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Next Up For Duke - NC State

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Duke v Louisville
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - FEBRUARY 12: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils defends the shot of Steven Enoch #23 of the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on February 12, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Just in time for the renewal of the Duke-State rivalry two stories broke. First, the ACC announced its scheme for the new 20-game schedule and no, Duke and State will not get home-and-home. And second, NC State’s Eric Lockett was arrested and charged with assaulting his girlfriend, Saskia Guilbaud, who’s publicly spoken on the issue. According to her Instagram page, she attended Florida International and is also a Miami Heat Dancer.

A one-and-done on the other end (i.e. a grad student transfer from FIU where he presumably met Guilbaud), Lockett has been suspended from the team.

So far NC State appears to have handled the situation properly. Will it have any affect on the team?

We doubt it but team chemistry is something you can see but never fully understand without being close to it (State also has issues with Kentucky transfer Sacha Killeya-Jones with coach Kevin Keatts saying Wednesday that he’s not “currently” on the team, whatever that means).

Certainly he’s been playing, averaging just under 17 mpg, and State will have to make that up.

State’s been playing a nine-man, perimeter-heavy rotation. The five guys getting the most minutes are Braxton Beverly, Torin Dorn, CJ Bryce, Devon Daniels and Markell Johnson.

You have to get down to the sixth man in the rotation, minutes-wise, before you get to anyone over 6-5.

That’d be 6-9 grad student transfer Wyatt Walker, so far most famous for modeling his arm for a replacement for a Classical Greek statue of Bacchus and then using his arm (one of them anyway) to grab an opposing player by the ankle and pulling him down).

After him we find 6-10 sophomore DJ Funderburke and then the now-suspended Lockett.

The thing about State is that Keatts prizes toughness and a desire to compete above everything else.

When you think about NC State you tend to think that Johnson, who starts at point, would be their most critical player but at least in terms of minutes he’s not: he’s only averaging about 22 per game.

The guy who is on the court most is Beverly, the hero of the Clemson game (he hit a huge three at the buzzer) and a guy who is an outstanding shooter.

You may remember that he originally committed to Ohio State and ended up in Raleigh after Thad Matta was let go.

That was a very clutch shot and he’s an outstanding three-point shooter but Beverly is far from State’s best threat from downtown.

Lockett was hitting 44 percent but not scoring a whole lot. Bryce is hitting 40.5 percent, Johnson 40.4 percent, Brendan Harris 40 percent, and then we find Beverly at 39.3 percent.

So as you might expect, State attempts to compensate for its lack of size with solid outside shooting.

It also compensates with athleticism and defense.

People don’t talk about it enough but the ACC has really become a superb league defensively. Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Louisville and Duke, although Duke’s focus has changed somewhat since focusing heavily on one-and-done freshmen.

NC State is part of that trend. Keatts’ basic strategy is to push you until you are tired and then pounce. The pressure never lets up - this is why, like FSU, he rotates players in frequently - and when your team falters, NC State is ready to take advantage.

He wants to see his team being aggressive man to man and in the passing lanes and tracks deflections, aiming for about 40 per game.

It’s a very different approach from the risk-averse Herb Sendek, who missed his calling as an actuary, or Mark Gottfried’s rather opposite riverboat gambler mentality.

How will this all translate at Duke?

Well, there are some challenges for State. Keatts puts an emphasis on mid-size, athletic players but Duke has those too and Duke’s are taller and more athletic. The Blue Devils haven’t shot well from deep this year but they’ve also defended the three brilliantly.

State’s clearest advantage is in depth. Duke relies on its starters almost exclusively for scoring and goes eight deep. It’s conceivable that State’s basic strategy could work and in the last five minutes of the game the Pack could pull away.

Certainly it worked last season as State won 96-85 in Raleigh.

We’ll see what happens Saturday. Keatts is still establishing his program and it takes a while to get your own guys in place and to instill your system.

He’s made tremendous progress so far though and his team is in line for a second straight NCAA bid. It’s a fun and engaging style and Keatts has clearly made the Wolfpack into a mentally tough team.

He does have one other thing going his way Saturday. Duke had a tremendous win at Virginia and a brilliant comeback at Louisville after falling behind by 23.

It’s still a team dominated by freshmen, and as great as they’ve proven to be, they are still freshmen. It’s entirely possible that they may not be totally focused on NC State because, let’s be honest, for whatever reason, they weren't focused on Louisville for 30 minutes and for 30 minutes, Louisville embarrassed Duke. After two epic games, can they keep it up?

We know this program well enough to know that Mike Krzyzewski knew that a lack of focus was possible at Louisville and that he has surely pointed out to his team that it doesn’t need to happen again.

If Duke comes out focused and sharp, it’ll do well. If it starts slow and has to deal with a State team that likes to punch hard late, well, that could get very interesting.

On another note, we’d like to say how much we enjoy playing State. It’s become somewhat rare in recent years and that’s just so wrong. Expansion obviously has costs, but Duke-State has passion, history and magic. It should be home and home and every year.

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