Tonight will bring us the latest chapter in the Duke-UNC rivalry. The teams will meet for the second time this season, and full bragging rights will be on the line.
The Blue Devil got the best of North Carolina earlier this season, but since then the Tar Heels have rode a six game win streak and are on their way to a first round bye in the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils however have lost two games since then, but have been rejuvenated by the return of Ryan Kelly.
Kelly has given Duke a boost since his return against Miami last Saturday. Duke remains undefeated with Kelly in their lineup as the Tar Heels look to break that streak.
Seeding is also on the line for both teams as they enter this match-up in Chapel Hill.
Duke will look to build on their number one seed resume for the NCAA Tournament, while North Carolina looks to add a big win to their resume.
It’s always fun when these two teams get together no matter the records. Here are my three keys if North Carolina want’s to beat Duke.
3. Marcus Paige must play well
Marcus Paige is developing his game right before our eyes and it’s been a pleasure to watch. Since his poor game at North Carolina State earlier in the year, Paige has played great. The freshman point guard has lead the Tar Heels new look lineup with his stellar unselfish play.
Paige didn’t have an awful game the first time these two teams played, but it surely could have been better scoring wise. He finished with four points on two of nine shooting from the field.
This time around Paige will look to have a better shooting game and get involved in the scoring. However, he doesn’t need to score a bunch for the Tar Heels to win. He just needs to run the Carolina offense effectively against Dukes pesky perimeter defense.
2. UNC must utilize their small lineup
Ever since Roy has switched the lineup during the first match up between the two teams, UNC has posted a 6-1 record. They even held the lead for most of the game against Duke in the first meeting. Something is obviously working for the Tar Heels.
With this small lineup, Carolina gives up a lot of size especially in the paint. It does however allow them to spread the floor more giving them mismatches on the offensive end of the floor. James Michael McAdoo plays the five spot in the lineup which let’s him create off the dribble, utilize his mid-range jumper to his advantage and lure the opposing center out of the paint. So far it’s caused fits for opposing defenses, including Duke.
As the Blue Devils add Kelly back to their lineup, that should give them some help guarding this lineup for North Carolina. It will be a lot different then the first time these two met, especially since Kelly is back.
If UNC can use this lineup to their advantage it could cause mismatches and lead to success for the Heels. Open shots and penetration off the dribble for players like PJ Hairston, Reggie Bullock and McAdoo will also be a big factor for the Tar Heels. This is something I expect to see throughout the game.
3. UNC needs to win the perimeter battle
Duke lives and dies by the 3-point shot, especially lately as big man Mason Plumlee has struggled for Duke. It’s a classic Duke offense that will make you pay for leaving shooters open on the perimeter. On the other side, Carolina loves to get out on fast breaks and dominate the transition game. While I expect that from the Tar Heels, the perimeter game is more important in this match-up.
North Carolina can’t afford to fall behind early and let Duke dominate the perimeter. If that happens, it could be an ugly game early for the Tar Heels.
Their perimeter defense has been a struggle at times this season. More recently they are playing better perimeter defense, which they will need to do in this match-up.
If North Carolina can play solid perimeter defense against Duke, it could force the Blue Devils to go down low a lot more and even settle for bad percentage shots. On the offensive side, Carolina must hit their perimeter jumpers. Doing so will put more pressure on the Duke defense. This all starts with PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock, who have easily been the Tar Heels best shooters this year.