke at NCSU Preview

Saturday (3:30 PM, ABC), the Blue Devils (15-3, 2-2 ACC) roll in to Raleigh to take on North Carolina State (11-6, 1-3 ACC), looking for their third ACC win in one week. Duke is coming off of a 22 point victory over Wake Forest less than two days prior, while NC State has not played since defeating the same Demon Deacons one week ago. The two contests could not have been more different, however. Duke's victory was keyed by their most effective defense of the season, limiting Wake to just 62.3 points/100 possessions, and allowed just 40 points, fewest by a Duke team in an ACC contest since 1958. The Wolfpack, meanwhile, out-gunned the Deacons, shooting over 60% from the field, including 9 of 20 from beyond the arc (an effective field goal percentage of 68.8).

The different styles in wins over Wake Forest are indicative of the larger trends for each team so far this season. When Duke has lost, it is because of below average (for Duke) defense- the Blue Devils are 1-3 when the opposing team has an offensive rating of 100 or higher. Most often, it is the opponent's free throw rate which decreases Duke's defensive efficiency, as illustrated by the Georgia Tech loss, in which the Yellow Jackets got to the line in 74% of their possessions. NC State, meanwhile, is 0-5 when their offensive efficiency dips below 100, and are 11-1 when it exceeds this average. Incidentally, it is also free throw rate which seems to drive the Wolfpack's offensive ability, and they are 2-6 when failing to get to the line in more than 30% of their possessions.

Ability to reach the free throw line is only a major factor when a team is either consistently good or consistently bad, and NC State is very much the former. Playing a rotation that barely goes seven deep, the Wolfpack are shooting over 71% from the line on the season, with sophomore forward Brandon Costner the only one shooting below 65%. This may prove to be a decisive factor in the game, as Duke will be facing a team with similar height for the first time in ACC play.

When the clock is moving, the offensive runs through 6-8 junior Gavin Grant (16.1 ppg), who has played nearly every minute of every game for NC State this season. However, Grant is not very efficient with all of his opportunities, shooting less than 30% from 3-pt range and turning the ball over at an alarming rate (28% of his possessions). His turnovers are also complimented by plenty of assists, coming at a Josh McRoberts-like frequency (24% of his possessions). Two other players are averaging 16 points per game, but with very different styles. Sophomore center Ben McCauley has been a monster down low, racking up an eFG% of 61.4% despite attempting just two long range shots all season. He is also second on the team with 3.7 apg. Costner has also put up big numbers for the Wolfpack, achieving this through above-average output in the paint and from beyond the arc.

As a team the Wolfpack shoot 58.5% on their two-point shots, which ranks fourth in the nation. If they were able to grab more offensive rebounds, their offense would be much more deadly, but they grab just 28.5% of their misses (299th in nation). They have made up for this as previously noted, by an ability to get to the free throw line (and convert), but against Duke's stifling defense, failure to create second chances may doom NC State in this contest. Indeed, Duke's Josh McRoberts and Dave McClure have above average ability to grab the defensive rebound and may make a large difference in the game.

Duke's game plan may depend on the availability of NC State senior guard Engin Atsur, who has missed 11 of the last 12 games with a hamstring injury. He did play in the loss at BC but was not a factor, with zero points in 32 minutes. In his absence, the Wolfpack play five players 30 minutes or more, with senior reserve guard Bryan Nieman getting the most minutes off the bench. If Atsur is again on the sidelines, Duke should strongly consider pushing the pace as they have in their win over Miami and the first half against Wake Forest, attempting to tire the Wolfpack and to get Grant and McCauley into foul trouble.

In the half court game, Duke's defense will need to focus on interior play- double teams and weakside help, much like they did to begin the Georgia Tech game. For Duke to be effective in this strategy, Lance Thomas must stay out of foul trouble. On offense, Duke will need to exploit NC State's inability to limit 3-pt field goal percentage- if Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus are strong from beyond the arc, this one may not be much of a contest. However, nothing is certain on the road in the ACC, and NC State has weapons that can cut at some of Duke's weaknesses. Even so, expect Duke's newfound transition offense and continued defensive domination to control this game. Duke, 65-50.

1 comment:

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