On Saturday, the No. 1 ranked Duke Blue Devils travel across the research triangle to play in-state rival, No. 20 NC State Wolfpack.
Hall of Fame coach, Mike Krzyzewski has the Blue Devils 15-0 and atop the college basketball world. They are standing undefeated thanks to impressive wins over three top 5 teams: Kentucky (UK was #3 at the time, though now it doesn't look like as impressive), Ohio State and Louisville. Their average margin of victory is 19 points and are coming off of a 68-40 drubbing of fellow ACC member, Clemson.
Meanwhile, NC State's Mark Gottfried isn't doing a shabby job himself. He has The Wolfpack sitting at No. 20 with a 13-2 record and undefeated in the young conference schedule.
There is a lot of talk about an upset in Raleigh this weekend and for good reason. Duke will be without senior power forward, Ryan Kelly. Kelly went down with an undisclosed foot injury. This is not an insignificant loss for the Blue Devils. Kelly has been a strong, productive presence inside for Coach K this year. But what makes Kelly so dangerous is the fact that he can stretch the floor with his range. He is shooting an un-power-forward-like 52 percent from behind the arc, which is tops in the ACC.
All season long Duke has relied on a short bench. With Kelly out, their depth will be tested at every position, but most significantly inside. How their bench contributes down low could determine the outcome.
Player of the Year candidate, Mason Plumlee is averaging over 17 points per game and right at 11 boards a game. Plumlee will have to step up with Kelly out and carry more of the responsibility of holding down the paint.
With Kelly out, Plumlee is the only real threat inside for the Blue Devils. Look for NC State to attack the rim from tip-off in an effort to get Plumlee in early foul trouble and test the inexperienced Duke bench.
The strength of the NC State Wolfpack lies in their floor general, Lorenzo Brown. Brown was recently named a Bob Cousy finalist, and for good reason. He makes the Pack tick. He is coming off of a 21 point, 10 assist and 5 rebound performance against Georgia Tech. Duke's backcourt tandem of Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton will have their work cut out for them in trying to slow down Brown.
This game will come down to two match ups. Duke's front court vs. NC State's interior defense and NC State's backcourt vs. Duke's perimeter defense. Can NC State's front court force Plumlee into early foul trouble and render him ineffective? And can Duke's backcourt contain Lorenzo Brown and neutralize one of the premier guards in the country?
If everything is a wash and it comes down to coaching strategies and decisions, Duke wins and gains the upper hand in the early ACC standings with a fast track to a regular season title.