State handled Pitt without too much trouble Wednesday night, winning 81-70 behind a sensational game from Cat Barber and a very good one from Trevor Lacey.
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Barber had 34 while Lacey had 21. Each guard had five assists.
The third guard, Ralston Turner, finished with just four.
The win sets up a rematch with Duke. State won the first game, in Raleigh, thoroughly whipping the Blue Devils, and a repeat here would take any lingering questions away from State's place in the NCAA field.
That said, as well as State has played lately, Duke is not the same team either.
First of all, the bench has changed: Rasheed Sulaimon is long gone and Grayson Allen has emerged as a solid replacement.
Second, Tyus Jones had a minimal impact in Raleigh; since, he's increasingly seen as the best point guard in the country.
Matt Jones is also playing much better than he did in the first game.
State's win over Duke was when we first got a glimpse of this team's potential. With a tremendous backcourt and some solid big men, State has come a very, very long way from the team which lost to Wofford.
So what will happen Thursday?
Well, to an extent that may depend on Quinn Cook.
As Duke's best backcourt defender, Cook will likely spend a fair amount of time on Barber or Lacey, whichever gets hotter.
On the other hand, though, State still has to deal with Jahlil Okafor, and that's not been easy for anyone.
In Raleigh, Okafor scored 23 points on 8-11 despite the presence of Beejay Anya, perhaps the ACC's finest shotblocker.
It's also worth remembering that Justise Winslow and Amile Jefferson, the one-time State recruiting target, combined to shoot 4-15 (although Jefferson did grab seven rebounds).
Basically, only Cook and Okafor played well.
In short, while State laid a whipping on Duke in Raleigh, which was followed by a whipping by Miami in Durham, the teams taught Duke a big lesson.
Since the Miami game, Duke has lost just once, on the road to Notre Dame.
Following that game, Sulaimon was removed, and despite the concerns at the time, it was a net positive. Duke has been very impressive ever since. There were close wins over FSU, UNC, Virginia Tech and UNC again. Syracuse was handled with ease twice, Clemson was methodically dispatched, while Duke completely destroyed Notre Dame and Wake Forest.
We don't normally predict wins, which would take a lot of hubris, and State has improved enough to make that a foolish move.
What we do expect though is this: Duke will play at a much, much higher level than the Blue Devils did in Raleigh.
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