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Next Up - A Triangle Battle With NC State

And the Pack is always a tough out

Florida State v Duke
 DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 31: Ryan Young #15 of the Duke Blue Devils huddles with teammates during their game. Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 86-67.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Date Jan. 4 || Time 7:00 || Venue PNC Arena || Video ACCN ||

Duke heads to Raleigh on Wednesday to face the 11-4 NC State Wolfpack and the rivals have produced some spectacular games over the years, including the agonizing 12-10 NC State win in the 1968 ACC Tournament.

Kevin Keatts has done well against Duke since his UNC-W team played the Blue Devils in the 2016 NCAA tournament and he has held his own in Raleigh.

His teams are typically aggressive, smart and play very hard.

Unfortunately, he has had the same problem two years in a row: his big men got hurt early.

Last year, it was Manny Bates, now at Butler, who went down with a shoulder injury in the first minute of the season. This year, it’s Dusan Mahorcic. A 6-10 transfer from Utah, Mahorcic is not an elite big man, but he’s good enough to shore up NC State inside. He’s also pretty tough.

DJ Burns, a thick senior, is a 6-9/275 lb. transfer from Winthrop, has been the primary replacement. He’s strong and capable but we don’t think he was recruited to start. We haven’t watched him closely but he’s 275 and that’s a lot of weight to carry in a running game.

He’s backed up by Ernest Ross, slim 6-9 sophomore, and Ebenezer Dowuona, a 6-11 junior.

Center is a legitimate concern for State. The other starters aren't bad at all, starting with 6-4 sophomore Terquavion Smith.

The Greenville native took a tour through last summer’s NBA Draft before deciding that he liked being in college and returning to Raleigh.

The NBA analysts were impressed though and Smith will likely get there soon enough. He’s pretty athletic and has a gunslinger’s mentality. He’s averaging 18.1 ppg this year.

Jarkel Joiner, a 6-1 senior transfer from Ole Miss, has worked out well: he’s leading the team in minutes played and averaging 15.7 ppg.

Casey Morsell, a 6-3 senior who left Virginia to play for State, is putting up 13.5 ppg. And Jack Clark, a 6-8 transfer from LaSalle, is averaging 10.4 ppg. He’s also the best rebounder at 7.3 per game.

The depth gets a little iffy after that. Greg Gantt gets 12.2 mpg but he’s not scoring much. Obviously he’s doing things that get him time but we haven’t seen him enough to know what they are. He sat out last season with an injury and we really don’t have a good feel for him yet either. He could emerge later as a significant factor for State.

Gantt has only played in five games so far this season. His shooting is considerably off what he did at PC: he shot around 42 percent there. This season, he’s averaging 28.6 from the floor.

Breon Pass, a 6-0 sophomore, and LJ Thomas, a 6-2 freshman, round out the rotation.

Duke will almost certainly go at State inside with Kyle Filipowski, Derrick Lively and Ryan Young, and will try to put pressure on Burns.

And 6-8 Mark Mitchell and 6-6 Dariq Whitehead may add to the load for NC State inside as well.

Duke will have a significant size advantage but if Jeremy Roach isn’t able to go, it might backfire. The junior captain has been dealing with a toe issue for weeks. He’s a huge key for Duke and if State can limit him, it won’t be good for Duke.

Jaylen Blakes has been surging lately. He scored 17 points at Wake Forest and 17 again against Florida State. In those two games, he shot a combined 12-18 overall and a very impressive 7-10 for threes.

Tyrese Proctor had been starting but came off the bench against Florida State. When he came in that game, he was playing with notably more aggression. We could see either guy starting in this one but Blakes has made a strong case.

Back to the big guys: Lively had a couple of blocks in the Florida State game but his offense fizzled. And while Filipowski was visibly frustrated and not overly effective against the Seminoles, we’ve seen before that he can play.

You’d expect them both to play better and as noted, Duke has a considerable size advantage.

However, State’s defense is formidable and Duke may find it difficult to get the ball inside. Over the years that we’ve watched him, Keatts has often had teams that seem undersized, but those are usually his toughest squads. He teaches defense well and recruits tough kids.

The Wolfpack will certainly go after Roach and Duke will have another problem if their captain is limited or aggravates his toe again.

Last of all, playing in Raleigh has never been easy. Reynolds was every bit as tough as Cameron and while the PNC isn’t nearly as robust, it’s no cakewalk for big games like Duke or UNC. State fans are passionate, knowledgeable and intense. They’ll bring it.

Duke is certainly going to be favored and should be, but the Wolfpack should not be overlooked.

We’ll add links as we find them.