Last season, an 84-82 defeat to N.C. State at home capped a dismal streak of three losses in four games, nearly pushing the Blue Devils out of the top 25. 

Duke enters this year’s contest with the Wolfpack in better standing after a 100-93 victory against No. 24 Florida State last week—though the team’s past success has historically proved inconsequential. In the last three bouts in Raleigh between the in-state rivals when Duke entered No. 1 or No. 2, N.C. State has left victorious all three times, with an average margin of victory of eight points.

The No. 2 Blue Devils will look to reverse that trend when they travel to a sold-out PNC Arena Saturday for an 8 p.m. tipoff with the Wolfpack. Duke will also be looking to notch its first road conference victory this season after its first try against Boston College Dec. 9 resulted in an 89-84 setback.

“People want to win. People are going to come out, especially with us being Duke, they’re going to come out with a chip on their shoulder," freshman Wendell Carter Jr. said at a press conference Thursday. "I can sense that as we play. It’s a lot of trash talk as we play, a lot of, ‘We’re going to beat y’all just because y’all Duke.’ That’s just how it is.”

With two conference games under its belt, Duke (13-1, 1-1 in the ACC) has struggled to defend the 3-point line. With two prolific rebounders in Marvin Bagley III and Carter defending the interior, there has been significant pressure on guards Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen to defend the perimeter. 

Both Boston College and Florida State exposed this defensive imbalance and made the Blue Devils pay. The two teams collectively shot 51.7 percent from beyond the arc, and Duke was just 8-of-30 in both contests, a meager 26.7 percent. 

Fortunately for the Blue Devils, perimeter shooting has been a weakness for the Wolfpack (10-5, 0-2) all season. Among their starters, only one—freshman Braxton Beverly—is shooting better than 35 percent from deep. The team’s 33.1 percent mark puts it in the bottom three in the ACC, and the Wolfpack are shooting a woeful 11-of-40 from 3-point range in their two conference games. With a week to digest the Florida State game, there has been a consistent emphasis on defense in practice.

“After the Boston College game, we worked on redoing our defense and trying to get our defense together,” freshman Trevon Duval said. “Just having a set defense, like a base. Now, we are working on personnel and scouting, trying to figure out what certain players do and what they’re tendencies are.”

N.C. State enters Saturday’s contest reeling after two tough losses to start conference play, including an 88-58 thrashing by Notre Dame, which played without standout forward Bonzie Colson due to a broken foot. The departure of ACC Freshman of the Year Dennis Smith Jr. to the NBA hurt the Wolfpack backcourt, but first-year coach Kevin Keatts returned a veteran frontcourt that could match up physically with Duke’s tremendous size. 

7-foot Turkish center Omer Yurtseven has seen his role steadily increase in his sophomore season, primarily due to senior Abdul-Malik Abu’s injuries. Abu—N.C. State's active career leader in points, rebounds and minutes played—missed six of the team’s first nine games. Since returning, however, his production has been limited to just 7.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. 

Yurtseven, along with redshirt senior Lennard Freeman, will carry the bulk of the load against Duke, creating a potentially intriguing test for Bagley and Carter.

But the Wolfpack's experience has not translated into productivity to start ACC play. Freeman and Yurtseven combined for just 18 points against Notre Dame and 19 in the team’s 78-62 loss to Clemson in its ACC opener. Even more glaring, the Wolfpack have just 46 total points in the paint in their two conference games, a number that the Blue Devils reached against Boston College and surpassed against Florida State. 

Despite N.C. State’s grim start, history suggests the Research Triangle rivalry can produce all sorts of surprises. And although Duke’s four starting freshman were not around last season for the 84-82 upset, it is nevertheless fresh on their minds. 

“I know that we lost last year to them here at Cameron,” Duval said. “They probably have some confidence on us, thinking that they can beat us. We have to come back and play strong and get some revenge on them.”