Next up is the big rivalry, ESPN's favorite game, the first Duke-UNC match of the year.Â Although last year's Cameron game was a laugher, and Duke was tipped to dominate the league this season, as always, a lot has changed since the beginning of the year.
Both teams lost key guards, with Kyrie Irving out for Duke and Larry Drew having bailed on UNC.Â Both teams have recently installed freshmen point guards, and both have improving young big men including several from Indiana.Â Each team has a power forward who has improved a lot after gaining weight in the offseason.Â Both have promising guards on the roster and each has a small forward who is highly skilled and versatile.
But only Duke has a Nolan Smith.
While the ascension of Kendall Marshall will be a big story line, UNC has to find a way to contend with not just Smith but also Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. Any one of those three could quickly shoot you out of the game.
For all the derision Drew has brought on himself, he was by far UNC's best perimeter defender.Â He would have found a big role in this game.
As tremendous as Marshall was against Florida State, against Duke he will get pressure on both ends: he will be tightly guarded (if he turns his backÂ a lot, Duke isÂ doing a great job).Â Defensively, he will have to spend part of the game guarding Smith or Dawkins or Curry.Â Â And as we're also finding out, Tyler Thornton is pretty fearless himself.
Inside, it's also an interesting game. Tyler Zeller and John Henson bring a lot to the table, but lately Mason Plumlee has taken a leap forward. Brother Miles is also playing much better and is becoming a really good defender.Â Ryan Kelly has had two weak games, but his offense has earned respect and he must be guarded.
There could be some serious shotblocking in this game.Â It'll also be interesting to see how much, if any, Henson gets muscled. And who does he guard?Â Which big man takes Kelly?Â Whoever does it is out from under the basket - and ready to break.
The matchup between Kyle Singler and Harrison Barnes will also be fascinating.
Barnes has all the hype; all Singler has ever done is win.Â And while Barnes is definitely playing better lately, Singler is one of the more aggressive players around.Â Barnes will have to work hard to match that.
One of the things we noticed about his game is that doesn't always seem like he's playing with abandon.Â It's like he's thinking too much.
Another factor which may prove interesting: under Roy Williams, UNC typically goes deep into the bench. That's not nearly as possible now. Last year, the transfer of the Wear twinsÂ made it difficult to find big men late, and this year, Drew's defection hurts the backcourt depth.
Accordingly, against Florida State, in a 20 point win, UNC basically went seven deep.
As much as UNC will want to run, depth may restrict that desire.
At this point, although we're surely oversimplifying, the strategy seems clear: go after Marshall, and if you can get to him, then crank up the pressure on the secondary ballhandlers. Turnover, run, repeat.
That's the idea, anyway.
A couple of years ago, Duke was threatening to come back against UNC in Cameron despite a significant talent gap.Â At that point, Williams put Ty Lawson in and Duke simply had no answer as he drove again and again.
We're not saying that the situation is reversed, but it is probably safe to say this:Â at the end of this game, UNC will not have a relatively fresh and much more talented point guard to turn to.
We have said all along that we are impressed with Marshall.Â The kid can play.Â But if you can play 35 minutes in Cameron and dominate at the end, as a freshman, well then you are a special player.Â Â It's tough for anyone.
In short: the pressure will be on UNC's backcourt in a big way, and in the end, someone has to be fresh enough to stick with the tireless Smith.
One final note:Â UNC is traditionally weak at defending the three point shot, due no doubt to a Dean Smith stat insight from years ago.Â If Duke heats up from outside, it could be explosive.