Thornton was matched up against Anthony "Cat" Barber in Duke's win against N.C. State Feb. 6 and ...

Key Three: Duke basketball vs N.C. State

After a season-ending loss to North Carolina, Duke begins postseason play with a matchup against N.C. State in the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils won both their games against the Wolfpack in the regular season and will look to advance to a date with Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. 

Crash the defensive boards

After a game where the Blue Devils were outrebounded on the offensive glass by more than a 3-to-1 ratio, Duke faces another tough challenge Wednesday against N.C. State— the second-best offensive rebounding team in the ACC. The Wolfpack roster features six players averaging at least four rebounds per game, which will be a tough matchup for a Blue Devil team that has just three players with the same achievement. North Carolina showed that the way to beat Duke is by going big, and N.C. State certainly has the firepower to turn a rebounding advantage into plenty of second-chance points.

Marshall Plumlee was unimpressive on the boards Saturday against the Tar Heels—allowing big man Brice Johnson to collect 21 rebounds—but has an opportunity to right his senior night woes against the Wolfpack. Although the graduate student averaged 10 rebounds in his two matchups against N.C. State, he occasionally struggled with sophomore Abdul-Malik Abu in the post. Without compensating for their lack of size with extra effort, the Blue Devils could find themselves in a tighter game than many expect. 

Keep "Cat" Contained

Duke's double-bye dreams were crushed by an opposing individual’s standout performance in its last game, and the Blue Devils will need to prevent a similar outcome against another in-state rival. Duke has had mixed results against the ACC’s leading scorer—N.C. State guard Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber—and will have to keep the junior at bay to prevent the Wolfpack from gaining momentum early. 

Barber averaged 22.5 points per matchup this season against the Blue Devils—including a 26-point game during his team’s loss in Durham—and has a broad skillset that will trouble even the nation's best defenders on all areas of the court. Playing physical against the Newport News, Va., native will not prove successful as Barber averages nearly 87 percent from the line and Duke does not have the depth to deal with foul trouble. The Blue Devils will need nothing other than clean, reliable defense to ensure that Barber fails to get hot as he tries to keep his team’s season alive.

Stay in the moment

Duke enters Wednesday as the higher seed and has beaten the Wolfpack twice already this season, making it possibly easy for the Blue Devils to look to the road ahead. Add the fact that a victory against NC State will potentially give Duke redemption opportunities against Notre Dame and North Carolina, and it is understandable that the Blue Devils might already be thinking about what is to come. 

But despite signs pointing to a Duke win Wednesday, the Blue Devils will need to strap down and focus for all 40 minutes. 

A decisive victory against N.C. State could be huge for a team looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss during its most anticipated game of the season. The Blue Devils cannot put their best foot forward by lingering on the past. Duke will fail to advance if they stare through the Wolfpack and into the eyes of the conference foes that lie ahead. 

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