The Duke-UNC rematch is Sunday, and while a few days ago the odds seemed to favor UNC overwhelmingly, things may have evened up some since then and neither team is the same as it was before.
As late as Friday, it looked like UNC would be relatively healthy while Duke would probably be missing Nolan Smith (concussion), Lance Thomas (ankle), and possibly Brian Zoubek (broken nose).
Now it appears Thomas and Zoubek will play, which could lessen UNC's frontcourt advantage.Â And possibly more significantly, Ty Lawson has an injured toe.
You'll remember how effective Lawson was in Durham in the second half, when he just blew through Duke's defense.Â He might play, he probably will, but since he sat out practice Saturday, it's hard to see how he could be 100% Sunday.Â Still, it is UNC, the land of miracle recoveries, where guys regularly get up off their deathbeds and mimic the old James Brown routine, where he was too tired to go on and gets helped off the stage like an arthritic old man, only to shake off the cape and rush back.
Then after the game, the suddenly healthy Hell - Freudian typo, please excuse - Heel - will be interviewed and will thank his teammates, his coach, and frequently God Almighty, when in reality he should be thanking the flunkie who wrote the misleading press release that made him look like an avenging hero rather than a guy who elevated a mild injury into a Cause.
For all we know, Lawson might have broken his toe in six different places.Â But don't say you weren't warned.
Whatever happens, he'll face a different sort of defense.Â Duke moved from Smith to Greg Paulus in an effort to spark the offense, and from Paulus to Elliot Williams to help both the offense and defense.
Williams is a half-foot taller than Lawson and, while most people won't realize this and it does seem hard to believe, we read the other day that he has a 44" vertical, which is two inches more than Henderson's.
Lawson is stunningly quick, but if you're six inches tall, no sloth yourself in the speed department, and can play off him a bit and still challenge his shot, you've changed the dynamics.Â Toss in a sore toe and who knows.
The other guy who is a tough matchup for UNC is going to be Jon Scheyer.Â He's moved to point since the last game of course and has in many respects done a stunning job there.
For one thing, Duke's turnovers have been sharply reduced.Â For another, at 6-5, he can see over most defenders.Â Lawson presents some grave challenges, but his offense has always been ahead of his defense, and he's sort of a groundhog defensively, low to the ground and while he doesn't guard quicker guys very often, you can go over him, either with the pass or the shot.
Gerald Henderson is a big load on the perimeter as well, and for all we know, the guy who will be UNC's Public Enemy #1 for the near future might enjoy his status and could, like Christian Laettner, find it pleasant to be the villain.
All that aside, Duke still has to find a way to contend with Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, and now, Tyler Zeller, all over 6-9 and all a pain in the butt.Â Duke has traditionally compensated for size by pressuring the ball and making it hard to move it around, which comes back to Lawson's health and how well Williams can guard him, both unknowns.Â But UNC has a real advantage in the post.
We haven't even mentioned Wayne Ellington, a very dangerous shooter, Danny Green, an agile and talented 6-6 forward, and Bobby Frasor, who has never fully recovered from his knee injury but who is as smart and capable a guard as there is in the ACC.
The injuries and everything else, that stuff just is what it is and you can't even begin to know what to expect until game time, although we'll say this about both Lawson and Thomas:Â you can control things a lot better on offense, when you know where you're going and what you want to do, than you can on defense where you have to react to someone else.
All the matchups and speculation aside, this game comes down to passion, as it almost always does.Â Think of Jeff Capel lofting that magnificent jumper, Eric Montross's bloody head, Fred Lind's eruption, Walter Davis's long shot, Gene Banks hitting that jumper over Sam Perkins.Â Emotion is a huge factor.
And so it will be on Senior Day in Chapel Hill, where Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green and Mike Copeland (we think) will be saying farewell.Â Emotion can cut both ways, but we expect an intense game from both Hansbrough and Green. It'll be up to Duke to surpass the intensity level, but they've done it before.Â UNC has many of the tangible advantages, but Duke has some intangibles that can be really key.