So we are still barely scratching the surface of the new college basketball season. So far there hasn’t been much surprise with what we have seen, especially out of our beloved Tar Heels. The freshmen are showing promise, our veterans are stepping up, and the shooters have shown glimpses of the great potential they have to knock down big shots from the perimeter. The young team however, is still unproven. They had their first road game last night against Long Beach State and follow up with the Maui Invitational against some bigger named schools next week. I think the big question though is how the team will match up with the big conference schools this year. And the team we always want to beat more than anything is Duke.
Like Carolina, Duke is unbeaten, but unlike Carolina, they have a signature win under their belt. The Blue Devils’ win over Kentucky earlier this week just proved that their veteran team can beat anyone in the country and that they are just as much of a contender as anyone. But how does Carolina match up with them given what we’ve seen so far?
It’s unlikely that Coach Williams will be able to lead his troops into Cameron Indoor Stadium in February and win as comfortably as they did a year ago, but winning against Duke to me is absolutely not out of the question. I think the big match up for both games will be the one featuring Dexter Strickland and Seth Curry. If you remember back to last season, Curry lit the Tar Heels up……twice. It’s no secret that if you are of the Curry family, you have a great talent when it comes to knocking down jump shots and in Duke’s offense, you’re going to shoot jump shots. We all know Dexter is a more than capable defender. In fact, he’s one of the best on the ball defenders in the country in my opinion. Dex has played very confidently thus far for just having returned from major knee surgery. If his health holds up, Dexter will be a nightmare for Seth to get open looks. If his opportunities are limited, Carolina has a great chance to win.
I think another big match up will be James Michael McAdoo and Ryan Kelly. This is intriguing because of how different both players are. Kelly is an awkward big man that spreads post players to the three point line with his ability to hit long range shots. JMM is the exact opposite. He’s an ultra athletic big man who attacks the rim and runs the floor well similar to Duke’s Mason Plumlee. The reason McAdoo would be put on Kelly is for his ability to defend away from the basket. JMM is known for forcing turnovers and getting easy buckets in transition which could cause issues for guys like Tyler Thornton or Quinn Cook to effectively get Kelly the basketball shutting down his three point presence and essentially only allowing him to be completely out matched athletically in the paint on defense. I’d prefer to watch JMM go toe to toe with Plumlee in the paint, but I don’t trust Joel James or Desmond Hubert (whoever starts) chasing Kelly out on the perimeter which means they will have to work on containing Plumlee. I think with JMM on Kelly, the Heels can make the senior forward really uncomfortable.
The other three match ups on the floor will be less exciting, but just as important. I briefly touched on Plumlee vs James or Hubert and that should really play into Duke’s favor. Mason looks as skilled as he has ever been and even though Joel and Desmond are solid defenders, I wouldn’t trust them handling the speed and athleticism of Plumlee. I think Marcus Paige could have a tough time dealing with a veteran guard in Tyler Thornton coupled with a tough Duke defense. If Paige can work off good ball screens and feed McAdoo in the post or penetrate and find his open teammates for three instead of trying to do too much, then smart basketball should overcome a tough match up. There will definitely be a learning curve for the young freshman, but he’s talented enough to figure it out quickly.
The final pairing on the floor will be Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon and Reggie Bullock. This may be the most underrated match up on the floor. In Sulaimon, you have a young, athletic freshman who can shoot the lights out of the ball and with Reggie you have the same thing with just a little more height and a little more experience. Reggie is a proven defender and has always been one to really prevent a player from lighting up the scoreboard, but Rasheed had a good defensive reputation to go along with his shooting prowess coming into school. If both players stay aggressive on defense then the winner of this match up will be the player who breaks through first and in this case, I’ve got to give the upper hand to experience.
I think at this point, it’s hard to determine how the benches will stack up against each other because both schools have rotations that haven’t been ironed out fully just yet. Both schools have shooting off the bench as well as talented young big men. Either way, the team that will win the game will be the team who wins the early match ups on the floor. Obviously, we have several more months before we see it in action, but early on, as talented as Duke is, I like how the Tar Heels stack up and I truly believe that they can win.