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Next Up - N.C. State

Fayetteville |

Barry Jacobs
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| Dave Glenn

State is coming to Cameron on Wednesday of course, for perhaps the biggest
game of the ACC season to date, and they seem like they are coming in with a lot
of confidence. Certainly their performance thus far has been
impressive. Who do you defend? State's offense, which has roots in
the Princeton offense, but which Herb Sendek prefers to call his own, and
certainly it's not exactly what Pete Carrill invented, is supremely
balanced. You have to defend everyone, all the time, or they will make you

Duke may have a bit of an advantage in that they can counter Cedric Simmons,
who has really come on this year, with a player who plays a similar game in
Shelden Williams. And Duke may also have an advantage in that Simmons is
not going to go too far away from the basket, so presumably Williams will be
able to defend down low rather than chasing Simmons all over the court.

State runs a lot of their offense through Illian Evtimov, who is superbly
fitted to the offense. They can station him in the high post and he's a
good enough passer to make you pay if you miss a cutter, and he can also rub off
and go down low and is cagy enough to get shots off over most people despite the
fact that he couldn't jump before his knee surgeries, and he certainly doesn't
jump better afterwards. All he does is beat you.

The rest of State's starters - Engin Atsur (we're amazed State's SID hasn't
had fun with his name, like the engine of State's offense. It's just ripe
for a pun), Cameron Bennerman, and Tony Bethel, have both elevated State's
athleticism and it's IQ. A few years ago, we heard that someone close to
the State program was surprised at how much time the coaches had to spend just
teaching fundamentals. Clearly, that era, a hangover from the limited
recruiting post-Valvano, is over. All these guys can play, and they all
thrive in State's offense - and they're all unselfish too, which isn't something
you see everywhere. Ask Rashad McCants' teammates, or John Gilchrist's for
that matter.

Then they have the luxury of bringing Andrew Brackman off the bench.
He's a throwback - not to say that he's a Larry Bird caliber player, but he has
some of those smarts in his game. He can take it outside, drive it, and
he's pretty much, well, amphibious, to borrow from the recently busted Charles

State has a bit of vulnerability in that they aren't the deepest team in the
world. Basically they use a seven-man rotation, with Gavin Grant fleshing
out the rotation. His play has been erratic, and while he is talented, he
has cost State at times. Expect Duke to attack him very aggressively to
see if they can force him into mistakes.

Given what we've seen of Duke over the last few years, our guess is that the
priority will be to cut off the three point shooting. But with State you
choose your poison, and given Duke's trouble containing dribble penetration this
season, Cameron Bennerman will love it if Duke goes that route. So will
Evtimov, who may get to hit Bennerman and the other cutters from his perch up

That gets somewhat complicated if Williams doesn't have to chase Simmons
around, but State could bring Brackman in to force Williams out.

And Duke has some tough matchups anyway. Williams and Simmons is a
pretty straightforward affair, but will Josh McRoberts draw Evtimov? They
are actually somewhat similar players skill-wise, although Evtimov is a more
refined shooter, and at 6-11, McRoberts is more powerful underneath and a better
rebounder. But our guess is that if they played pickup ball together, they
enjoyed it. They both like moving the ball, and both do it well.

As has been the case a couple of times this season, J.J. Redick will probably
have to guard a much more athletic player in Bennerman, but that's a two-way
street, since Bennerman will have to run after him all game, and we've seen that
wear some guys down this season. And as much praise as Redick wins for his
offensive improvement, his defense is dramatically improved, too. He's
become a really good defender. Bill Russell says that defense is really,
when you get down to it, just trying to get your guy a few inches away from
where he wants to be, and who would know better?

