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NC State heads to Duke in search of a breakthrough

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Sure Duke’s tall and supremely talented, but other than that I don’t know what you’d worry about.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Wake Forest Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Duke’s latest one-and-done dice roll of a team is going pretty well so far; the Blue Devils are obviously the class of the ACC, and they have wins over both Kentucky and Gonzaga in the non-conference, which signals rather clearly that they are a national-title contender.

It’s not an interesting team; there’s nothing especially compelling about it. But that seems to define college basketball at large this season.

Anyway, let’s get to the latest guys rotating through the carwash at Duke. They’re very good.

Duke in 2021-22

... Adj OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
... Adj OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 116.9 (13) 55.1 (20) 13.7 (6) 29.8 (133) 30.6 (155)
Defense 92.6 (17) 46.1 (47) 19.8 (114) 27.5 (148) 17.9 (2)

The Duke team that finished an underwhelming 9-9 in league play last year and missed the NCAAs is now a distant memory—that Duke team was ruined by its inability to play defense, but this year’s group has been excellent in that regard, and therein lies the difference from praying for an at-large bid to expecting a top-level seed.

Duke last year had a lot of youth to work around and also had to play Matthew Hurt basically the entire game. This year, Duke has a lot of youth to work around and doesn’t have to worry about playing Matthew Hurt at all.

This Duke team also has more overall size and its interior defense has been a lot better. Coach K teams are always good at suppressing three-point attempts, and this year opponents are making only 30% of those shots. Nobody is better than K and Duke at this particular combination of defense.

Still, this isn’t a defense without vulnerability: they’ve been average on the glass and they haven’t been great at forcing turnovers. NC State can win in the turnover department and, honestly, probably needs to be a good bit better on the glass in order to win this game.

On the other end, NC State has to figure out what to do about Paolo Banchero (6’10, 250), who is much larger and much more skilled than any big on State’s roster. Banchero is not a super-athletic dude, but he is good at being a bully with those 250 pounds, and he’s an inside-outside threat.

Arguably the best player on this Duke team is Wendell Moore (6’5, 213), who is having a breakthrough season as a junior: 62% shooting on twos, 37.7% on threes, and he leads the Blue Devils in assist rate. He’s been incredibly efficient with an above-average workload.

The other guy accounting for a heavier-than-average workload on this team is freshman Trevor Keels (6’4, 221). Keels has obvious physical tools working from him but is a year away from being a terror; still, he’s pretty good already: 50% on twos, 31% on threes.

As you’ve probably gathered by this point, the story about Duke hasn’t changed—they have a bunch of super-talented guys, and they are young, and they can go in a lot of different directions. Usually the directions are more positive this year, though. Tons of talent, but young, and as per your standard K team, not playing a deep bench.

Is it possible to rattle them? Sure. Can you create a little leverage on the glass? Sure. Is it possible to sustain enough superior execution or just sheer luck to beat their talent advantage, over the course of 40 minutes? Well. that’s the tough part for almost everybody, isn’t it?

KenPom likes Duke by 15.