Key To UNC Victory Over Duke: Slowing Jahlil Okafor


#3 Duke visits #19 UNC in Chapel Hill for a 7pm tip-off. This is an opportunity rematch for the Tar Heels to bounce back. They fell to the blue devils in a two-point overtime loss, February 18th. That night saw big performances by Duke players and an underwhelming UNC one in select areas. It’s important to address the key to victory in order for Chapel Hill to leave with a home win.

Slow Down Jahlil Okafor

Yes, he’s a freshman. And no, he wasn’t the leading scorer last Duke game. None of that matters. Without Okafor, Duke’s game plan falls apart.

Duke’s Quin Cook and Tyus Jones shredded UNC, this is true. But there was a reason for that. So why didn’t Roy run a more perimeter-focused defense, thus halting easy shots for Cook and Jones?

Answer: Jahlil Okafor, the 6’11” 270 pound future number one NBA pick.

In the Duke-UNC matchup, Okafor put up what many would consider “a quiet game” for him. That was still a 12 point, 13 rebound double-double. UNC’s Brice Johnson fouled out after 24 minutes. Kennedy Meeks came close to ending the game on the bench as well. He finished with four personal fouls.

Was every foul Johnson or Meeks committed, on Jahlil Okafor? No, of course not. You can bet a bottom dollar they always knew he was there though. A man that size and with that tenacity casts a large shadow.

So…how does UNC slow him down? The answer is a combination of help defense, positioning, and foul trouble.

Help defense: Duke has great shooters. Great shooters have off nights. We hope that Saturday is an off night for Duke—at least for the first half.

The adage is “Live by the three, die by the three.” The adage is not “Live by the rim-shaking dunk, die by the rim-shaking dunk.” A dunk is a high-percentage shot. A three is not. Chapel Hill wants Duke to shoot threes way more than they want Duke to yam it. There’s a reason nobody puts three pointers on posters.

Positioning: There’s a painted area of floor, near the basket, called “The Block.” It’s located in the aptly named “The Paint”. UNC should not let Jahlil Okafor step one foot on that block.

Seriously, don’t let the man even set up there. That means any Chapel Hill defender has to beat Okafor down the floor and set up on the block first. If Jahlil has time to set his feet on that section of floor, it’s too late.

Foul Trouble: What’s a good way to force poor play from Okafor? Keep him on the bench. It’s that simple. Chapel Hill’s aim has to be on Okafor’s chest.

More from North Carolina Tar Heels

Every time UNC is on offense, drive the ball right at the big man. Be aggressive with the rock. Give pump fake after pump fake. Big guys love to block shots so UNC should use that to its advantage. Initiate contact by him whenever possible.

Force the refs to blow the whistle. If 6’1” 175 pound Marcus Paige drives the lane and makes contact in the air with 6’11” 270 pound Jahlil Okafor, who does the ref call the foul on?

UNC must maximize his size to their advantage instead of disadvantage. He’s a large target for foul calls. Make that a priority.

If Chapel Hill keeps Okafor sipping lukewarm water on the bench, they can adjust to Duke’s guards in the second half. The blue devils have no inside-out game. Chapel Hill can then begin swarming Duke’s guards and feeding the ball to Kennedy Meeks. Negating Okafor is a must-do for UNC.