We really admire Engin Atsur's game - at times, the guy is like a
machine. He just makes the right decision time after time after
time. When he's on, he's beautiful to watch. Most likely Sean
Dockery will start out on him, and he's proven to be a very, very good defender
this year. We could see him guarding Bethel too, since he's pretty
athletic, but that would leave Paulus with a significant disadvantage vis a vis

Just as an idle question, while the initial reaction would be to say Redick,
the question is: which of Duke's seniors has improved the most since their
freshman year? You could make an argument for at least three of them, and
possibly four.

Paulus will guard whoever the coaching staff sees as the less critical guard.
That's no insult to Paulus, who has really come on as a defender in addition to
being a superb playmaker, but Dockery is just a better defender and more capable
of disrupting an offense, as we saw against Clemson.

A significant wild card for Duke will be the availability of DeMarcus
Nelson. If he's good to go, all the better. He could come in and
pick up either Evitmov, if he proves to be a significant mismatch for McRoberts,
or Bennerman, if Redick can't contain him. Against anyone, he'd be a big
asset. Against State, he's particularly important, because of his
versatility. Evtimov can get a hook off against a lot of people, but he'd
have a harder time driving on Nelson, who is quite capable of blocking a shot by
a bigger player.

For State, the obvious and immediate challenge is to slow down J.J. Redick,
and Cameron Bennerman is exactly the kind of guy who has bothered Redick during
his career. This year, though, with his extreme conditioning, Redick is
able to emulate Chris Mullin, or, going farther back, John Havlicek. Both
guys were in superb condition and could run for hours, long after normal players
had dropped. Redick is heading down that path, and the difference between
the Redick who led Duke to a stunning late comeback against N.C. State in the
ACC Tournament, when he was, in relative terms, pudgy, and the lithe assassin
who moves and moves and waits for his chance to stick a knife in your ribs, is

We seem to remember Sendek, in a previous matchup, telling his players to
never, ever, let Redick go unattended, even if he was near halfcourt. And
really, you can't. He's dangerous from just about anywhere. Sean
Dockery hit a remarkable shot against Virginia Tech, but who in the ACC do you
think would you expect to make that shot? Only one guy, really.

Depending on how State tries to manipulate Williams, Duke can of course
reasonably expect to alter some shots when State hits cutters heading for the
basket, and Duke's overall defense is usually pretty intense. But State
represents a different challenge, and we haven't even talked about State's
defense, which has been superb.

State has held opponents to .381 from the floor, which is considerably better
than Duke has done, at .422. But State has done a lot of that against
their traditionally weak early schedule, where Duke has played some tougher
opponents, so it may be misleading.

In conference games, for instance, Duke is the highest scoring team, at 80.5,
just ahead of State at 78.8. Virginia leads in scoring defense, partly
because they have to shorten the game and so hold the ball a lot. Duke is
third, at 67, and State is seventh at 72.2.

Duke's scoring margin in-conference is +13.5 to State's +6.5.

State and Duke are 1-2 in three point percentage, with the Pack shooting .524
and Duke coming in at .439. Both teams have attempted 82 in conference,
with State obviously converting more. But Duke is defending better,
holding teams to .286, while State gives up .354

Check this out - in ACC games, Redick is averaging 27.8 ppg. But guess
what: Justin Gray is coming in at 27.3, not far behind. And UNC's
Tyler Hansbrough, if he continues to average over 20 ppg in conference, is a
lock for Rookie of the Year.

But enough distractions, statistical and otherwise. In the Krzyzewski
era, what we've come to expect is passionate effort. Chances are any
script you imagine, any scenario you devise, will be ruined soon enough.
What this game will come down to is what most great Duke-State games come down
to, or maybe we should say most Krzyzewski-Sendek games come down to, which is
hardnosed defense, and who refuses to yield. State has given Duke fits,
even as Duke has won most of the games since Sendek came to Raleigh, but they're
always there, and they're always a pain. We said a while back that State was
like the kid brother who irritated you until he grew up and started to kick your
butt. Well, State is just about grown up. This is going to be a very,
very intense game, and State absolutely has a chance to knock Duke off in