North Carolina State Wolfpack vs. Duke Blue Devils Preview and Pick

North Carolina State Wolfpack (13-6) +18, N/A O/U at Duke Blue
Devils (17-1) -18, N/A O/U, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C., 9
PM Eastern, Thursday

by Badger of

The No. 3-ranked Duke Blue Devils will likely have revenge on their
minds Thursday when they welcome the North Carolina State Wolfpack
into Cameron Indoor Stadium for an ACC tipoff on ESPN2.

After all, it was the Wolfpack that upset the Dukies as a 10-seed in
the opening round of the ACC tournament last season. Duke never
recovered, as they bombed out in the opening round of the NCAA
Tourney days later (to Virginia Commonwealth) and the rest they say
is history.

The Blue Devils are a completely different team now though. The guard-
heavy Devils are playing with the typical grit and determination of a
Coach K team, and it shows as they have only lost once this season (a
65-64 loss to Pittsburgh in OT back before Christmas). Last time out
Duke did what former No.1 North Carolina could not do, beat Maryland,
as the Blue Devils scored 51 points after halftime to pull away from
the Terps for a solid and impressive 93-84 road victory.

North Carolina State is also not the same team they were last season,
except for Wolfpack fans its not a good thing. After a solid start
to the season, the Pack has struggled once they have gotten to the
ACC portion of the schedule. They opened with bad losses at North
Carolina and Clemson, needed overtime to slip past Miami at home, and
then split two games last week (a loss at home to Georgia Tech 77-74;
then a win at Florida State 69-66).

Oddsmakers opened tonights game with Duke as a heavy 18-point
favorite. A total has yet to be listed at most betting sites, although
both teams have faced totals in the high 130s for most of the season.
A few bookies are listing Duke as a -2400 on the
moneyline, with NC State as a +1640.

Senior guard DeMarcus Nelson is undoubtedly the Blue Devils leader,
on and off the floor. Nelson leads them in minutes (31.4), points
(14.8) and steals (1.6) per game, but his composure down the stretch
of close games has been huge.

Gerald Henderson (13.6 ppg), Kyle Singler 12.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Jon
Scheyer (10.7 ppg) and Greg Paulus (9.3 ppg) are all solid scoring
options for the Blue Devils after Nelson, which is part of the reason
they average 85.2 points per game as a squad (4th in NCAA). Their
season shooting averages of 48.5 percent from the floor and 38.3
percent from 3-point range are also strong and a key to their success
this season. Duke lacks size inside, and can be out-rebounded often
(just a 2.3 rebounding margin), which is a weakness that the Wolfpack
can and will try to exploit.

The problem is that the Wolfpack is not a great rebounding team
either (167th with a 0.2 margin), so they must rely on solid shooting
on their first attempt. Their 45.6 filed goal percentage and 33.1 3-
point percentage is deceiving, as they would lead you to believe they
score more than just their 67.4 points per game average.

N.C. State clearly misses point guard Engin Atsur this season, as his
leadership and decision-making abilities are now playing in Italy.
The Wolfpack offense is also dealing with the shaky sophomore season
of Brandon Costner. Costner scored 30 points against Duke in the
upset last year, but was held scoreless against Florida State last
game, is averaging just 9.6 points per game this season, and has even
been removed from the starting lineup by head coach Sidney Lowe.

Without Atsur, and with Costner in a huge funk, the Wolfpack relies
heavily on forward J.J. Hickson to score. He is averaging 15.3 points
per game so far and is also adding 8.0 rebounds per contest as well.
Forward Gavin Grant (13.2 ppg) and guard Courtney Fells (11.2 ppg)
are the Packs other scoring options after Hickson.

Dukes defense has been weak at times throughout the season, but with
Nelson leading the charge, the Blue Devils seem to be able to turn up
the intensity at crucial times to get those important stops. They
allow 65.2 points per game and allow a 41.7 field goal percentage for
the season, but they are real good at closing out to opponents 3-
point shooters as their 29.7 3-point percentage allowed indicates.

N.C. State allows an average of 65.3 points per game on defense, but
with the exception of the 66 points they held Florida State to last
game, they have yet to even approach that level of defensive
efficiency in ACC play. They have been allowing over 75 points per
game in ACC action, thanks in part to the 93 points North Carolina
gauged them for back on January 12th.

Duke is the team that everyone loves to hate, but their 11-6 ATS
record so far this season might be making some bettors change their
tune. Duke is 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games at Cameron Indoor
Stadium, and has covered the number in five straight overall.

N.C. State on the other hand is a terrible 4-11-1 ATS and has
stumbled of late with a 1-3-1 ATS record in their last five games

Not only has the Wolfpack failed to win straight up in their last 10
trips to Duke, but they have failed to cover versus Duke in four of
their last five tries (lone exception was OT upset in ACC tourney on
neutral floor).

The over is a strong betting trend in this game, with it hitting on
eight of the Wolfpacks last nine games in the ACC. The Pack has gone
over the total in six straight, and seven of their last eight, while
the over has even hit three straight times for Duke as well.

Badgers Pick: I realize this game is in the hostile environment of Cameron Indoor Stadium, but Im still having a hard time
understanding why the spread is so big. Duke is playing great
basketball, and they are at home, but they are not 18 points better
than the Wolfpack. So I say take N.C. State plus the points in this game.