North Carolina vs. Duke: Keys to Victory for UNC


The North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Duke Blue Devils in Chapel Hill on Thursday night in Chapel Hill. The two teams are separated by only 8 miles and a short, easy journey (assuming its not snowing). Duke and UNC also have a long history of passion and great games in the rivalry.

While this game might not offer the Top-5 or Top-10 battle that has occurred in seasons past, this game will still feature two really good basketball teams playing their best ball now.

UNC has won seven of its last eight games and is on the fringe of breaking back into the Top-25 after a two-month long hiatus starting in January.

Duke is on just as good a run, having won nine of its last 10 games. The only loss was an overtime thriller to the consensus number one team in the nation, Syracuse. Before the two teams tip off at the Dean Dome Thursday night, here are some keys to victory for North Carolina vs. Duke.

Stop Jabari

Freshman phenom Jabari Parker must be stopped if the Tar Heels want to pull out a win on Thursday night. Parker is averaging 19 points and nine rebounds-not bad numbers at all for a true freshman who is still just 18 years of age. But you have to dig a little deeper into the numbers to find Jabari’s true value for the Blue Devils.

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Its clear from those numbers of how much big of a component Jabari Parker is to the Blue Devil offense. Kenpom.com also lists Jabari in eight of Duke’s 10 most frequent lineups in the last five games. Stopping Jabari Parker will go a long way to shutting down Duke’s highly efficient offense.

The next logical question is who on North Carolina’s team can stop Jabari Parker and shut him down. James Michael McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto are UNC’s best options to defend the versatile and athletic Parker. McAdoo can match-up with him down in the post, but might struggle with his quickness on the perimeter. However, McAdoo’s length and slight height advantage will help him. He just has to make sure to stay out of foul trouble.

Tokoto is UNC’s best on ball defender, but probably will be tasked with guarding Rodney Hood while McAdoo is on the court guarding Parker. From kenpom.com’s same 10 most frequent Duke lineups in the last ten games, Jabari Parker is listed as power forward in all six of Duke’s most frequent lineups. The battle between UNC going big and putting McAdoo on Parker versus Duke going small and trying to play zone or keep Parker on McAdoo on the end will be interesting to watch.

Guard the Three-Pointer

Duke’s offense thrives when the three pointer is falling. It will be UNC’s job on Thursday night to shut down the Blue Devils from long range. UNC’s three point defense ranks first in the ACC in % of three pointers allowed, at just over 30 percent. The problem falls however in the fact that Duke ranks first in the ACC in % of three pointers taken, at 42 percent. Whichever team wins that clash may well end up winning the ballgame.

Maryland was successful in shutting down the Duke from the three point line, as the Blue Devils shot just 5-24 from outside. The Terps feature bigger lineups, much like the Tar Heels do, so UNC has to learn from what Maryland did against Duke and apply it in this rivarly matchup. That includes chasing Blue Devil shooting threats off the three point line and forcing them to challenge UNC’s shot blockers like Brice Johnson.

Dominate Inside

A big part of shutting down the Blue Devils from deep is locking down rebounds and limiting second chance points. UNC must dominate inside in order to pull out a victory in Chapel Hill on Thursday night. The Heels rank first in the ACC in offensive rebound percentage, a key mark of offensive efficiency and success. UNC’s strong offensive rebounding abilities are a big reason why the offense has been able to stay afloat while not being able to hit three pointers or free throws consistently.

Dominating inside also means taking advantage of favorable matchups UNC has against Duke. UNC plays two traditional big men a majority of the time, be it James Michael McAdoo paired with Kennedy Meeks or Meeks and Brice Johnson playing together.

Duke however gets away with a “small-ball” lineup featuring Jabari Parker at the traditional power forward slot. The Tar Heels of last season featured a small-ball heavy lineup, with Reggie Bullock or PJ Hairston sliding down to try and bang with bigger forwards and centers. Now UNC will be on the opposite side of the equation, exploiting that favorable matchup for post up chances for McAdoo and Johnson.

Stats from kenpom.com and sports-reference.com.

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