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Five things for Duke men's basketball's showdown against N.C. State

The Blue Devils sit at the top of the ACC with 5.73 blocked shots per game.
The Blue Devils sit at the top of the ACC with 5.73 blocked shots per game.

Duke fans: you can breathe again.

After a hurricane (pun absolutely intended) of a game against Miami in last weekend’s shock upset loss, the eight-ranked Blue Devils got back to winning ways in a resounding 76-64 win against a resurgent Wake Forest team Wednesday in Winston Salem, N.C. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team returns home to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on N.C. State Saturday in hopes of re-establishing itself at the top of the conference table and returning wins to the Cameron Crazies. Here are five things you need to know before tip-off between these historic in-state rivals.

Dominating the ‘Deacs

In what’s been an unpredictable and unusual season for the ACC, there have emerged two surprise packages floating steadily near the top of the conference: Miami and Wake Forest. Coincidentally, these have also been the nationally-ranked Blue Devils’ opponents the last two games. 

Despite dropping a thrilling home contest 76-74 to the Hurricanes, Duke (13-2, 3-1 in the ACC)  stormed back to win commandingly against the Demon Deacons, leading 35-29 at the half following successive 3-pointers by Trevor Keels and A.J. Griffin, and bolted out the gates after the break, culminating in a career-high 22 points for Griffin and 24 points for freshman phenom and projected lottery pick Paolo Banchero.

The Blue Devils were wasteful and unlucky in the drop to Miami (13-4, 5-1), but they avenged that in Winston Salem and got themselves, convincingly, back to winning ways. Momentum is one of the biggest boons a basketball team can have and if Duke is rebuilding some for itself, it may just be back on its way toward the nation’s top few.

Lights out in Louisville

Though N.C. State currently sits comfortably in the middle of the conference table, its coming off a marquee and convincing away win against Louisville. The Cardinals have been mixing it up among the top of the conference and themselves beat Wake Forest in late December, but were trounced 79-63 by the Wolfpack Wednesday, the same night the Blue Devils dispelled the Demon Deacons.

All this is to say, N.C. State is entering with momentum of its own, or at least some starting semblance of it. Led by Terquavion Smith, Jericole Hellems and Dereon Seabron with 24, 19, and 15 points, respectively, the Wolfpack found their scoring footing against Louisville and will be hoping to carry over that same offensive potency when they make the short trip to Durham Saturday. The Blue Devils have been a little shakier and leakier than they would’ve liked in their ACC slate thus far, like in their testy first halves against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, and if N.C. State can pile on offensive pressure, it may just be returning home with a statement win and an ever-satisfying one-up on its nearest geographic rivals.

Trust the process

AJ Griffin is the real deal.

After a knee injury during the preseason that saw the freshman seemingly see more bench time than playing time, the 6-foot-6 forward has been a revelation in recent games, and none more so than in Wednesday’s victory against Wake Forest.

Griffin shot 8-of-11 from the field and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, culminating in a career-high 22-point performance and a collective licking-of-lips from the Blue Devil faithful. Though most of the attention went to Banchero following his 24-point showing against the Demon Deacons, this was arguably a more important game for Griffin, who earned his first start in a Duke jersey and registered a whopping 36 minutes. The attitude around Griffin so far has been very “wait and see,” and it finally appears like that’s transitioning into more of a “see and admire.”

Don’t be surprised if Griffin starts again or if he dominates offensively against N.C. State like he did against Wake Forest. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and A.J. Griffin is burning very, very hot right now.

Sizzling Seabron

Though N.C. State may not possess the draft-caliber superstars of other programs like Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, UCLA’s Johnny Juzang or Duke’s Banchero, they have found their guy this year: redshirt sophomore guard Dereon Seabron. The Norfolk, Va., native has been on fire this season for the Wolfpack, averaging a ridiculous 19.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He’s hit double-digits in points in every game this season, eclipsed 20 in eight of them and registered nine double-doubles.

Seabron has been lethal from the field, shooting an average of 54.1% and as high as 85.7% in his 12-for-14 showing against Florida State, and especially dominant on the defensive glass, using his 6-foot-7 height to close down opposing offenses and register 108 defensive rebounds. 

Even if N.C. State’s season hasn’t been holistically remarkable, Seabron has been, and Duke will have a very difficult task on its hands in guarding him. He’ll be key to the Wolfpack’s effort on Saturday and if he continues his insane hot-streak, Blue Devils be warned.

Coach K or coach-in-waiting?

To the silver-lined disappointment of Blue Devil fans, head coach Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t on the sidelines for Duke in Wednesday’s win, staying home after an unspecified non-COVID illness. Taking his place was 2010 NCAA tournament-winning point guard and heir to the Krzyzewski coaching throne Jon Scheyer.

After Coach K’s bombshell retirement announcement last summer and the appointment of Scheyer as his replacement, many have speculated how the 34-year-old would/will do at the helm of one of college basketball’s most storied programs. Wednesday’s answer? Pretty well.

We don’t yet know if Krzyzewski will be back at his post on Saturday, but it seems there’s an ample substitute should he need more time away.

Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Sports Editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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