And now the real one:
Gents, ladies, I am not 100% confident Duke will win this game. That may sound absolutely ridiculous, considering N.C. State just had their dignity handed to them in a miniature novelty urinal by Florida State. But that was on the road. And so was their loss to Boston College. In their only home ACC game, they decimated Wake Forest, who, as we all know, stinks.
But let's revisit a point made yesterday. In inter-conference ACC games, the home team is now 17-4 this year. That's an 81% winning rate in a conference that has averaged between 60% and 65% the last five years (thanks to NastyEmu for running the numbers). At the very least, we should consider that every home team has at least a shot, even in extreme circumstances.
Now, let's look at N.C. state specifically. Using their KenPom profile and their ESPN stats, what do we know?
1. They play pretty big. Their average and effective height are both around 60th in the country out of 345 teams. C.J. Leslie, Tracy Smith, Richard Howell, and DeShawn Painter are all over 6'8" and get decent minutes. Together, those guys average 37 points per game. Not great news for Duke, a team who, to put it mildly, struggles underneath.
2. They hit the offensive boards very hard, good for 16th overall. Again, bad news for Duke.
3. They're young. They don't have a single senior who plays more than half the game, and of their four top starters, three are freshman and one is a sophomore. That's great news for Duke.
4. They have at least one great 3-point shooter, Scott Wood (43%). Lorenzo Brown (33%) and Javier Gonzalez (29%) are just okay.
5. They play good defense. They're 39th overall in effective field goal percentage, 69th at defending the three, and 54th at defending the two.
By now, the formula for beating Duke in the ACC is pretty evident. In fact, there's an easy checklist to follow. Let's see how N.C. State fares.
A) Be at home.
It's going to be very, very hard for anyone to get a win at Cameron this season, even with Kyrie out. N.C. State plays at the RBC Center, which is the 8th-largest Division 1 basketball facility in America. It'll be packed tonight. Duke went down to a far inferior N.C. State team there last season, so there's also precedent. This is a big, fat CHECK.
B) Clog the middle, make 2-point field goals hard to come by.
N.C. State has four big men they can throw on the court, and we already saw the stats on their 2-point field goal defense. The Plumlees and Kelly are unlikely to factor in to the scoring. CHECK.
C) Have a few guys who can get hot from 3.
Yup. Wood, Brown, and Gonzalez are all capable. CHECK.
D) Have tall guards who can harass Duke's three-point shooters.
Duke can get hot any point, so nothing is ever guaranteed. But it certainly helps if you have tall guards who make life just a little more difficult. Florida State did the job well, and N.C. State only lags behind them slightly in this category. Brown is 6'4" and Wood is 6'6", but Harrow is only 5'11" and Gonzalez is 6'0". HALF-CHECK.
E) Protect the ball and get second chances.
CHECK. We've seen their numbers on the offensive boards, and they're 91st in the country at avoiding turnovers, which is fine. Florida State was 298th, and they still won.
The Wolfpack has all the elements in place for an upset. Does that mean it's going to happen? Not necessarily. But they are 8-1 at home. Like a lot of Duke games this season, this one will come down to shooting. If the second half of the Virginia game is an indication of how we'll play tonight, Duke is fully capable of blowing them out of the water, even on the road. If the shooting woes from the first half of that game and the FSU game continue to haunt us, though, I guarantee this will be another battle.
My prediction: Duke 75, N.C. State 69
In great news, I WILL BE AT THIS GAME! I don't have a ticket or anything, but I'm going to head over and see what I can scare up on the cheap. It'll be my first Duke game this season (providing I get in), and I'll be wearing at least some Duke regalia among the Wolfpack hordes. I'm torn between just wearing a simple hat, or getting all emphatic and rocking my devil-horns head piece. I guess it depends how much I want my ass kicked by four dudes with tattoos of a red wolf eating a Duke hamster, and two of them have robbed a Wendy's in Pittsboro, and one has chronic bronchitis.
Hey, how's about a little Hot Potato?
