The best college basketball team in the land, the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils (15-0), will be shorthanded when it takes on one of its biggest rivals, the No. 20 North Carolina State Wolfpack (13-2) in a crucial early-season ACC matchup.
Starting forward Ryan Kelly is out indefinitely after re-aggravating a foot injury he originally suffered last March—one that kept him out of both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments (h/t USA Today).
The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Duke, who faces a NC State team that is in the midst of a nine-game winning streak, besting the opposition by an average of 14 points per game.
An already formidable challenge for the Blue Devils just got that much more challenging.
Here’s everything you need to know heading into this epic ACC clash.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC
When: Saturday, Jan. 12 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Listen: 102.9 FM and 620 AM (Duke), 101.5 FM (NC State)
Live Stream: WatchESPN
What's at Stake
It may be early on the conference calendar, but both teams have plenty to gain—and lose—on Saturday afternoon.
Obviously, a loss will knock Duke from atop the polls; someplace the Blue Devils have been in each of the past four weeks. Not only that, but Duke would drop from the top of the ACC standings as well, giving NC State the early advantage in conference play.
More importantly, though, a loss will bring the team’s lack of depth to the forefront, and questions about whether they can contend for a National Title will begin to surface. A win silences the critics and proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that Duke is on another level than everyone else.
While a loss to a shorthanded Duke squad would sting, it wouldn’t crush NC State’s dreams of a high seed in postseason tournament action.
A win, however, would be huge.
Not only would it serve as the signature win on their resume when the selection committee meets to determine the field for the NCAA Tournament, but it sends a clear message that the Wolf Pack are capable of beating any team at any time.
Injury Report (via USA Today)
Forward Ryan Kelly is out indefinitely with a foot injury.
No injuries to report.
Projected Starting Lineups (via ESPN.com)
Amile Jefferson, F
Seth Curry, G
Mason Plumlee, F
Quinn Cook, G
Rasheed Sulaimon, G
Scott Wood, F
Lorenzo Brown, G
Richard Howell, F
C.J. Leslie, F
Rodney Purvis, G
What They're Saying
Ryan Kelly's injury is a big one, and it's a story involving Duke, so you knew that ESPN's Dick Vitale was going to have something to say on the subject:
While some may not agree with much of what Dickie V has to say, he is right on the money with this one.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Kelly allows the third-fewest points per play in the country:
|Player (Team)||Points Allowed Per Play|
|Phil Pressey (Missouri)||0.47|
|Jamaal Franklin (San Diego State)||0.52|
|Ryan Kelly (Duke)||0.53|
|Archie Goodwin (Kentucky)||0.54|
Going up against a team in NC State that leads the nation in field-goal percentage, how vital Kelly has been to the Blue Devils' success on the defensive end of the floor will quickly become evident.
Duke Key Player: Mason Plumlee, F
The senior forward is the current favorite to be named the Player of the Year according to ESPN, and rightfully so.
Duke's best player, the 6'10" Plumlee leads the Blue Devis in scoring (17.7), rebounding (11.4), field goal percentage (.616) and minutes played (33.2).
While there's no question that Plumlee is a talented player, Kelly's presence on the floor will have a major impact on his game, as noted by ESPN's Fran Fraschilla:
Tough break for Duke. Devils did not score more than 70 without Ryan Kelly in post-season last year. He "stretches floor" for Plumlee inside— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) January 10, 2013
ESPN Stats and Information points out just how much Kelly stretched the floor for Plumlee:
Duke F Ryan Kelly is shooting 52.1% from 3-pt range this season, 4th among players from the 6 major D-I conferences (T-9th overall).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 9, 2013
This will be Plumlee's biggest test of the season, as he will be the focal point of the Wolf Pack's defense near the basket and double-teamed often.
While he has shown good vision in passing from the high-post and foul line extended, he'll need to be able to kick it out to an open wing when the double team comes if the Blue Devils are going to overcome Kelly's loss.
NC State Key Player: C.J. Leslie, F
While Richard Howell will be tasked with doing much of the dirty work against Plumlee, it's junior forward C.J. Leslie who must take advantage of Kelly's absence on the floor.
N.C. State's leading scorer (15.1) and second-leading rebounder (7.3), Leslie must attack the rim, exposing Duke's lack of depth at the forward position and getting to the free throw line early and often.
No matter who Duke throws on the floor—Amille Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, Alex Murphy or Josh Hairston—Leslie will be the more talented player, and he must take advantage of those individual mismatches.
Duke has been consistent all season long but this team is ill-equipped to handle a major loss like Kelly's. That lack of depth on the Blue Devils' roster is going to prove costly, as NC State will land its signature win and send Duke tumbling from the top of the mountain.
NC State 85, Duke 78