Duke Needs Important 1st Win Over NC State Print
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Thursday, 08 March 2007 05:45
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It's been an atypical season for Duke, which heads into the ACC tournament surrounded by more questions than answers.

The 21st-ranked Blue Devils can erase some doubts when they play North Carolina State in the opening round of the tournament on Thursday in Tampa, Fla.

Oddsmakers have made Duke -9.5 point spread favorites (College Basketball Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 130 total points (View College Basketball Sports Books).

It's been an atypical season for Duke, which heads into the ACC tournament surrounded by more questions than answers.

The 21st-ranked Blue Devils can erase some doubts when they play North Carolina State in the opening round of the tournament on Thursday in Tampa, Fla.

Duke (22-9) enters the ACC tournament as the seventh seed, its lowest position since being seeded ninth in 1995. The Blue Devils have either won or finished second in the tourney the past nine seasons, but now must win three games just to make it to Sunday's championship.

"We'll just keep getting better," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We played a hell of a schedule, especially in February. Sometimes you can't see as much improvement because the team you're playing against is better. By playing these people, you should get better. And I think we have - it's not reflected in the final conference record."

Krzyzewski made his comments after the Blue Devils lost 86-72 to arch-rival North Carolina on Sunday, getting swept by the eighth-ranked Tar Heels for the first time since 1995-96. Sunday's game featured an ugly ending, as Duke's Gerald Henderson was charged with a flagrant foul after hitting North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough in the face.

Henderson was suspended for Thursday's contest, dealing a blow to the Blue Devils. Henderson scored 15 points in an 85-77 loss to then-No. 24 Maryland last Wednesday, then had a season-high 16 points and six rebounds against the Tar Heels.

"He's been (playing) really well for us and he had another great game today," Duke guard Greg Paulus said. "We are going to have to step up, everyone is going to have to step up a little bit more in order to fulfill what he brought to the team."

Even without Henderson, Duke needs to find a way to fix its defense, which has allowed a new season high in points in each of its last two games.

"There were periods where we played defense and periods where we didn't," freshman Jon Scheyer said. "And that can't happen. We need to play defense for 40 minutes, especially with us. That's been one of our strong points this year."

Despite the two losses at the end of the year, the Blue Devils led the ACC in scoring defense, allowing only 60.7 points per game - the school's best defensive effort since yielding 58 points per game in 1949-50.

The Blue Devils also continued their run of success against N.C. State (15-14), beating the Wolfpack 79-56 on Jan. 20 in Raleigh. Duke has won 33 of the last 38 meetings between the teams, including five straight victories in the conference tournament.

No. 10 seed N.C. State finished with its worst conference record since also going 5-11 in 2000-01. The Wolfpack lost six of their last eight games under first-year coach Sidney Lowe.

"It's a one-game season now and I talked to the guys about caring about each other," Lowe said. "We are going into this thing and we have to play each game like it's the last game of your career."

Nine of N.C. State's 11 conference defeats came by double-digit margins, including a 79-59 loss to Maryland in Saturday's regular-season finale. The Wolfpack are 2-6 against ranked opponents this year.

"I still feel like we are a good team and I think we can win some games in the tournament," Wolfpack freshman Brandon Costner said. "I'm still very confident. Anything is possible."

The winner plays No. 2 seed Virginia on Friday.

by: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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