One thing has remained constant since Leonard Hamilton took over at FSU. When the Blue Devils come to Tallahassee, they're ranked in the nation's top-5. They've haven't played here when they weren't in the top-5, and this year is no different.
At one point they were the nation's best team. They were 15-0 (2-0). They beat Kentucky, Minnesota, VCU, Louisville, Ohio State and Temple. They won their first two ACC games by an average of 23 points. They were rolling.
Then Ryan Kelly hurt his foot.
In the five games since (Kelly has sat them all out) they've gone 3-2 and got curb stomped at Miami. Even a team like Duke - with eight consensus top-50 recruits on their roster - has a hard time adjusting to upperclassmen getting hurt.
On Monday, Dan Hanner - one of the best analysts there is - took a look at how several team's injuries were affecting them. Here's what he had to say about Duke, who's defensive efficiency in the wake of Kelly's injury plummeted from 0.82 points per possession to 0.96. The difference between those two figures is the difference between the 2nd rated defense in the nation and the 102nd. Hanner:
That’s probably too big a drop off to be permanent, and Duke’s horrific performance at Miami felt like a once-per-season collapse, not a permanent sign of bad things to come. But I think it is informative how Mike Krzyzewski is allocating playing time with Kelly out. While Amile Jefferson has seen his percentage of minutes increase from 21 percent to 58 percent in the four games Kelly has been out, the second biggest beneficiary of playing time is actually Mason Plumlee. And this worries me a little bit if I’m Duke. Plumlee has been playing 96 percent of Duke’s minutes since Ryan Kelly has been out, and Krzyzewski seems hesitant to ever take him out. I worry that all those minutes are having a negative impact on Plumlee’s energy level. Plumlee’s ORtg was 115 prior to Kelly going down, and has been just 95 in the four games since Kelly went down. Some of that is due to the tougher ACC defenses Plumlee has faced, but you have to wonder if the lack of rest time is hurting Plumlee’s overall performance.
Their offense hasn't been nearly affected to the same degree, which is insane, considering Kelly - at 6-11 - was a 52% 3-point shooter, and among players who took at least 1/5th of their team's shots he had the highest offensive rating in the conference.
But the real trouble comes on the interior. How will FSU defend 6-11 Mason Plumlee who averages a double-double with 18.1 points and 11.1 rebounds? They'll certainly front him, or at least try. He's big enough to keep defenders from getting around him and into position. Once he is fronted, he's athletic enough that he's an easy target for lobs, which means FSU has to double. When the double team arrives he's adept at finding one of Duke's shooter for a three. In a word, he's a load.
When FSU has the ball, the Noles are going to have to break out of their shooting slump. Since conference play began they're only making 32% of their 3s, which is 10th in the ACC. Look for more of what they did vs Maryland. The Noles will spread the defense by mostly playing four players outside the arc, and try and drive into the gaps. Avoid charges, draw fouls, and find open shooters. To beat a power like Duke, you have to execute.
The game tips at 2pm from the Tuck and will be broadcast on ESPN. Duke is a 6.5 point favorite in Vegas, while Pomeroy (who does not adjust for injuries) has Duke -12.
If FSU can pull the upset they'll be tied in the standings with NC State and Duke. Those two have played the 7th and 9th most difficult ACC schedules to date, while FSU has had the most difficult road of any conference team. In other words, the Noles willl be in line for a top-4 seed in the ACC Tourney, and have a much easier road to get there than their competitors.