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Friday, January 11, 2013

Game of the season? Duke at NC State

Posted by on Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 12:12 AM

Every once in a while, a random search on the Internet—the place that made geeky cool—produces something truly wonderful.

Today's truly wonderful find is the Duke Blue Devils Basketball Statistical Database, a resource that has been available for nearly six years but that some ignorant people found only yesterday. Not only does the database have results from every season and stats on every player going back 75 years, it also has separate pages with complete histories of Duke's record against particular opponents.

That database is the primary source for our quick look at No. 1 Duke's trip to No. 20 N.C. State Saturday at noon, undoubtedly the game of the ACC Weekend and possibly the game of the season. These two schools were picked by the media to finish at the top of the league, and they are the highest ranked teams right now. Only Miami, when fully healthy, seems capable of making a substantial challenge to Duke and State for the conference championship.

Further, the game is at the underdog's place—at State—which presumably makes the game more of a toss-up. State is 9-0 at home this year and has won nine consecutive games since losing to (still unbeaten) Michigan. Duke has exceeded expectations to date, winning 15 straight against tough competition. On paper, Duke is still the favorite—by 8 points according to the Sagarin ratings. But after last year's epic losing effort in Cameron, the teams' only meeting of 2012, State fans will be itching at making amends for blowing a 20-point second-half lead.

The Duke-State rivalry has been a victim of both one-sidedness and the end of the true home-and-home league format in 2005. At that time, Maryland was designated Duke's second permanent rival, meaning that in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012, the Devils and Pack only met once in regular season league play.

This year, with 18 games, the teams are again slated to play twice. I like the way State matches up against the Blue Devils and would not be surprised to see them pull off the mild upset tomorrow. If Duke prevails, talk about a possibly unbeaten ACC run for the Blue Devils will begin in earnest; a State victory, and the race at the top of the league is thrown wide open.

So here's the question for the database: When, if ever, has a regular season meeting between Duke and the Pack meant so much? Duke and State have played some memorable games in the ACC Tournament in the past couple of decades, particularly upset wins for the Pack in 1997 and 2007, but what about the regular season?

Let's limit the search parameters to games during the Coach K era played in Raleigh when both teams were nationally ranked and their average ranking was #12 or higher. Here are your results:

• In 2004, #1 Duke traveled to #21 NCSU and lost 78-74.

• In 1989, #8 Duke lost at #15 NCSU 88-73 (State went on to claim the regular season ACC crown that year).

• In 1988, #5 Duke lost at #18 NCSU 89-78.

• Finally, in 1986 #2 Duke beat #17 NCSU in Raleigh 72-70.

Looking even further back, we can also find a win for Duke in Raleigh in 1979 when Duke was #8 and State #14, and a Blue Devil win in 1958 when Duke was #8 and State was #6. There's also a Duke loss in Raleigh from 1956 when they were #11 and State was #5, but that game was part of the ACC Tournament, not the regular season.

What can we conclude from this? First, there have been very few games in the Duke-State series of the magnitude tomorrow's game carries, from either a national or conference perspective. Second, in those few games, State has done well (3-1) during the Coach K era.

Does that history matter at all tomorrow? Certainly not. But a State win would raise expectations that big games between these two schools will become more frequent in the immediate future than they have been in recent decades.

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