Duke opens the ACC Tournament with a dangerous and rested N.C. State, and for those of you who are history-minded, there's an interesting parallel: In 1997, Duke opened ACC play with a depleted N.C. State team under a new coach. That team beat Duke, overcoming heavy odds. It was one of Sendek's finest moments.It's not exactly the same now. Duke is still a solid team, with an NCAA bid more or less guaranteed. And State, while thin, has some real talent. But the parallel is striking.
However, it's not exact. Herb Sendek's first team was extremely thin and wasn't very talented. This year, State has a very solid five or six players, although they are also fairly young, and after a bruising regular season, possibly ground down as well.
But with Brandon Costner, Gavin Grant, Ben McCauley, Courtney Fells, and Dennis Horner, the Pack has a solid group. When Engin Atsur can contribute, they're very dangerous.
Duke of course will be playing without Gerald Henderson, who is emerging as a reliable scorer, after he was charged with a flagrant foul in the UNC game.
Duke will rely on its defense to shut the Pack down. And unless we miss our guess, Duke has taken the aftermath of the Henderson situation and used it to challenge his teammates. We don't know what Coach K said privately, but our guess is that it's not the same things he has said publicly. We expect he'll challenge his team, perhaps in fairly stark terms. With several days to push the right buttons, Duke might come out with a surly attitude. It's going to be an interesting game, to say the least.