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Next Up - NC State

Time: 7:00 || Venue: || Cameron Indoor Stadium || Video: ESPN

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NCAA Basketball: Miami at Duke
Jan 21, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Amile Jefferson (21) gets pumped up in the second half of their game against the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Those of you who read this site on a regular basis have heard us speak fondly of NC State basketball.

It’s our second favorite ACC school and we like its traditions and history. We loved Reynolds and the light meter and the whole nine yards. The new barn is kind of sterile but even so it’s vastly superior to the Dean Dome.

We always pull for State to do well - other than 2-4 times per year.

This year, the Wolfpack comes to Cameron with a talented if perplexing team. There is serious NBA talent in Raleigh, starting with freshman sensation Dennis Smith. Then there’s Abdul-Malik Abu, who almost came out last year, promising young big man Omer Yertseven.

The other guys aren’t far behind. Terry Henderson is at times Terry Terrific and Torin Dorn and Maverick Rowan are also gifted players.

Ted Kapita and Markell Johnson are not nearly as good as they will be eventually. Beejay Anya is still around and while his weight has been a problem, he has always been a shotblocker and a solid defender.

And to be sure, State is struggling but this is a Tobacco Road war and you can expect the best the Wolfpack has to offer.

Whatever issues the Pack has, offense isn’t one of them.

Smith has been sensational. His biggest problem is that he at times doesn’t involve his teammates sufficiently, but with talent that extravagant, it’s understandable. And there is no doubt about his talent. When you look down the history of the ACC some guards jump to mind ahead of the rest: Phil Ford. John Lucas. Juan Dixon. Jason Williams. Steve Blake. Mark Price. Bobby Hurley.

He’s not as polished as any of those guys, all of whom stayed until at least their junior years, but he’s as talented as any of his predecessors.

Yertseven has struggled to adapt to U.S. style of basketball, but he can shoot, run dribble - he's a real basketball player. He’ll be a major pain in the ass with a couple of years of weight lifting.

And as we said, the other guys can all score. Since Mark Gottfried came to Raleigh with his UCLA offense, State has not struggled with offense.

They have struggled with defense though and never more so than this year, something Gottfried has consistently lamented, at one point more or less throwing up his hands and saying they’d have to decide if they were serious about the season or not. And he has a point.

In conference play, here’s what State has given up to other teams:

  • Miami - 81 (L)
  • Virginia Tech - 78 (W)
  • UNC - 107 (L)
  • BC - 74 (L)
  • Georgia Tech - 86 (L)
  • Pitt - 74 (W)
  • Wake Forest - 93 (L)

State is giving up 84 ppg in ACC play. As Gottfried rightly noted, his team is capable of outscoring other teams, but when you get to a certain point, you’re really in a crapshoot. Life is just easier when you get some stops.

That’s a lesson that Duke has struggled with as well, most recently Saturday against Miami.

The young and brilliantly coached Hurricanes picked Duke apart in the first half as the lethargic Devils simply didn’t defend.

At halftime we thought about a headline reading Miami whips Uke, 73-61. And then the punchline is Duke had no D.

Hey, you try being clever every day.

Fortunately Uke found the D and became Duke in the second half and beat Miami senseless. It was so bad for a while that you looked for the guy sitting behind the Duke bench with a Miami voodoo doll and a fist full of pins.

After their brilliant first half, the young Hurricanes had no earthly idea how to stop the onslaught and were crushed.

But it took a half. And it wasn’t the first time this year that Duke looked ragged.

We’ve seen the team that steamrolled UNLV, Georgia Tech and Miami. It’s also the team that struggled with Elon, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Louisville.

A lot of this is because the team has had a freak wave of injuries and even Coach K has missed time due to a back injury (Grayson Allen suffered a nasty finger injury against State so it may not be over yet).

The nice thing about the Miami game was that you sort of sensed that Duke found its heart.

Getting Amile Jefferson back was huge. He only scored five points, but he played defense and rebounded at a high level. And as always, he’s a superb on-court communicator.

As great as he was though Matt Jones was better.

We’ve talked before about seeing him, early in the season, try to pick his team up by himself. He really did it with Miami.

Jones scored (13 on 5-7) and played pit bull defense.

In short, he played like a senior who wanted his team to get moving.

Duke also got some solid play from Marques Bolden, who like pretty much everyone else is getting over an injury. It almost sounds repetitive to say that Frank Jackson appears to be over his own ankle issue.

The bench scored 31 against Miami; the ‘Canes got zero points, three rebounds and one assist from theirs.

The shorthand for this game, naturally, is going to be if State can get it going and if Duke can keep it going.

It’s more basic than that really.

It’s just this: Duke found its heart in the second half against Miami. State has not yet totally found its own.

If the Wolfpack can find it in time, this game will be nothing like the State-UNC debacle or even the win that young Wake Forest was so lucky to get over the weekend in Raleigh.

If State plays up to its potential and Duke does too, this game has the potential to be a flat-out ACC classic.

Everyone always talks about the talent and competitive nature of this conference, but all too often they miss a key factor: the fear of being left behind.

In our opinion, ACC teams are particularly dangerous when the season is slipping away. On the one hand, everyone lines up to shank a team when it’s down

On the other, the competitive DNA of the Atlantic Coast Conference means that a team that’s struggling is particularly dangerous. So if you think for a minute that State is coming to Durham to just go through the motions, you better seriously reconsider that idea.

State is coming for a fight. And win or lose, Duke will know it’s been in one.

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