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Next Up: The Game of Games

Even in a down year you can expect both teams to be up

Duke v Louisville
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - JANUARY 23: Jalen Johnson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots the ball against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on January 23, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Typically, Duke and UNC enter into this game with one or usually both teams ranked so this year is a major anomaly. So what else is new? They’ll play in an empty stadium too. It’s a time for anomalies.

  • Date: 2/5
  • Time: 6:00
  • Venue: Cameron
  • Video: ESPN

Even so, despite it all, players on both teams are going to be fired up and ready for their turn in the annual classic.

We’ve talked a bit about how Duke might be able to change the inside game with Mark Williams and the weakness of UNC’s outside game.

The third major element that’s really critical is that Duke needs to keep UNC out of transition.

Then there are matchups that, as always, go both ways. Someone has to chase Matthew Hurt around and we’re not sure who UNC would prefer do that. Leaky Black on the perimeter? Wendell Moore’s high school teammate has become a very good defender so maybe. Duke has to defend UNC’s inside power which won’t be easy.

There are a lot of X’s and O’s and frankly the idea that guys like us would have any insights that the staff lacks is kind of ludicrous. We might have some useful observations about UNC and like everyone on the team we observe them from something of a distance.

We can’t say the same about Duke: we observe them from a distance too and the staff observes on a granular level. They know moods and trends. They know blisters. It’s why we say it’s impossible to really predict much about the NCAA tournament: you can’t possibly know much about any team, much less 68.

Which gets us to the main point of this preview.

Coach K is a solid strategist but that’s not his biggest strength. Jeff Capel hinted at it recently when he said what characterized Duke’s program was “they fight,” something he’s clearly trying to instill in his Pitt program.

Coach K has surely been under the hood a lot this week and while we don’t get to sit in on anything, we’ve paid close attention for a long time.

Our guess is that after calling his team “soft” and “sad” after the Miami game, he’s been working on exactly what Capel zeroed in on.

We can’t say for sure that Duke will win, but we’ll be very surprised if they don’t fight. And if they do, and live up to their potential and still lose, well, we wouldn’t like it but we can live with that.