The first time Duke took on NC State the Blue Devils were No. 1 and heading into the ACC showdown short handed having just lost Ryan Kelly.
Nearly a month later Kelly is still out and heading into the rematch the Blue Devils are now even more short handed as junior forward Josh Hairston is expected to miss the game with an infection in his arm. Hairston suffered a cut to his arm in the Wake Forest game last week that required stitches. He wore a sleeve over that arm against Florida State this past weekend but apparently the cut has become infected and will keep him out.
The loss of Hairston which was met with some level of cheer from Duke fans is believe it or not a blow. Hairston is often maligned for his shot choice but he is a big body that certainly would help against NC State who has a solid front court. Without Kelly and Hairston, Duke is perilously thin in the front court.
Hairston wouldn’t be expected to do a whole lot in terms of stats but he offers both Mason Plumlee and Amile Jefferson a break. Without him that will likely fall on Alex Murphy, who has shown flashes of being able to contribute but nothing consistent, and Marshall Plumlee who hasn’t shown really any sign of being able to contribute this year.
The first meeting saw the Wolfpack hand Duke its first loss when the Blue Devils got beat up on the boards. Richard Howell was a one man wrecking crew. The Blue Devils attempted to counter with Amile Jefferson who played well but was limited due to foul trouble and fouled out.
Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry both had solid offensive games, however, Plumlee was less effective having to deal with the constant double teams he faced, really for the first time all year thanks to Kelly’s absence. Duke got nothing though from freshman Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook had an off game from the field as well.
NC State pushed the tempo and beat Duke down court for easy transition points several times. Duke has to do a better job on the boards as well as in their transition defense.
Duke isn’t the only one of these teams though that may be missing players, the Wolfpack enter the game with a bit of lineup uncertainty of their own as guard Lorenzo Brown has missed time with an ankle he injured in NC State’s victory over North Carolina.
They have struggled without Brown in the lineup losing their last two games including a heart breaker at home to the ACC’s new top dog Miami. This could be a cross roads game of sorts for NC State if they want to stay in the race for the ACC’s regular season title. The Wolf Pack will be hoping to duplicate last month’s victory over Duke as well as avenge last year’s colossal meltdown in Cameron.
Duke is coming of its best performance since Kelly went down with injury but even at home it is unrealistic to think that Duke will be able to shoot 60 percent from the floor like they did this past weekend against Florida State. The Blue Devils shot nearly 45 percent in the first game but only were 6-20 from behind the three point arch. They have to be better on Thursday.
The Blue Devils will must really be better defensively as they allowed the Wolfpack to shoot 50 percent from the floor and behind the arc. If they allow those kind of numbers again they will most likely lose.
This game isn’t really a rivalry game but it could come down to a matter of pride for Duke who is looking to defend its home court this season, something they failed to do often last season. They also need to win to keep pace with Miami who has a 2.5 game lead in the ACC race.
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