Backyard brawl. It’s something special when close neighbors meet for local bragging rights. Tomorrow NC State’s men’s basketball team will hop on a bus and make the 25-mile trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play Duke.
It will be the 252nd meeting in a rivalry that dates back to 1912, when it was Trinity College against State College.
It might be tempting to look at State’s pedestrian 9-8 record and see the Wolfpack as little more than an annoying speed bump for Duke.
Duke assistant coach Nolan Smith says think again.
“One thing I told our guys is that, if they are foolish enough to go look at their record and think they are not good, they are wrong,” Smith said on a Friday media Zoom. “They are a much better team than their record. They should have much more wins than they have. We’re coming into this game knowing it’s a big-time game. They are skilled, they are talented and our guys know it.”
Don’t coaches say that sort of thing about all of their upcoming opponents?
Well, let’s go the scorecard. State took Purdue into overtime before losing. Purdue is on the short-list of teams likely to be playing in April. The Wolfpack lost to Louisville by five, to Florida State by two, to Clemson by five.
But lately State seems to have figured out to finish games. That 73-68 loss to Louisville came at home, back in early December. Earlier this week the same teams met in Louisville and State won 79-63.
Be honest, Duke fans. You would take a 16-point win in Louisville anytime.
State lost starting center Manny Bates for the season early on and they get most of their offense from their perimeter.
Sound familiar? Smith said Duke still has confidence in its perimeter defense and it was pretty good against Wake last Wednesday. But Miami got the ball inside too often from the perimeter and went from there.
“They have shooters,” he said of State. “Obviously, they’re small. They don’t have a true big. They have a lot of guards that can get it off the bounce. They can drive and kick and play together, They play hard. Just lock in and defend. We want to keep them out of our paint. That’s a huge thing. We feel like we have a very good defensive guard team. When they’re locked in, they’re tough-minded and they can guard the best guards in the league.”
Smith added that State is the league’s top offensive rebounding team and Duke has to limit that.
State is averaging over a dozen offensive rebounds per game.
Dereon Seabron has been State’s top weapon. A 6-7 redshirt sophomore, he’s averaging just under 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, while hitting 54 percent from the field.
“He’s a big-time player,” Smith noted. “First and foremost, our plan is to keep him out of our paint. He scores a lot at the rim and when he gets into the paint, gets into that foul-line area, he has a lot of shooters around him.”
Duke expects to have Trevor Keels back at full-speed tomorrow (Keels took himself out of the Wake game earlier this week after a mild injury). Smith joked that guys from the D.C. area aren’t allowed to take games off.
Smith and Keels are both D.C, guys.
And, oh, yes, expect to see Mike Krzyzewski back on the sideline.
And then there’s A.J. Griffin, who got his first college start in Winston-Salem and made a pretty compelling case for getting more.
“He scores at all three levels,” Smith said. “He can get to the rim and dunk it, he can hit the mid-range and he can shoot the 3. When you can score at a high-level at all three levels, that makes you very dangerous to guard. He’s just a player.”
How does Griffin change the game?
“It opens the court. Having somebody like him who’s making shots, now you have to guard and extend the defense.”
Smith added that Jeremy Roach reacted to coming off the bench “amazing. He knows he’s needed on this team.”
Lots of players will be needed tomorrow in a game crucial for Duke to maintain its momentum and start putting together a winning streak.