The last thing Duke wants is to be compared to N.C. State, but if there’s one ACC team that can commiserate with the Blue Devils, as the two prepare to meet on Monday night in Durham, it’s N.C. State.
Both teams have had to deal with a lot of moving parts, in and out of the lineup, and both teams are heavily reliant on first-year players or players who missed significant time last season.
Duke (15-4, 3-3 ACC) has been able to deal with all of the distractions – and the additional absence of coach Mike Krzyzewski, out since Jan. 4 while recovering from back surgery, and the media circus around junior guard Grayson Allen – more adeptly than the Wolfpack (13-7, 2-5). But if you look at both teams, the difference between the two isn’t as wide as the preseason gap – Duke was No. 1 and N.C. State was unranked — suggests.
“It’s hard for any team, and I’m sure they’ve had to deal with some of the same things in that their young players haven’t played, and they’ve had guys in and out because of injuries,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “It’s just hard. It’s hard to get your team developed, but you’ve got to figure it out. In a perfect world, you’ve got everybody from Day One, and they can learn and grow together as a team.”
Injuries, and a one-game suspension to Allen, haven’t given Duke a chance at consistency or the opportunity to grow together. N.C. State has had the same problem.
Sophomore guard Luke Kennard and senior guard Matt Jones are the only two Duke players who have appeared in all 19 games this season.
Freshman forward Harry Giles missed 11 games with a knee injury, freshman forward Jayson Tatum missed eight games with a foot injury, freshman forward Marques Bolden missed eight games with a leg injury, senior forward Amile Jefferson missed two games with a foot injury and Allen missed one game with a toe injury and was suspended for a road loss at Virginia Tech after a tripping incident in a win over Elon on Dec. 21.
The Wolfpack didn’t have freshman forward Omer Yurtseven for the first nine games due to an amateurism issue with the NCAA, sophomore guard Maverick Rowan suffered a concussion in the season-opener and missed seven games and freshman forward Ted Kapita missed three games with a student visa issue.
N.C. State didn’t have its complete lineup of players available until Yurtseven’s debut against Appalachian State on Dec. 15. The way all of Duke’s injuries fell, it didn’t have its full complement of players until Saturday’s 70-58 win over Miami.
Both teams are trying to shuffle the deck and also learn on the fly. Duke used eight players in Saturday’s comeback win over Miami, and four of them are freshmen. N.C. State started two freshmen in Saturday’s home loss to Wake Forest and used three freshmen in an eight-man rotation.
Duke came into the season with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, but Giles and Tatum, the Nos. 1 and 3 players, respectively, in the class, made their first start together on Saturday.
N.C. State went into the season with the expectation that freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. and Yurtseven would be the main focal points of the offense. Smith, who leads the team with 18.9 points per game and leads the ACC with 6.6 assists per game, has been strong, but it has been a struggle for Yurtseven, who hasn’t been able to get into the flow of the game in ACC play, save for a 12-point, 16-rebound outing against Pittsburgh last Tuesday.
Both teams are mostly relying on first-year players or players who missed last season. Duke has had nine players average 10 minutes or more this season, only four (Kennard, Jones, Allen and sophomore forward Chase Jeter) played in the ACC last year.
Jefferson, the Devils’ captain and fifth-year senior, was shut down with a foot injury last season after nine games and before ACC play.
N.C. State also has nine players who average 10-plus minutes and only three (junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu, senior forward BeeJay Anya and Rowan) saw action in conference play a year ago.
Senior guard Terry Henderson missed all but 7 minutes of last season with a foot injury and sophomore guard Torin Dorn sat out last season as a transfer from Charlotte.
But all of the moving parts and all of the inexperience have left Duke and N.C. State in similar spots on the defensive front. “One-and-done” players don’t see defense as their path to the NBA. They want to score and be productive on offense.
Not to mention, the more experience you have and the more you play together, the easier defense gets, especially for a team like Duke that likes to switch in its man defense.
At least Duke appeared to turn a corner defensively in the second half against Miami. N.C. State, after giving up 93 points to Wake Forest, is still trying to find a way get enough stops to salvage its season.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
N.C. State at Duke
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium