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Next Up - NC State

Can Duke continue the excellent play we’ve seen lately?

Tyrese Proctor (5) dribbles the ball during a men’s college basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Virginia Cavaliers on February 11, 2023, at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA.
Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Date: || 2/28 || Time: 7:00 PM || Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium || Video: ESPN

On Saturday, Duke triumphed over Virginia Tech, which must have been very satisfying for the Blue Devils considering how the game up there ended. And also on Saturday, NC State played Clemson at home, losing badly, which was anything but satisfying. Now these two Tobacco Road rivals play for the second time this season after State took Duke apart in Raleigh, and that is going to be an interesting game indeed.

If you didn’t see it, you couldn’t possibly believe how badly Duke played in Raleigh. NC State shot out to a 20-0 lead and it never got much better than that.

State just crushed Duke and, it must be said, Duke played like a scared young team. Kyle Filipowski was the only starter to score in double figures as Duke finished shooting 39.6 percent and had 21 turnovers.

A lot has changed since then. NC State has emerged as arguably the best ACC team of the Big Four (State, Duke, UNC and Wake Forest, the four ACC schools in North Carolina, constitute the Big Four).

But Duke, which has improved rapidly and which is now ahead of the Wolfpack in the ACC standings, has an argument now too.

Duke defense has been good all season but lately, the offense has made huge strides. Against Virginia Tech, the offense was fluid and dominant.

In Raleigh, Dereck Lively started but had not really begun to show his true abilities. Tyrese Proctor was briefly moved to the bench for a couple of games including this one. Jeremy Roach was still dealing with his toe issue and shot 0-8.

Not to say this implies a Duke victory, but this is not that team. Lively has become dominant inside and has improved his offense in general. Proctor has returned to the lineup and is now the primary point guard.

Most observers would agree that Duke’s offense has improved markedly. Thing is, the defense has too.

Most people notice this immediately with Lively, who has gotten better and better at defending around the basket. But it’s not just him. Roach appears to be healthy now and he can dog ballhanders again. Filipowski’s footwork, for a guy of his size and age, is really good. Mark Mitchell’s D has also been hard to get past. And then there’s Proctor.

His transformation has been really interesting to watch.

Remember, he was behind at the start, getting to campus only after the Boomers finished in the FIBA Asia Cup, which they won.

In the beginning, he seemed somewhat overwhelmed and not particularly confident. Boy has that changed.

Watch him as much as you can. He’s playing with a swagger now. He knows he can take whoever is guarding him and he’s pretty sure he can shut that guy down, too. His defense has been really impressive. He not only moves his feet, his hands are a whir too. He had a great steal against Virginia Tech, pressing Hunter Cattoor into losing his dribble, then reaching in, taking over the dribble himself, and heading to the other end of the court. Cattoor, who had fallen to the ground, could only watch.

He’s improved as fast as anyone we can remember.

Good thing too, because State’s backcourt is a load and present some matchup concerns for Duke.

Terquavion Smith, Jarkel Joiner and Casey Morsell are all excellent on both ends. Smith, a reed-thin 6-4 sophomore, can basically shoot it from anywhere. Morsell, a 6-3 senior, has become State’s most reliable three point shooter. And Joiner, who joined State this year after leaving Ole Miss has had a tremendous year.

A 6-1 senior, Joiner has been on a tear lately, averaging 23 points over his last five games. He hung 29 on UNC and Wake Forest in back-to-back games too.

Those guy make DJ Burns much, much harder to deal with.

Honestly, when Dusan Mahorcic went down in December, we figured State was screwed. But Burns has really stepped up. He’s not a great athlete - his body is too thick for that - but he’s a supremely smart athlete. He knows exactly how to use his bulk and while he’s not overwhemingly quick, he’s quick enough. He’s exactly the kind of player who can give Lively trouble.

State may not have Jack Clark, but they didn’t have him the first time these teams played either.

Duke fans are naturally going to look at this game as payback and it’s understandable, particularly after what happened in Raleigh.

Here’s the better way to look at it, or ways: if Duke wins, the Blue Devils can accomplish the following:

  • Stay ahead of NC State in the standings. With a win here, Duke would be guaranteed to finish ahead of NC State and also UNC.
  • Finish Jon Scheyer’s first season undefeated in Cameron.
  • Improve NCAA seeding as much as possible.
  • Continue to apply and refine recent advancements.

It’s a big opportunity for Duke in many ways. Let’s see what they make of it.

DraftKings has Duke by five, and of course, add links when they become available.