Beats' picks: Can No. 4-seed Duke men's basketball stop NC State's Cinderella run, advance to Final Four?

Jeremy Roach (right) dribbles the ball off the pick-and-roll with Kyle Filipowski (left).
Jeremy Roach (right) dribbles the ball off the pick-and-roll with Kyle Filipowski (left).

Fresh off a gritty upset win against No. 1-seed Houston, the fourth-seeded Blue Devils stare down No. 11-seed N.C. State for the third time this season in the Elite Eight, looking to advance to the Final Four. The Chronicle’s beat writers are here with their predictions:

Andrew Long: Duke 70-66

As someone who has sat on press row for both other games between the Wolfpack and Blue Devils — all three will be this month, somehow — I feel like I’ve seen all the good and all the bad these two teams provide. In their first meeting in Raleigh, Duke’s frontcourt took a backseat as the backcourt and freshman forward Sean Stewart ran wild, letting N.C. State big man DJ Burns Jr. work in the post but otherwise clamping the Wolfpacks’ guards. The ACC tournament quarterfinal in Washington, D.C., a week and a half later was almost entirely the opposite, with sophomore center Kyle Filipowski producing in bulk for Duke as N.C. State’s guard trio of Michael O’Connell, Casey Morsell and DJ Horne ran circles around the Blue Devils. The question, then, is which formula Sunday follows.

This time, I lean Duke’s way. The Wolfpack are battling fatigue and despite their magical run to the Sweet 16, I think the Blue Devils are better rested and at a baseline more talented. They have a more consistently productive guard room, one of the tournament’s X-factors in Filipowski and a defense playing the best it has all year, with the added swagger of out-battling the Cougars. As I learned during my days as a high school cross-country runner, the athlete with the stronger kick usually crosses the line first, and I believe the Blue Devils just have a bit more juice.

Rachael Kaplan: N.C. State 73-69

The Wolfpack is rolling, and it knows how to beat Scheyer’s squad. Whether you believe the narrative that the ACC tournament quarterfinal was a fluke bad game for Duke or that N.C. State just played (and is playing) that well, the fact of the matter is that about two weeks ago, Kevin Keatts and his Wolfpack beat the Blue Devils. Now, Duke is playing better basketball, but the roll that Burns and company is on is something else. The Blue Devils would have to string together two tough, physical, near-perfect performances, and I just don’t think they can stall the No. 11-seed’s momentum. Senior captain Jeremy Roach’s play and leadership will be greatly improved from the last matchup, but one of the DJs is going to get hot. The Wolfpack escape, but barely. 

Mackenzie Sheehy: N.C. State 72-67

I’m not trying to take away from Duke’s monumental upset of Houston. At the same time, there were glaring cracks in the Blue Devils’ performance, including a slow start, issues with turnovers and foul trouble down the stretch. All these problems could very well bite Duke this time around against the familiar foe of N.C. State. Burns will likely cause problems in the paint for the Blue Devils and force Filipowski, Ryan Young or both to get into early foul trouble. On top of this, Duke has gotten out to a slow start in both previous matchups against the Wolfpack, and they learned to capitalize the second time around. If N.C. State is able to get out to an early lead and rattle the Blue Devils, it could spell trouble for the No. 4 seed. At the same time, I think Duke showcased its defensive acumen against the Cougars and will do its best to make it a tough game. Ultimately, though, the Cinderella story is too good of a narrative. The Wolfpack continue their magic and dance their way to the Final Four.

Ranjan Jindal: Duke 71-63 

This has been an absolutely remarkable tournament by N.C. State, but I think if Duke keeps its game plan from the teams’ matchup in Raleigh, the Blue Devils should win. That plan is to use different looks at Burns, but generally don’t double-team him and force him to consistently produce in the paint. If Burns has 20-plus points, so be it, but the problem occurs when he can pass out of the double-team to an open shooter or cutter to the basket. I think Scheyer will throw multiple different bodies at him — Filipowski, Young and Stewart — to tire Burns. In addition, I believe the guards are all playing well currently, and Duke’s backcourt is built for postseason success. The only way I see the Wolfpack winning is if the Blue Devils don’t shoot the ball well at all, but I think Duke ends N.C. State’s magical run and heads to Phoenix. 

Dom Fenoglio: Duke 74-64

It’s hard to pick against the Wolfpack, but I think Duke brings something to the matchup that N.C. State has not seen all tournament: defense. The Blue Devils have held each of their first three opponents under 60 points, and their defensive efforts were especially remarkable against Houston. Moreover, I think Scheyer should have no problem motivating and preparing his team to play the Wolfpack, as Duke’s loss to N.C. State occurred just more than two weeks ago. This game will come down to making shots, plain and simple. If the Blue Devils can efficiently convert on their offensive chances, I do not think the Wolfpack will be able to hang around. However, if Duke goes cold and gives N.C. State an inch, it will take a mile. I’m going to predict the first scenario, and give the Blue Devils another week of dancing.

Sophie Levenson: Duke 65-63

It is not going to be easy. But if there’s a team in the tournament that can take down the Wolfpack, it’s the team that knows it best.

Duke is finally playing basketball like a tournament-topping team. N.C. State, on the other hand, just looks more and more tired. That team is fighting to stay in, and fighting well, but every battery has to run out of acid eventually. I see the opposite happening with the Blue Devils: They just keep gaining steam. With every round, I think their basketball gets better. They know how to deal with the Wolfpack, even if they learned it the hard way. It’s not going to be an easy game, but I do think it’s one that will end in Duke’s favor. 

Jonathan Levitan: Duke 71-59

Midnight, Cinderella. On paper, N.C. State’s upset of No. 2-seed Marquette was its best trick yet; in reality, it looks like the magic is running out for the Wolfpack. It took five wins in five days at the ACC tournament for Keatts’ team to secure a bid, and the fatigue we all expected appears to finally be setting in. Burns, despite a game-high seven assists in the Sweet 16, was nowhere near the scoring threat that N.C. State needs him to be and made little impact inside of 15 feet. And while Marquette went just 4-of-31 from 3-point range, the Wolfpack perimeter defense is starting to crack in a big way.

Duke will get plenty of open looks Sunday evening against an N.C. State team that is simply out of gas. With the way Scheyer has this team playing defense right now, it won’t have to hit all that many of them to advance to the program’s 18th Final Four.

Micah Hurewitz: Duke 78-65

Round one, Duke. Round two, State. How often do you get a round three with a trip to the Final Four on the line? The Wolfpack are playing their hearts out, looking to become just the sixth team to ever make the Final Four as a No. 11 seed, while the Blue Devils have put up stellar defensive numbers this tournament and just got through a tough and physical Houston team Friday night. The Duke defense has been one of the top stories of this tournament, as it has allowed just 51 points per game and has held opponents to just 23.9% shooting from beyond the arc. Duke has the benefit of having seen this team before (unlike Houston, which was the first time the two schools had ever matched up) and took them down in dominant fashion on N.C. State’s home court a few weeks ago. 

I don’t think that N.C. State’s miracle run will continue much longer, though, especially after seeing Marquette clang 27 threes (!) and wear down the Wolfpack inside as the heavy favorites. The Wolfpack played a good game, don’t get me wrong, but they also got pretty lucky. Luck only gets you so far in March, and Duke will make sure they don’t get any more. 

Jonathan Levitan

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Micah Hurewitz

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Dom Fenoglio | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Sophie Levenson | Sports features editor

Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Mackenzie Sheehy profile
Mackenzie Sheehy | Blue Zone editor

Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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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