The No. 7 Duke Blue Devils look to break out of a slump against the very team that started it, the North Carolina State Wolfpack, when the two teams square off in Durham, NC, on Monday night. The Wolfpack routed the Blue Devils by 22 less than two weeks ago, starting a stretch of three losses in four games for Duke, capped by a 52-50 setback to Virginia on Saturday.
The slump has dropped Duke to a third-place tie with the Cavaliers in the ACC, 1.5 games behind Louisville with just two regular-season contests to play. North Carolina State hasn’t exactly started a winning streak with that victory, dropping two of its last three games, though the Wolfpack are coming off a win over Pittsburgh over the weekend.
Duke is a 12.5-point favorite at home in this one, with the over/under set at 152.5.
Needing Some Wins
The Wolfpack are out of contention for the ACC crown, but they still need some wins to solidify their claim for an NCAA Tournament berth. North Carolina State currently sits at 18-11 on the season and 9-9 in ACC play, tied with four other teams for fifth in the standings. The top nine teams at the end of the regular season earn a first-round bye in the ACC tournament.
Freshman big man Manny Bates is only averaging 5.3 points and 4.1 rebounds for the Wolfpack this season, but the 6-11 forward is coming off his first double-double, tallying 13 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots in the win over Pittsburgh. If Bates can be a force in the paint against the Blue Devils, it will help the Wolfpack’s bid to sweep the two-game regular-season series with Duke.
Guard C.J. Bryce leads North Carolina State in scoring at 13.4 points per game and rebounding with 6.2 per contest, but it was Markell Johnson who had the biggest impact in the first meeting with the Blue Devils. The senior guard, who averages 13.1 points, had 28 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals to lead the Wolfpack effort.
Up And Down
The Blue Devils have lost close games in their four-game stretch, and they’ve lost blowouts. They’ve scored as many as 101 points, and they’ve scored just 50. Which team will show up for coach Mike Krzyzewski is anyone’s guess, but more than likely, it will be a fired-up squad in front of the home crowd.
Freshman Vernon Carey Jr. has paced the Blue Devils all season long in scoring (17.6 points) and rebounding (8.8 rebounds), but he’s also fouled out of the last two contests. He must be able to stay on the floor and be a presence in the paint against the Wolfpack.
Guard Tre Jones is the leader of the Blue Devils, averaging 16.1 points, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals. He’ll surely take the previous loss personally after Johnson’s big scoring game, so look for him to turn up the defensive pressure in this one. A big game from guard Cassius Stanley (12.1 points) after he managed just four points in the first meeting is a good bet as well.
Blue Devils Roll
It’s the time of year when the Blue Devils usually turn up their game. With a share of the ACC crown still within Duke’s reach — and two home games against in-state rivals left on the regular-season schedule — the Wolfpack will likely see the best version of the Blue Devils in this one. I see a completely opposite result from the first meeting, with Duke winning easily. I’m taking the Blue Devils -12.5 in this one.