UNC Basketball: Lessons Learned From First Duke Matchup


The #3 Duke Blue Devils will come to the Dean Dome to take on the #19 North Carolina Tar Heels to write yet another chapter in the greatest rivalry in college sports.

The Blue Devils snuck away with a win in their previous meeting with North Carolina, as the Heels watched an 8 point lead evaporate within 43 seconds at the end of regulation.  On top of the fact that this game is important because of the history between these two schools, it’s the Heels’ senior night, their final chance to get a big win for their NCAA tournament resume, and their chance to gain vengeance on a team that they completely outplayed for 39 of the 40 minutes in regulation.

North Carolina fans have been ready for their second crack at this team eight miles away since right after the final buzzer sounded.

And while the loss was crushing, the Heels learned who they were as a team arguably more in their matchup against Duke than in any other game this season.

To avoid repeating the haunting history in February, here are a few lessons the Tar Heels should have learned following their overtime loss.

1) The Heels must be focused for an entire 40 minutes (and possibly then some) because the game can definitely come down to one possession. 

The Tar Heels suffered an absolute collapse at the end of regulation in Cameron Indoor.

The Heels will need to shoot well from the free throw line if they want to be able to compete, and will need to do so late in order to close out the scrappy Blue Devils.  Nate Britt and Brice Johnson missed key front ends of one and ones to open the door for Duke late in the game.  North Carolina shot 60% from the stripe for the game.

The Heels are also not allowed to turn the ball over and expect to win.  In order to beat tough opponents, basketball teams need to (1) get great shots and (2) make free throws.  When they turn the ball over, the Heels are unable to do either.  Although the Heels won the turnover battle by a sizeable margin for the game (11-16), when the game came down to it, the Heels were unable to get good looks at the basket because they couldn’t keep it away from Duke’s aggressive defense.

North Carolina must also be able to rebound when Kennedy Meeks and/or Brice Johnson are in foul trouble.  While J.P. Tokoto can do all he can as a guard to get rebounds, the Heels consistently get out-muscled on the boards without the two starting posts in the game.  In their previous matchup, Tokoto, Meeks, and Johnson accounted for 55% of team’s rebounding, and when one or two of them were on the bench, Duke got many extra looks due to offensive rebounds.

2) The Heels cannot expect the officials to always make the right call on controversial plays.

I am not one to typically call out the officials and have some of the blame allocated to them in a bad loss, but some calls (and no-calls) during the final stretch of this contest were questionable.  Unfortunately, it’s an aspect of the game that neither team can control.

But there were two points at the game where the call on the floor was hard to explain.

The first point was with 41 seconds left in regulation.  If Joel Berry II couldn’t do what he did while guarding Tyus Jones on this eventual and-one, I don’t think it is possible to play defense.

And of course, the other point was when Marcus Paige was going for the rebound after a missed free throw by Britt in the final seconds of the game.  His arm was clearly slapped away.  Any other point in the game, that is most certainly a foul on the rebound.

If you watched the game as a North Carolina fan, I’m sure you don’t need to see it again.

3) Marcus Paige needs to be involved offensively.

Paige’s plantar fasciitis makes it hard for him to explode horizontally and vertically.  Teams game plan to shut him down, as they know he is usually the engine that makes this North Carolina team go.  Not to mention, Paige is naturally unselfish; he would be content with a zero point performance as long as he comes out on top.

But the fact of the matter is, North Carolina needs their best player to score in volume against tough opponents.  Tokoto should not end up taking more jump shots than Paige for the Heels to be successful.  They simply do not have enough firepower without their main energy source.

Paige finished with 5 points going 2-11 from the field.

In order the Heels to stay competitive this Saturday, Marcus Paige should be prepared to take 20+ field goal attempts.

If this game is anything like the first matchup, it will be added to the history books along with the array of great games against these two schools have played in.  Just hopefully, the Heels learned a few lessons from their first matchup.