The Battle of the Blues, 2019 Edition, kicks off Wednesday night when top-ranked Duke hosts eighth-ranked North Carolina.
This will be the 46th time the two thoroughbreds have met with both teams ranked in the AP top-10, the 83rd when both teams were ranked in the top-25.
North Carolina leads the overall series 137-111, much of that advantage built up in the 1920s, when North Carolina took basketball seriously and Trinity/Duke did not.
Mike Krzyzewski is 46-42 against North Carolina, after starting 1-8.
What does Duke need to do to make it 47-42 tomorrow night?
Several things come to mind.
North Carolina leads the ACC in rebounding differential, 9.4 per game. But Duke is second, at 7.2 per game. In conference play, UNC is plus 7.1, Duke plus 3.3. And Duke is coming off a dominant performance on the glass, against NC State.
Still, it was only three years ago that the Tar Heels bludgeoned Duke 64-29 in rebounds.
No one expects anything resembling that dominance. But any plausible scenario for a UNC upset starts with Luke Maye (9.6 rpg), Garrison Brooks (6.1), Cam Johnson (5.4) and teammates handling Duke inside.
Mike Krzyzewski told the media Tuesday that there’s no secret recipe to rebounding.
“You’ve got to go for the ball. They’re terrific. They’ve been through the wars and they’ve won most of them. Historically they’ve been outstanding and we just have to counter that. There’s no set strategy. The ball’s up there, go and get it.”
The Tar Heels also led the ACC in scoring, at 87.5 points per game. Duke is second, at 86.4.
Krzyzewski gives North Carolina’s freshman guard Coby White a lot of credit for that offense, citing his elite ability to push the ball up court.
“The advancement of the ball; he does it as fast as anybody that we’ve played against at Carolina. And he’s a scorer. So, after he advances it, he can shoot it. I wouldn’t call Coby White a point guard. He’s an outstanding player who advances the ball and can play anywhere.”
J. Barrett is on the same page.
“I played against him a lot growing up. He is really fast and he can shoot so he’s going to be tough to guard and we’re going to have to figure out a way.”
When White gets the ball up court, he frequently finds Johnson open.
“He’s sensational,” Krzyzewski says of the grad student. “He reminds me a little bit of Klay Thompson, in that he doesn’t need to dribble. When a guy is ready to shoot that quick and he’s 6-8, 6-9, he’s a heck of a weapon.”
It should be noted that Duke is ahead of Carolina in every defensive metric and leads the ACC in scoring margin, at 20.3 points per game.
North Carolina is plus 14.2 ppg.
Krzyzewski points out that Carolina starts Johnson, senior Maye and senior Kenny Williams, experience that Duke cannot match.
Of course, a team that starts four freshmen faces that situation on a regular basis.
Javin DeLaurier says not to worry.
“There is not a whole lot I have to tell them [Duke’s freshmen]. Obviously that’s a big draw of why kids want to come here and be a part of the Carolina-Duke rivalry. With that being said our guys are excited but we are looking at it as another game in a long season.”
Barrett says he’s watched lots of Duke-Carolina games growing up and he’s more than ready to play in one.
“I definitely grew up watching this rivalry and especially last year when I knew I was coming here. I was very excited and I couldn’t wait for the day to come so now that it is about to be here I am really excited. Now we are in conference and we are going to be at home and this means a lot more for Duke and North Carolina and with everything that’s going on around the program, it means a lot more for us then I guess it would the other games. I know it means a lot for Coach and he’s very prepared so we are going to go out there and fight.”
Krzyzewski emphasized that Duke will need contributions from its three juniors, Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier and Jack White.
“Our big guys [Bolden and DeLaurier] had 14 rebounds, nine points, six blocks, four steals [against NC State]. Bolden almost had a double-double (eight-nine). Jack had three buckets and a big block. You add that up and those are important contributions. You kind of expect stuff from the other four guys, but these guys have given us that. Jack played more in the second half against State like he did the first 15 games.”
Krzyzewski says Duke has a few bumps and bruises but is otherwise healthy and ready to play in a rivalry he calls “incredibly unique because you’ve got two of the four or five best programs in the history of the sport right here. It’s never really disappointed.”