THE CONTENTS: No. 2 Duke plays host to that other cross-town rival, North Carolina State, tonight at 8 p.m. at snowy Cameron Indoor Stadium. The game can be seen on Raycom with Steve Martin and the original G-Man, Mike Gminski, and heard on 620 AM with Bob Harris and John Roth.
THE EXPOSITION: The Blue Devils (16-1, 3-0) are coming off a hard-fought 76-67 victory over No. 13 Georgetown Saturday. Duke has now won nine in a row since its December loss to Michigan and looks to improve to 4-0 in the conference with a win tonight.
N.C. State (10-5, 1-2) ended a three-game losing streak by surviving Georgia Tech in overtime, 76-71. The Wolfpack's two conference losses have come at Clemson and versus Florida State, where it was outscored 19-2 in the final six minutes of a 78-65 defeat.
As you may have guessed, these two teams play fairly often, although no longer twice every year. Duke leads the all-time series 135-96, including a 44-23 mark at home. The Blue Devils have won six of the last seven, including a thriller at the RBC Center last season for Mike Krzyzewski's 800th career victory. The lone loss during that stretch was the overtime defeat in first round of the 2007 ACC Tournament.
THE PROTAGONISTS: Remember when Gerald Henderson wasn't playing very well? Me neither. The last three games have all been about No. 15, who carried Duke with a career-high 25 at Florida State two Saturdays ago, poured in 19 at Georgia Tech last Wednesday, and had arguably the best half of his career against the Hoyas, when he scored 17 before the break Saturday. Henderson finished with 23 points.
Henderson's resurgence has coincided with a cold stretch for Jon Scheyer, which again has us asking what this team could do if everyone clicked at the same time. Scheyer is just 6-for-27 in his last three games, although he's hit 19 free throws over that stretch.
Duke's defense continues its stellar play, as, aside from a few lapses at the start of each half against Georgetown, the Blue Devils were able to keep the Hoyas in check (with the help of John Cahill, of course). However you look at it, Duke is palaying some of the best defense in the country, and Kyle Singler is cleaning the boards like never before, setting new career-highs in each of the last two games with 14 and 16 rebounds, respectively.
THE ANTAGONISTS: The Wolfpack is still that dangerously talented but never quite coherent team that looks great one day and awful the next (and in that game against FSU, both in the latter stages of the second half). N.C. State lost J.J. Hickson to the NBA after just one season, but regained injured point guard Farnold Degand, who splits time with last season's emergency starter Javier Gonzalez. At the same time, the Wolfpack will let Courtney Fells bring the ball up as a kind of point forward as well.
Up front, the Wolfpack still boasts Ben McCauley (12.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Brandon Costner (14.6, 6.5), who constitute one of the conference's best inside-outside forward combos. When Costner cares, and his history against Duke suggests he will tonight, he can be one of the best players in the ACC.
None of State's five losses are bad, coming to ranked teams Marquette (on a buzzer-beater) and Clemson and bubble teams such as Davidson (when Stephen Curry went off for 44), Florida (by a deuce) and FSU.
THE CONFLICT: Can Duke continue its suffocating defense on State's forwards, and can the Blue Devils exploit the Wolfpack's occasionally shaky point guard play?
HOW WILL THE SNOW AFFECT THE GAME?: Since basketball is played indoors, I doubt it will have any noticeable impact.
WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO WAIT ON LINE IN NORMAL WEATHER THESE DAYS FOR THE GAME?: That is true: There was that downpour before Davidson, and it was really cold prior to the Georgetown game. But hey, just when you thought all the mud in K-Ville had frozen, now it's slush! Have fun, tenters.
TIM'S FAVORITE PLAYER IN N.C. STATE HISTORY IS...: Tough to go against David Thompson here, isn't it?
WILL SIDNEY LOWE WEAR THE RED JACKET?: Well, it would be a strong political statement on a particularly blue Inauguration Day, so I doubt it.
N.C. STATE WILL PROVE TROUBLE IF...: Its backcourt has no trouble against Duke's defense and the Wolfpack is able to comfortably run its halfcourt offense.
THE DENOUEMENT: N.C. State has played Duke tough even during some lean years these last two campaigns. Costner and McCauley have each played well, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them causing some problems for the Blue Devils. That being said, Duke's defensive pressure should bother the Wolfpack backcourt, leading to some transition buckets. While Henderson isn't quite as dominant, Scheyer breaks out of his shooting slump (although not in a big way) and Singler just keeps being Singler.
THE VERDICT: Duke, 74-59.