Suffering under the weight of its first losing record since 1999, Duke (7-8, 5-6 in the ACC) will head to Raleigh Saturday hoping to get back in the win column against in-state rival N.C. State (8-8, 4-7). Here are some key storylines ahead of the 4 p.m. matchup:
Although the Blue Devils have generally been the stronger team, N.C. State has had Duke’s number in recent years, winning three of the teams’ past five matchups. Notably, the Wolfpack dominated Duke last year in a 22-point blowout win in PNC Arena, a remarkable performance that N.C. State will certainly hope to replicate this weekend in the same location.
On top of this recent history, Duke is reeling after three straight losses, including two heartbreakers against North Carolina and Notre Dame.
“At this point, a sign of progress would be a win for us,” sophomore forward Wendell Moore Jr. said after the loss to the Fighting Irish.
However, considering the Blue Devils’ struggles this season and the Wolfpack’s success against Duke in recent memory, this Saturday game certainly has the potential makings of another tough defeat for head coach Mike Krzyzewski and company.
What makes Duke’s recent losses all the more frustrating for the team is that the Blue Devils have put up significant points and still failed to come out on top thanks to dreadful play on the other end of the floor.
“I thought it was one of the best offensive games we’ve played,” Krzyzewski said after the Notre Dame loss.
It remains to be seen whether Duke can turn things around defensively this weekend. N.C. State shot an effective 42% from 3-point range in its loss to Syracuse Tuesday, but also tallied 20 turnovers. The Blue Devils have proven they can score points, but Saturday’s in-state matchup will likely come down to whether they can make crucial stops and defend the three.
Righting the ship
This year’s college basketball season has obviously been unprecedented, but Duke’s season specifically has further entered uncharted territory. The Blue Devils are currently under .500 for the first time since before most of the team’s players were born, and barring an improbable ACC tournament run likely won’t make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 26 years.
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“We’ve been so close… There’s been one or two plays we could have made and we were right there,” Moore said of the team’s recent contests.
Being so close to victory and still repeatedly tasting defeat just magnifies the Blue Devils’ frustration, and only emphasizes the team’s desperate need of a decisive victory to reinstill confidence, even if it may be too late to secure a March Madness bid. N.C. State is also on the outside looking in on the NCAA tournament, so while the Wolfpack have had success against Duke recently, there’s definitely an opportunity for the Blue Devils to begin righting the ship with a big win.