Raleigh, NC – The top-ranked Duke Blue Devils play their first true road game of the season on Saturday, when they make the short trip to Raleigh to take on the 20th-ranked NC State Wolfpack in a key Atlantic Coast Conference showdown.
Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils are one of just two unbeatens left in the country, as they have run the table thus far at 15-0. Duke has been atop the polls for a couple of weeks now and earned their sixth straight victory as the top team in the land with Tuesday's 68-40 blasting of Clemson to move to 2-0 in conference play.
While Duke sits at the pinnacle, it was believed to be NC State's year in the ACC prior to the beginning of the campaign. Mark Gottfried's Wolfpack had a couple of early-season lapses against Oklahoma State and Michigan, but have looked the part of conference contender since, winning nine straight games and both its league tilts thus far, knocking off Boston College (78-73) and most recently, Georgia Tech (83-70).
Duke holds a 139-97 advantage in this longstanding rivalry, the most played series in Duke history (236 meetings). The Blue Devils have won three straight and 26 of the last 29 meetings, overall.
Duke was able to post the lopsided win over the Tigers this week, but the victory came at a cost, as forward Ryan Kelly suffered a foot injury in the first half and is now out indefinitely. Quinn Cook erupted in the game for a career-high 27 points. Duke shot just 29 percent from the floor in the first half, but held Clemson to a mere 10 points over the first 20 minutes. The Blue Devils bounced back after the break, knocking down 72 percent from the floor (18-of-25) to run away with the game. Before his injury, Kelly was able to net 12 points. Star forward Mason Plumlee was limited to just eight points, but he did grab a team-high 13 rebounds.
Losing a key contributor like Kelly (13.4 ppg, .521 from 3-point range) would cripple most programs, but Duke has the depth to assuage the loss for awhile. Plumlee has been one of the nation's most dominant low post players this season, converting 61.6 percent of his shots and leading Duke in both scoring (17.7 ppg) and rebounding (11.4 rpg). Seth Curry provides perimeter balance with 16.0 ppg, shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc. Cook and freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon add to the scoring depth with 11.4 and 11.2 ppg, respectively. The Blue Devils are averaging 79.3 ppg as a team, and are enjoying a +18.9 scoring margin.
There aren't many teams out there that can match Duke's offensive firepower, but NC State is certainly among the few. The Wolfpack lead the nation in field-goal percentage (.530) and rank 11th in scoring (81.3 ppg). The scoring depth is vast, with five players averaging double figures. C.J. Leslie is a strong all-around performer, converting 58.1 percent of his shots, and averaging a team-high 15.6 ppg, while grabbing 7.3 rpg. All-American candidate Lorenzo Brown is next and runs the point, with the ability to both score (13.1 ppg) and get others involved (6.7 apg). Richard Howell (12.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg) is the resident muscle down low. T.J. Warren (12.5 ppg), Scott Wood (12.1 ppg) and Rodney Purvis (10.0 ppg) round out the top contributors.
Brown had another superb outing in the win over Georgia Tech, as he posted a double-double with 21 points and 10 assists. Wood hit four 3-pointers and finished with 20 points, while Leslie poured in 19 points. Purvis added 13 to the cause, while Howell brought in a game-high 12 rebounds. NC State was once again ultra-efficient, shooting .509 from the field, including a 7-of-16 showing from behind the arc.