Matchups: Duke/Wake, NCSU/UNC
Tobacco Road: where the excitement never ends...unless you're in Raleigh.
Duke @ Wake Forest -- 2/2, 9:00 PM
The Blue Devils travel to Wake Forest and we'll finally have an idea just how well the Dukies stack up to the other teams in the ACC's top tier.
Duke Adj FG%: 54.6
Wake Adj FG%: 56
Duke OFF EFF: 114
Wake OFF EFF: 114.1
Duke DEF EFF: 87.2
Wake DEF EFF: 98.6
Duke OREB Rate: .396
Wake OREB Rate: .384
Duke is clearly a better defensive team (but we could have guessed that); otherwise, the two teams have similar numbers. Both teams like to play at about the same tempo, so neither team should be made uncomfortable by what the other is doing offensively.
This game may ride on the Shelden Williams/Eric Williams matchup, and even if Duke gets the better of that duel, it merely makes it more likely that the Devils will be in the game. Should Wake get the better of the battle in the post, the Deacs could run away with it. Duke's lack of quality depth in the frontcourt means that Shelden Williams has to stay out of foul trouble--with him, the Devils can maintain a two-dimensional offense; without him, they'll have to be more perimeter-oriented (and, IMO, it'll be all over...). Okay, so perhaps I'm underestimating Duke a little bit here (I mean, after all, JJ Redick is a pretty good weapon to have if you're gonna be perimeter-oriented), but I think that Duke has to maintain a versatile offense in order to keep up with Wake Forest.
Also important is Shelden's rebounding--he has grabbed 30% of the team's total rebounds, and that is by far the highest percentage in the ACC (Elton Brown is second at about 25%). One of Duke's strengths is offensive rebounding (which is part of the reason why they're as efficient as they are), but they won't be nearly as good with Williams on the bench with a couple of early fouls. They'll definitely hold their own on the glass as long as Williams is in the game; without him, the advantage is Wake's.
NC State @ North Carolina -- 2/3, 7:00 PM
Unfortunately for State, they only way they salvage a 4-4 conference record through the first eight games is with a win in Chapel Hill. Maryland, Georgia Tech and Kentucky have each been pummeled mercilessly in the Dean Dome. In all likelihood, a similar fate awaits the Wolfpack.
State Adj FG%: 53.7
UNC Adj FG%: 58.2
State OFF EFF: 111.9
UNC OFF EFF: 115.5
State DEF EFF: 96.3
UNC DEF EFF: 87.6
State OREB Rate: .350
UNC OREB Rate: .390
This game can be close if State can keep the Heels at or below their average offensive efficiency. In Carolina's last game--at UVA--the Heels scored 110 points on 83 possessions for an efficiency of 133 (whew!). If the Heels are anywhere near that efficient on Thursday, it'll never be close.
Fortunately, State's tempo plays into its favor. It is very unlikely that this game will be played at the same fast pace as the UNC/UVA game, and that will help keep Carolina's opportunities down. Tempo aside, the bottom line is NC State must play good defense and must rebound well. The Wolfpack can't possibly match the Heels shot-for-shot (only a couple of teams can), and they can't allow the Heels to get too many easy baskets through their offense or through second chances.
NC State gave up 16 offensive rebounds (and grabbed just 4) to Clemson, a team that has an OREB Rate similar to North Carolina's. Not a particularly good omen for the Pack.
State's biggest edge coming in is turnover rate: North Carolina will make its fair share of turnovers (they're the third most turnover prone team in the ACC), and the Wolfpack is known for not making too many giveaways. Turnovers will help State stay in the game, but this advantage won't mean much if NC State can't perform well in the areas I've already mentioned.