A top-25 showdown is on tap at PNC Arena on Saturday afternoon, as the 19th-ranked NC State Wolfpack play host to the 14th-ranked Miami Hurricanes in a key Atlantic Coast Conference showdown.
Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes are one of the real surprises not only in the ACC, but on the national level, as they are sporting a stellar 16-3 overall record. Things have only gotten better in ACC play, with Miami sitting atop the conference standings with a flawless 7-0 mark. Miami is the first ACC school with the exception of Duke and North Carolina to start the league slate out 7-0. Miami is 9-0 at home, but has taken care of business on the road as well at 7-1, including a 73-64 victory at Virginia Tech last time out.
Mark Gottfried's Wolfpack were considered by many to be the best team in the conference coming into the season. The Wolfpack have certainly shown flashes of that, with a 16-5 overall record. League play has been a little more testing, with NC State coming in at 5-3. All three of the team's league losses have come on the road, including a 58-55 setback at Virginia this week. The Wolfpack however, are a perfect 12-0 in Raleigh.
NC State holds a 9-4 edge in the all-time series with Miami and has won all six matchups in Raleigh.
The Hurricanes struggled to contain the nation's leading scorer, as Virginia Tech's Erick Green erupted for 30 points, but Miami held the rest of the Hokies in check and earned yet another road win in Blacksburg. Shane Larkin almost matched Green's output with a team-high 25 points for Miami, while Kenny Kadji and Trey McKinney Jones finished with 18 and 12 points, respectively.
It isn't explosive scoring that fuels the Miami attack, but rather stingy defense. The Hurricanes are among the nation's best in terms of scoring defense (58.4 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (.371). Despite modest offensive numbers overall, there is balance at that end of the floor, with four of the five starters averaging double figures. Durand Scott leads the team with 13.8 ppg. He is followed by Kadji (13.3 ppg), Larkin (12.9 ppg), and McKinney Jones (10.2 ppg). The team was without the services of center Reggie Johnson for a while due to injury, but his return to the floor can only bolster Miami's play, as 6-foot-10 senior is averaging a near double-double (9.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg).
The Miami defense will be put to the test in Raleigh, as NC State boasts of one of the nation's most explosive attacks. The Wolfpack are averaging 78.6 ppg on an impressive .503 shooting, including .400 from 3-point range. The scoring pool is deep, with five players averaging double figures, led by C.J. Leslie's 15.6 ppg. Leslie's play in the frontcourt is bolstered by Richard Howell (12.7 ppg, 11.0 rpg), T.J. Warren (12.1 ppg) and Scott Wood (11.6 ppg, 54 3-pointers). All-American candidate Lorenzo Brown (12.7 ppg, 6.9 apg) handles the point and is joined in the backcourt by solid freshman Rodney Purvis (9.6 ppg).
As offensively talented as NC State is, the Wolfpack, like many other teams, struggled to find their rhythm against the Cavaliers last time out. NC State blew a seven-point halftime lead by shooting just .348 from the floor in the second half, while allowing Virginia to score 14 points off 14 turnovers. The loss spoiled strong outings by both Leslie and Howell, who notched double- doubles. Leslie finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Howell checked in with 12 points and 11 boards.