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The Big Four go back at it -- previewing UNC/Duke and State/Wake

UNC @ Duke -- 2/9

This is gonna be good. I had been thinking that the Heels would beat the Blue Devils soundly, but after Duke's showing in Winston-Salem, I'm ready to give the Devils more credit. They may rely too heavily on JJ Redick and Shelden Williams, but they haven't let that hurt them against deeper opponents. I really thought Wake Forest would be able to get Shelden Williams in foul trouble and limit his minutes; that wasn't the case.

Big Shelden will be the most important player for the Dukies again on Wednesday, and I'm doubting that fouls will be an issue (especially since the game is in Durham...).

UNC Adj FG%: 58.6
Duke Adj FG%: 54.4

UNC OFF EFF: 116.3
Duke OFF EFF: 115.7

UNC DEF EFF: 87.7
Duke DEF EFF:89.5

UNC OReb Rate: .39
Duke OReb Rate: .396

[Efficiency numbers courtesy of Ken Pomeroy's site. All EFF numbers listed in this post are unadjusted.]

A couple of things to watch:

1) Duke's 3pt FG%. The Blue Devils rely heavily on the three-pointer (only NC State has a higher 3PA/FGA ratio), and they certainly can't afford an off-night from beyond the arc.

2) Turnovers. Duke has a decided advantage in turnover rate. Duke averages 19 turnovers per 100 possessions, while those up-tempo Heels average 23 turnovers per 100 possessions. The teams should be pretty even on the glass, so turnovers could determine which team gets extra shots.

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NCSU @ Wake Forest -- 2/10

I never thought I'd say this, but perhaps it's a good thing that NC State is going on the road. The Pack has been mediocre at best in its last two home games--both losses. Instead of utilizing its home court to play itself back into the NCAAs, the Wolfpack has played itself completely out of the tournament. The losses to FSU and Virginia have left NC State looking for answers; perhaps there aren't any.

NC State hasn't shot a particularly good FG% in either of its last two games, which might suggest to some that the Pack is "due" for a good night on Thursday (not true, of course, but here's hoping...). I don't know what it is going to take--and at this point in the season it's probably too late--to change NC State's defensive performances, but if Herb Sendek has any tricks left, he'd better start layin' them out.

In my opinion, this game comes down to State's defense. If they manage to play good team and transition defense, they can keep themselves in the game. If not, Wake Forest will be dropping jumpers all over the place, and Eric Williams will add the gravy.

NCSU Adj FG%: 52.9
Wake Adj FG%: 56.1

NCSU OFF EFF: 112.6
Wake OFF EFF: 116.3

NCSU DEF EFF: 97
Wake DEF EFF: 102 (note in Pomeroy link above that adjusted defensive efficiency indicates Wake is actually better...obviously this has to do with tempo)

NCSU FTA/FGA: .394
Wake FTA/FGA: .451

Things to watch:

1) Free throws. See that differential in FTA/FGA between the two teams? No team in the ACC is better at getting to the line than Wake Forest. Can the Wolfpack--less than stellar at getting FTAs--keep up?

2) Big Eric Williams vs. NCSU Front Line. Shelden Williams had 22 pts, 6 rebs against State. Sean May went for 16 and 14. Sharrod Ford went for 19 and 10. Big E is certainly in the same class as the rest of those guys, and he's been playing really well over the last few weeks. The Wolfpack started freshman Cedric Simmons against Virginia and may very well start him again Thursday; Simmons has shown a lot of room for improvement defensively.