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Duke-UNC 2020: Will Rebounding Be The Key?

UNC has a likely advantage there

ACC Basketball Tournament - Semifinals
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 15: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils waits for a rebound with Luke Maye #32 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game in the semifinals of the 2019 Men’s ACC Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 15, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

In 1997 Mike Krzyzewski took a sweet-shooting team down that eight miles to Chapel Hill.

They did not disappoint him. Led by Steve Wojciechowski’s 6-for-7 performance, Duke hit 17 of 34 from beyond the arc.

To no avail. North Carolina bludgeoned Duke on the boards, 49 rebounds to 18 for Duke.

No that’s not a typo. Antawn Jamison had 11 of those rebounds on the way to a 33-point performance.

Trajan Langdon, Greg Newton and Wojo led Duke with three rebounds each.


North Carolina won 91-85.

Four years ago Duke hosted the Tar Heels in the regular-season finale. Like 1997 Duke had won the opener in the rivalry and was looking for a sweep.

Like 1997 that hope evaporated every time somebody missed a shot.

This time it was 64-29. Brice Johnson led Carolina with 21 rebounds. Kennedy Meeks added 14. North Carolina rebounded 27 of their misses, Duke rebounded 21 Carolina misses. Johnson had more offensive rebounds (12) than the entire Duke team (8).

Duke hit 13 3s, held North Carolina to 4-for-23 from beyond the arc and had eight fewer turnovers.

But you can’t spot a team that kind of rebounding advantage and expect to win.

The final was North Carolina 76 Duke 72.

Obviously those are extreme examples and we can come up with numerous games where Duke held its on on the boards, even more than held its on.

But it does suggest a way the underdog Tar Heels can spring the upset tomorrow.

Like his mentor Dean Smith, Roy Williams is fond of big men, so much that he will frequently play two at a time.

And he has two pretty good ones. Garrison Brooks is a 6-9, 235-pound junior. He’s averaging 9.0 rebounds per game, third in the ACC. Armando Bacot is a 6-10, 232-pound freshman. He’s averaging 8.1 rebounds per game. That’s seventh in the ACC.

Despite UNC’s well-documented woes in several areas, they lead the ACC in rebounding differential, at almost nine per game.

How does Duke counter that?

Here are Mike Krzyzewski’s thoughts.

“They [Brooks and Bacot] are two of the best offensive rebounders in the country and they are the best offensive rebounding team,” Krzyzewski told the media today. “So, the main thing is we have to have five guys on the defensive boards trying to make sure they don’t get many second and third shots. To me, that’s the biggest thing that those guys do. They’re two outstanding players.”

Now Duke is second on the ACC in rebounding differential, at about seven per game.

But it has been a collective. Vernon Carey is at 9.0 rebounds per game but no one else has averaged more than Cassius Stanley’s 4.5 per game.

Matthew Hurt is the second nominal big. He’s 6-9 but a skinny 6-9 and he’s averaging fewer than 4 rebounds per game. Hurt played sparingly earlier this week against Boston College and Krzyzewski said that was due to BC going small. And the Hurt-Bacot matchup could play to Duke’s advantage if Hurt can find some magic from the outside and draw one of the rim protectors away from the rim.

But if not? Duke could play Carey and Javin DeLaurier together some, which they’ve done on occasion this season. But Duke’s two bigs sometimes have trouble massaging 10 fouls into 40 minutes. Make that 45, 50, 55 minutes and playing them together becomes even more problematical.

Which might result in a big role Saturday night for Jack White. He’s shorter than Hurt but 10 pounds heavier, three years more experienced and he’s a rebounder.

White says he’s ready.

“They create a lot of really good opportunities for themselves on the glass and I think they work really well together. In terms of how we stop them, we’ve got to fight them. We’ve got to bring the fight to them. We know that they’re going to try to be physical but we know that we’ve got to try and put them on the back foot. We really just want to bring the game to them. We don’t want to be on the back foot, we don’t want to be the ones getting attacked – we want to be the attackers, the aggressors and just play our game. We don’t want to be timid or anything like that. We want to play aggressive Duke basketball.”

Duke has sometimes been able to negate a rebounding differential by forcing more turnovers than they commit. The Tar Heels are minus 24 on the season on turnovers, Duke is plus 60.

But how much of that is skewed by Cole Anthony’s absence? And how well is he integrated back into their offense?

“I think it’s obvious that the team that will rebound the best and turn the ball over the least will have the best chance to win,” Krzyzewski summed up. “So, we have to keep up with them on the boards and hopefully we can force a few more turnovers than they force against us.”