NC State - Maryland Preview

IS NC STATE BEST IN THE ACC AFTER UPSETTING DUKE?

The NC State Wolfpack will be dealing with a huge letdown spot Wednesday Night when they visit Maryland in an ACC showdown to be nationally televised by ESPN2. Some pundits went so far as to suggest that NC State was now THE BEST IN THE ACC after they upset Duke this past weekend. More measured voices are waiting to see how State handles tonight's challenge against the Terps.

Wednesday's performance will certainly shed more light on the question. Let's look at some of the evidence that's already in play. Here are the current rankings at the top of the ACC according to the nationally respected computer formulas we'll be following for you here in the NOTEBOOK (Jeff Sagarin's numbers at USA Today, and Ken Pomeroy's numbers at kenpom.com).

ACC CONTENDERS
Duke: 1 in Sagarin, 4 in Pomeroy
Miami-Fla: 14 in Sagarin, 19 in Pomeroy
NC State: 19 in Sagarin, 29 in Pomeroy
Maryland: 53 in Sagarin, 56 in Pomeroy
North Carolina: 57 in Sagarin, 51 in Pomeroy
Virginia: 71 in Sagarin, 52 in Pomeroy

Those ratings don't have NC State as best in the conference by any means. In fact, Pomeroy barely has the Wolfpack in the top 30! If Duke is in line for a #1 seed (which they are at the moment), how could they not be the best team in the ACC?

EXHIBIT A
The computers ALWAYS love Duke, and Duke usually disappoints! They did go the distance a few years ago thanks to a very friendly schedule. But...and you regular readers of the NOTEBOOK remember this very clearly...Duke is typically at least a dozen spots worse than their computer rankings once they're forced to play neutral site tournament games against quality opposition. Duke was highly respected by the computers last year before:

Getting routed by North Carolina in their regular season finale (and that was a home!)
Barely beating Virginia Tech in their first ACC tourney game
Losing to Florida State in the ACC semifinals
Losing to Lehigh (freaking LEHIGH!) in the first round of the Big Dance

That was a 1-3 straight up finish that was 0-4 against the Vegas line for a team that the computers had tabbed as a superpower. And, since prior seasons include other disappointing Dance losses (plus a near loss to Belmont), you have to assume the computers are overstating the case again.

EXHIBIT B
Let's look at last Saturday's boxscore...

NC STATE 84, DUKE 76
Shooting Percentage: Duke 45%, NC State 51%
Three-Pointers: Duke 6/20, NC State 4/8
Free Throws: Duke 10/12, NC State 20/23
Rebounds: Duke 31, NC State 33
Turnovers: Duke 12, NC State 11
Phantom Score: Duke 79, NC State 85
Vegas Line: Duke by 1, total of 149

First of all, Duke was only favored by 1 on the road, which tells you the legal betting markets don't see the Blue Devils as head and shoulders above the Wolfpack. You regulars may be ahead of us here already...but those stat categories show once again why Duke is always vulnerable to quality.

  • Duke is soft inside defensively
  • Duke is mortal when they don't make a lot of treys, and it's harder to do that away from home
  • Duke is mortal when they don't get friendly officiating
  • Duke can be beaten on the boards

That Phantom Score stat line is something we invented many years ago that emphasizes what matters most in quality rebounding. It's the sum of two-point scoring and rebounding. You can see that it was almost an exact match for the final score. Duke NEEDS treys and free throws to make up for vulnerabilities. When they don't get them, they lose.

So, even though it might seem overly optimistic for a TV pundit to suggest NC State is the best team in the ACC, you can at least see the potential for the Wolfpack making a run at the top through the season. And, you should always be open to the possibility that Duke WON'T be the ACC team best suited to shine in the postseason. It will be interesting to see how Duke performs down the road against Miami of Florida, and on the road against North Carolina and Maryland.

Which brings us full circle back to TONIGHT. NC State is on the road at Maryland in a letdown spot from Hades.

MARYLAND'S HIGHLIGHTS

  • Hanging with Kentucky in the season opener in a tough 3-point loss (though Kentucky's turned out to be a disappointment this year).
  • Beating Northwestern by 20 as a 5-point underdog in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge.
  • Beating George Mason by seven on a neutral floor in an important regional battle.
  • Opening conference play with a 23-point win over Virginia Tech as an 11-point favorite.

Had the season ended there...the Terps would have been riding pretty high. Unfortunately, the win over the Hokies was followed by two disappointing losses in ACC action.

  • Maryland (-6) lost to Florida State 65-62. Florida State didn't crack the top 50 of the computer composite, yet went to Maryland and won outright.
  • Maryland (+6) lost at Miami of Florida 54-47. The Terps only missed the Vegas spread by one. But, scoring only 47 points in a game is always ugly no matter what the ATS result. And, you can see by the Vegas spread that Maryland was seen as inferior to the Hurricanes going in.

In essence, we have a statement-making opportunity for BOTH teams in tonight's ESPN2 matchup. NC State wants to build on the Duke win rather than fall flat. Maryland wants to regain the enthusiasm they had a few weeks ago.

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