When the NC State Wolfpack host Duke on Jan. 12, it will be the best chance any team has to hand the Blue Devils their first loss of the season.
Mike Krzyzewski's squad has taken on all comers this season, skyrocketing to the top of the rankings with a 15-0 record. With victories over No. 3 Kentucky, No. 2 Louisville and No. 4 Ohio State, Duke has knocked off three Top Five teams in the process (though the Kentucky win is less impressive in retrospect).
After those statement wins, Duke's remaining schedule looks laughable in comparison. With North Carolina struggling and unranked, the ACC looks as weak as it has ever been. Duke is just beginning to delve into conference play, but as of Jan. 11, the only ranked opponent remaining on the Blue Devils' schedule is No. 20 NC State.
Fortunately for the Wolfpack, however, they're catching Duke at its most vulnerable, and they're doing it at home.
In Duke's last game, a 68-40 drubbing of the Clemson Tigers, senior power forward Ryan Kelly went down indefinitely with a right foot injury, according to ESPN. Kelly missed the 2012 ACC and NCAA tournaments after hurting the same foot, and he had tweaked the foot earlier this season.
That's a significant loss for the Blue Devils, who rely on Kelly both as a post defender and as a floor-stretching shooter.
Per ESPN Stats and Information, Kelly allows the third-fewest points per play in the country, but that's not even the biggest loss for Duke. Aside from center Mason Plumlee, the 6'11" Kelly is the only other useful big man at the Blue Devils' disposal.
If Krzyzewski wants to bolster his interior defense sans Kelly, he'll have to turn to raw freshman Marshall Plumlee or walk-on senior Todd Zafirovski. Those are Coach K's two least-utilized players; each has appeared in 12 minutes total this season, all of them in garbage time.
On the offensive end, big Ryan Kelly is the best long-range shooter in Duke's arsenal. He has hit 52 percent of his threes this season, good for twelfth in the NCAA and tops in the ACC.
So Duke is traveling to Raleigh without its most efficient three-point shooter, its best defender and one of its only big men. When you're facing a team that leads the league in field goal percentage and that features C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell in the paint, that's a nightmare scenario.
Leslie and Howell will have free reign to attack against Duke, knowing that if Mason Plumlee gets into foul trouble, Coach K has no replacement.
On the other end of the court, Duke's guards will have to try to shoot the lights out to keep the team in the game. Again, though, if Plumlee is forced to sit for any stretch, the Blue Devils will have no post scoring.
There is no better time for the Wolfpack to run into the nation's best team. With Kelly sidelined and Duke scrambling to replace him, this game is shockingly NC State's to lose.
Stats accurate as of Jan. 11, 2013.
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