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Next Up - NC State

The Pack is coming back but are they ready to attack?

Quinn Cook and co. will likely get a tough game from the Pack.
Quinn Cook and co. will likely get a tough game from the Pack.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Next up for Duke is a visit to Raleigh to play the Wolfpack, and Raleigh has not been the easiest place for Duke to play recently.

Duke brings a reconstructed team, built around three freshmen, all of whom have been tremendous.

By contrast, under Mark Gottfried has had to significantly rebuild his roster nearly every year he's been at State and this year is no exception.

Last year, after heavy losses, State built around TJ Warren, who proved to be sensational. For a good bit of the year he carried State pretty much by himself.

By the end of the year Jordan Vandenberg had become a competent center, Desmond Lee and Ralston Turner had become solid players, Tyler Lewis came off the bench to inject some passing and three point shooting and the freshmen had some moments.

State lost Warren to the draft, Lewis decided to transfer and Vandenberg graduated.

Coming into the season,  Gottfried had a talented but raw Cat Barber at the point, Lee and Turner, a still rotund (but less so) and BJ Anya, Lennard Freeman and Kyle Washington.

He also had Trevor Lacey who made an Alabama Getaway to become part of State's team and freshmen forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and the Caleb twins, Cody and Caleb.

Lacey has been an immediate hit, scoring 16.7 ppg. Turner is putting up 13.1. Barber is hitting for 11.8 ppg and 3.6 apg.

State's freshmen are all small(ish) forwards: Abu has come on lately and is close to living up to his hype; the Martins are improving but not yet dominant players. Caleb is the better, getting 18.9 mpg to Cody's 8.1.

State's biggest concern has been frontcourt consistency. The 6-9 Washington has been the most consistent player so far, averaging almost seven ppg and 5.2 rpg.

Anya is getting 4.5 ppg and 3.9 boards and also 3.1 blocks. With a wingspan of 7-9, his potential as a shotblocker cannot be ignored.

Freeman is scoring 3.4 ppg and 6.6 rpg.

We should add that State's starting guards - Lacey, Turner and Barber - are averaging 11.5 between them.

State's big men are averaging 14.9 ppg in 58.7 combined minutes.

Compare that to Jahlil Okafor, who's getting 18.9 ppg in 29 minutes and you can see why State would like to get at least one consistent big man.

In the short term, though, it's post by committee, which is how State is likely to defend Okajor.

The talented young big man will get everyone's attention in conference play in a major way. Wake's double team will likely be emulated until Duke and Okafor prove it can be be mastered.

A lot of attention will naturally go to State's committee and Okafor, but as Duke has proved repeatedly, if you double team him, you likely leave Amile Jefferson or Justise Winslow unattended, and either guy can really hurt you.

Against Virginia, State started Washington, Abu and the three guards who usually start.

That presents some matchup challenges on both sides, starting with guarding Okafor. Can Abu guard Jefferson? Not if he's asked to double team.

Turner is 6-5 and 205. He has experience and the homecourt advantage, but Winslow likely has him solidly beat when it comes to power and explosiveness.

The backcourt matchups should be compelling too.

Barber is probably far quicker than Tyus Jones, but Jones' mastery of the point guard position is farther along than Barber's. They'll challenge each other in a number of ways.

Lacey, who has been a tremendous asset for State and who as much as anyone has kept the Pack competitive in Warren's absence, is an outstanding offensive guard. Quinn Cook will likely get the call first; Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones will help to keep the pressure on.

Depending on the situations and matchups, Winslow may spend some time on him as well.

In short, while State is going to go after Okafor, Duke is going to go after Lacey in a big way, and with fresh legs.

State's averaging 72.8  ppg; take out a big chunk of the 23.8 ppg that Lacey and Turner provide and that's a big problem.

We have the greatest respect for what Gottfried has done at State, particularly since he's rarely had the same core of players for more than a year, and it's not the same problem John Calipari has at Kentucky. He's had transfers, one early NBA player and players who graduated or exhausted their eligibility. And we have immense respect for State's tradition and that crowd.

Could State pull off another upset in Raleigh? Certainly. But here's the thing: State's margin for error is much less than is Duke's. Passion and energy can make up for some of that, but not all of it: the guys on the court will have to play very well to win.

Either way, we expect a close game.