There's the current standings. Carrie widened her lead significantly by going high with Nolan Smith at 24 against UVA, and she's now clear of the field by 11. Hopefully she'll pick an absurd number like 88 tonight to give the rest of us a chance. The Hot Potato for the N.C. State game is:
Do I need to make the hot potato schpiel again? Basically, it's a game where you pick the number of points scored by the featured Dukie. The difference between your pick and the actual points is your score for that day. It accumulates over a season, and you can join at any point. Make your picks by game time.
This is news that shouldn't be buried this deep: Kyrie Irving's cast comes off on February 4th. We still don't know what the hell that means in terms of him playing this year, but it's not bad news. I'll take it. Thanks to resident podiatrist Dr. Jim for the link, and everyone else be warned: February 4th will be some kind of holiday in the larger Duke universe. We need to think of a good name and a good idea for the celebration. But this must happen. And it will heavily involve this song and video:
So, last night I was back at the Dean Dome for Carolina's close win over Clemson. For the second straight game, I managed to haggle my way into a $10 ticket, and I have a feeling I could have held out for $5 if I felt like being a stickler. And just like the V. Tech game, I went and sat in the first level about 20 rows up. Compared to Yankee Stadium, they really make it easy on you in Chapel Hill.
This was also my girlfriend's first college basketball game, so it was kind of a big moment. I'm sorry to report she wasn't that into it. I probably should have taken her to a Duke game first, since she knows those players and might care a bit more, but the extent of her interest last night was to analyze the cheerleaders and get kind of annoyed when everyone stood up at the big moments. (Her defense after reading: "It wasn't for BIG moments. It was for the dumb moments. Why stand up for big foul shots when you're up 10? Who gives a shit?")
Here are a few takeaways from my two games at Carolina basketball, for what they're worth.*
*37 cents exactly
1. The fans are pretty tame. They get up when things are tense, but overall they sit most of the game and it never really seems to get thunderous. Again, I've only been to a Virginia Tech and Clemson game, and I'm sure it's better for Duke or N.C. State. Then again, both games were close, so I expected a bit more.
2. I'm not a big fan of the Dean Dome. I don't know the first thing about designing a place to play basketball, but I really don't get why any university wouldn't have the student section wrap around the court. The 'student section' at Carolina is laughably small; about six rows behind one basket. And really, the whole place feels too much like an NBA arena. It's not nearly intimate enough.
3. This Carolina team will either go 9-7 or 8-8 in ACC play. They'll always be tough at home, and my guess is they'll be pushovers on the road. That's what we've seen so far, and the two games I've attended have done nothing to disabuse me of the notion. They seem to coast for large parts of the game, and then the home crowd riles them up and they play with a little passion and win. But without the energy from the Chapel Hill faithful, I don't see this team having the fire or ability to steal big games on the road.
4. Reggie Bullock is a mad man. He got hot in the first half yesterday, and then he proceeded to shoot any time he touched the ball for the rest of the game. It was the same against Virginia Tech, except he was never hot. In both games, he ended up really hurting the team in the second half. I can't tell if he's going to very good, a huge liability, or both.
5. Harrison Barnes needs to take over. He's good, but he's playing so timid, and he spends most of the game looking like crap. Roy Williams needs to turn him loose. It's not like they're going anywhere this year anyway, so he might as well start encouraging him to be great. I like to make fun of ole Barnesy, but at the same time it's annoying to see someone with that much talent languish on the perimeter of a boring offense. For my money, Roy is a mediocre game coach at best.
A few miscellaneous things, and then I'm outta here.
-Federer was taken to five sets in Melbourne. Yikes.
-My pal Nick sent me this article about Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long working with Derek Jeter. My take? Great article by Verducci, and fantastic news for Yankee fans. They started adjusting his stance last season, and after they implemented the change, Jeter hit .311 in the last 28 games with a .393 OBP. The combination of Long's genius and Jeter's work ethic makes me think he has an excellent chance to hit .290, and a good chance to surpass .300 again. It's also heartening to learn that Long is making stops to work with Swish and especially Teixeira. Maybe we won't have to wait til July for Tex to get a hit this year.
-There's a site called Rafaholics.com. This alters the path of my life. See you never. Tell grad school I won't be around for a while. Please mail me food.
Report from Raleigh coming tomorrow. Go Devils.