I will preface this by reminding everyone that I am the furthest thing from a wild-eyed optimist. I also don’t think this Wolfpack team is really that good (which is why I see ACC COY as a two-man race between Gottfried and Bennett, the two coaches who have gotten the absolute maximum out of rather limited personnel). So…how can I predict a win next Thursday at Duke? Especially in light of how choppy State’s play has been over the past several weeks?
First, with all top tier ACC squads having fatal flaws – I give great weight to matchups. And NC State matches up every bit as well with Duke as it matches up poorly with UNC. Though Carolina matches up poorly with Duke (as I predicted via e-mail to one of my Hole fan friends, I suspected UNC would be too stubborn to be as physical with Duke as they needed to be). NC State doesn’t have the talent luxury to be so stubborn. It also has three quite physical bigs to rotate in the lowpost. Physical play annoys the Devils, and interrupts their flow. And offensive flow is really Duke’s only card to play. Without that, they are an extremely average team, as they showed against physical defensive teams like Temple, Ohio State, Florida State, and even Miami.
Second, NC State has a full week to prepare for this game, and get rested in advance of a physical war. CJ Williams can get healthy. Lorenzo Brown can sleep and hopefully regain full confidence. DeShawn Painter can get over the flu. Side note – the rest of the team had damned well better have gotten their flu shots.
Duke, on the other hand, has another emotional game today. So…no rest, either physically or mentally. Assuming a win over the Terps (a loss today would blow up the Pack’s chances completely), the Devils will enter Thursday night coming off two emotional wins over teams they hate. Could there be any better a setup for a letdown? Is this not the perfect example of a “trap” game? And when the Pack’s physicality predictably annoys them, won’t things probably snowball further? I certainly think so.
Finally, although I believe NC State – like Virginia – is a “low ceiling” team in the ACC’s “reasonably good” tier…that doesn’t mean the Pack is incapable of having an especially good game and playing over their heads. And thus far, our timing has been pretty good (see State’s top effort of the year, resulting in its best resume win at Miami). In that sense, the lackluster play of the past few weeks is actually a positive sign – State can’t play like a good team every night, and picked a good time to be “due.”
Now, this is not to say that an upset is a lead-pipe cinch. Just because NC State is “due” for a good performance doesn’t mean it 100% will happen. Lorenzo Brown could get in foul trouble. Scott Woo could have a poor night shooting (and/or the man he’s guarding could score 50 instead of 20). Duke could lose today and come out loaded for bear. CJ Williams could tweak his shoulder early. Calvin Leslie could decide he needs to showcase his perimeter “skills” for NBA scouts.
But it’s all about possibilities, isn’t it? And Thursday night marks NC State’s best possibility of the 2011-12 season. It certainly won’t be on short rest (and a poor matchup) against the Noles, or the nightmare matchup against the Holes (anytime or anywhere). Very few commentators will expect it to happen in Cameron Indoor Stadium, either. But now, you know better.