Come Thursday, the Duke Blue Devils will be meeting the North Carolina State Wolfpack for the second time this season.
In handing Duke its first loss of the season just three weeks ago, North Carolina State has the chance to give Duke their third loss. Judging from Duke's last game against NC State, there are some obstacles to overcome in this game.
First, Duke's defense has been the primary problem for the Blue Devils this season. In the loss against NC State, Duke gave up 84 points. In their loss to the Miami Hurricanes, they gave up 90 points. While offense is certainly not a problem for Duke, their ability to stop others from scoring has been subpar.
Only averaging 35.7 rebounds per game, Duke is 146th in the nation. And against a team they allowed to score 84 points, that is not going to cut it. Senior Mason Plumlee, who is averaging 10.8 rebounds per game, will have to be spot on in Thursday's game to cut down on NC State's ability to score.
Second, Ryan Kelly's absence will be something Duke has to overcome. Second in rebounds and the third-leading scorer, Kelly is a huge player for the Blue Devils. Kelly, who has been out for six consecutive games with a right foot injury, has not been cleared for Thursday night's game. His effectiveness on both sides of the ball would be key for Duke.
Duke has had to adjust in light of his absence and appear to be doing well without him. In what is sure to be an emotion-filled game, Kelly's absence may prove to be more of a hindrance.
In contrast to Duke's defense, NC State is just ranked right above Duke in points per game. The Wolfpack, ranked 12th in the nation for points per game, scores an average of 78.5. Also, NC State boasts a .504 field-goal percentage making them 5th overall.
North Carolina State will score. There is no doubt about that. Looking at the first meeting, it is obvious that NC State can keep up with Duke's high-scoring offense. Perhaps in this case, while Duke's defense may not be able to shut down NC State completely, Duke will have to outscore the Wolfpack.
Duke has come a long way since that first loss to NC State. Adjustments have been made, and they are beginning to have the look of a championship caliber team. However, this second meeting, in which there is vengeance to be paid, Duke will have to overcome some hurdles to be victorious.
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