RALEIGH, N.C. – N.C. State picked up a signature win — one that could be crucial for the Wolfpack come Selection Sunday — defeating No. 17 Duke 84-82 at Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier in the week on Monday.
The Wolfpack’s (14-7, 3-5) win was its first against the Blue Devils (15-5, 3-4) at Cameron since 1995 and the 400th of head coach Mark Gottfried’s career.
Here’s what we learned:
Dennis Smith Jr. is the real deal
Talk about a coming-out party.
At one of college basketball’s toughest places to play, against a ranked rival, the freshman point guard proved why he is projected to be a top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
His 32 points are the most scored by a freshman since Duke legend J.J. Redick put up 34 against Virginia on Jan. 16, 2003.
More impressive than his numbers, which included six assists and four rebounds, is how seemingly easy he made it look.
On a court full of future NBA players, nobody could slow down Smith Jr., who single-handedly scored almost half of the 67-point average Duke allows per game.
Importance of Abu and Kapita in the Wolfpack offense
After not playing at all in the previous two games, freshman forward Ted Kapita made the most of his opportunity against the Blue Devils, racking up 14 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
Kapita provided an energy level up front that the Wolfpack has quite frankly not had for much of the season.
Junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu turned in his second-straight strong performance, scoring 19 points and grabbing 9 rebounds.
When these two are on, and especially at the same time, the Wolfpack offense is difficult to stop.
With the emergence of Kapita, it was one of the few times this season that the opposing defense had two State bigs to worry about instead of just keying in on stopping one.
The Blue Devils are struggling and may not be what we thought they were
The preseason No. 1 doesn’t look remotely close to what everyone expected it to be.
With the loss to the Wolfpack, Duke is now just 1-3 in its last four games, with its lone win coming at home against Miami thanks to one incredible half.
Granted, two of those losses came to ranked teams on the road (FSU and Louisville), yet this doesn’t look like a Duke team fans have come to expect.
The Blue Devils have arguably more talent than any team in the country, yet at times they look disjointed and unsure of how to play together as a unit.
Perhaps just as concerning as the team’s performance is junior guard Grayson Allen’s play as of late.
Yes, he has still gotten his points, although his scoring average is down from 21.6 points last season to 15.1 this year, but he just doesn’t seem to be the same player he was.
Maybe it’s all the hoopla surrounding his multiple tripping incidents that are finally affecting him mentally and causing him to be less aggressive.
When Allen is at his best, he is extremely passionate and energetic on the court.
Now he seems to have turned that intensity down a notch, almost as if to protect himself from being too emotional and getting in trouble again.
What to expect moving forward
The Pack showed great resilience and toughness after a poor start to ACC play, and the victory over Duke could be a launching point for the rest of the season.
A win like this is the type that gives a struggling team the confidence it needs to finally be more consistent and pick up some big wins in the conference.
Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried acknowledged after the game that Kapita would get more playing time in the future thanks to his performance.
An Abu and Kapita frontcourt combination could be the dominant force State has lacked this season, as it has often played a four-guard lineup because of the lack of production from its big men.
When the two are on the court with Smith Jr. it makes the Wolfpack’s ACC-leading offense even more difficult to defend.
Duke desperately needs to find a lineup combination and rotation that works and stick with it.
The Blue Devils continue to experiment with numerous combinations and it seems to be hurting the team’s ability to gel as a unit.
Even with the loss to N.C. State, this Duke team remains incredibly talented and capable of beating anyone in the country.
Now all the Blue Devils need to do is determine who the leaders are going to be to do so.