clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Next Up - UNC

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

In the movie Patton, there's a scene where General Patton, shortly before the Battle of the Bulge, says: "there's absolutely no reason for us to assume the Germans are mounting a major offensive...the weather is awful, their supplies are low, and the German army hasn't mounted a winter attack since Frederick the Great. Therefore, I believe that's exactly what they're going to do." Duke fans who think they're going to win this game simply because Carolina has been struggling should take note.

The obvious antecedent is the 1995 game, which saw Jeff Capel hit a 40 foot jump shot to push the game into double overtime. Duke's struggles were much worse than UNC's are now. Or take the game in the Doherty era when UNC won in Cameron: Shane Battier, normally so brilliant, made a critical mistake, fouling Brendan Haywood at half court. Haywood hit the late foul shots to win the game.

Or take the great game in, what, 1974? UNC was #3 in the country and Duke was an afterthought. Robbie West won that game for the Devils when UNC was overwhelmingly talented and Duke had no business winning ('72? as Bob Green points out, '74 was actually the apex of UNC's history in the rivalry, as that was the year of the 8-points-in-16-seconds-game).

That's the way it often works in this rivalry. It has a logic of its own and has little to do with who is favored. As a matter of fact, when one team is down, it might even have an advantage.

And while the nature of the rivalry is always key, you can't overlook the hole that UNC is in, which provides a whole different kind of pressure. As much as UNC would love to beat Duke, at 13-10, and in 10th place and set to drop into a tie for last should they lose, they need a win. Beating Duke would be better of course, but the reality is, they just need a win, and from that point of view, anybody will do.

Obviously this year's UNC team is nothing like last year's juggernaut. It lacks outside shooting, the inside game has been called soft, and point guard play is spotty. In their last game, against Maryland, the defense at times was awful.

Yet this is hardly a team without talent.

Ed Davis is a highly promising forward. Deon Thompson has been a solid big man throughout his career. Injuries have made it tougher for Marcus Ginyard, but he's an experienced player. And we don't think Larry Drew is as bad as many people do. If you can fault him for anything, it's for pressing too hard in a difficult situation. He realizes someone has to step up, and while he's ill-suited to that, at least he's trying.

Dexter Strickland is a talented player who will become much better as he matures. Same for John Henson, whose greatest flaw is his early teen physique - but he's a kid who's grown really fast and who has yet to fill out. He can still run and jump, and he can absolutely block shots.

And in the classic UNC tradition, expect the injured Tyler Zeller, like James Brown, to throw off the cape and return to have a great game.

Still, there's no question UNC has struggled. As Mike Gminski said during the Maryland game, when you lose four first-round draft picks, you're going to take a step back.

In this game, they have to figure out how to stop Duke's Big Three: Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith have been solid offensively (defensively too), and Duke has used Lance Thomas, Miles Plumlee, Brian Zoubek and Mason Plumlee as highly effective role players. Thomas in particular has been strikingly mature, able to defend guards or centers, willing to do dirty work and able to make key plays. Same for Zoubek.

In last year's game in Cameron, UNC used Thompson in a mismatch to pound Duke early. That'll be harder this year with three guys who can roam around the court or go inside with him.

Last year, UNC also had a huge advantage in the backcourt with Ty Lawson. Duke could fundamentally play with the other four, but had no answer for Lawson. In a close game over the last couple of years, UNC could reliably turn to Lawson, who could penetrate and score or pass for another shot. Duke simply had no answer.

And finally of course, Tyler Hansbrough will be there, but this time only to be honored: his jersey will be retired at halftime. He's been difficult to deal with for the last few years, although not as difficult as Lawson.

We are not overlooking Danny Green or Wayne Ellington or Bobby Fraser. They they were all excellent players. They were all manageable, however. Lawson and Hansbrough were the killers.

If UNC comes into this game and plays defense or controls the ball the way they did at Maryland, Duke's job gets a lot easier. But again, anyone who expects that deserves what they'll get. UNC, like Duke, is likely to come in pumped up and highly emotional. If they get off to a hot start, who knows. A lot of this season's struggles will seem unimportant.

On the other hand, if Duke comes in and defends hard, shoots well, and takes care of the ball, they have an excellent chance of winning this game.

Just don't take anything for granted. It's not a great UNC team, true, but the rivalry transcends a weak season.

The DBR App!
The Next Step For DBR
DBR Is On Twitter!
Blue Devil Tip-Off!
Discover the World's largest E-Book Store! Save big on bestsellers!