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2022 Final Four: How Will Duke Handle UNC’s Offense?

Defense will be really big in this one

Arkansas v Duke
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 26: Wendell Moore Jr. #0 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots the ball over Au’Diese Toney #5 of the Arkansas Razorbacks during the second half in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Elite 8 Round at Chase Center on March 26, 2022 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

When it comes to UNC this season, we think you have to start with the big guys who are interconnected: Brady Manek makes life a lot easier for Armando Bacot. Not only do you have to pay careful attention to the sharpshooting Manek, he makes double teaming Bacot nearly impossible.

But here’s something we would never have guessed: his field goal percentage is actually down from last year. His rebounding, on the other hand, is way up, from 7.8 per game to 12.8. That may be partly because his minutes are up from 22.7 to 31.4.

However you look at it, those guys present some problems. And if it were just them that’d be fine.

The problem is that RJ Davis and Caleb Love have really come on offensively and each one presents a unique challenge.

Davis is just 6-0 tall but he plays with a lot of confidence and he manages to get open a lot. Moreover, he’s hitting those shots.

Love is a different sort of a challenge. He’s a good bit taller at 6-4 and he’s only shooting 37.1 for the season - overall and on threes.

Davis is shooting better at 42.9 percent overall and marginally better on threes at 37.4.

Duke’s perimeter lately has been Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore and AJ Griffin and as we’ve seen most of the year, Trevor Keels is a solid defender too.

You’ll notice we didn’t mention Leaky Black. Not to dismiss him, but UNC has historically had a midsized player who does a lot of things but is basically a defender. Think Jackie Manuel, Theo Pinson, Marcus Ginyard.

Obviously Hubert Davis is trying to change some things up but he hasn’t changed that UNC tradition yet.

And he may not.

And of course, for all we know, Black could go for 25. There’s no particular reason he can’t. It’s just not his normal role.

We don't have any idea what Duke might do on defense but here are a couple of things to consider.

First, the 2-3. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has learned a lot from his buddy Jim Boeheim and we might see that. And unlike Boeheim lately, Coach K has athletes who the Syracuse coach would love to have: tall, long-armed and athletic.

But what if Duke does something else?

We’ve seen Duke at times just switch constantly. We’re not sure that would work perfectly against UNC, but when it does, it confuses teams.

But what if Duke does something completely unexpected? We sort of joked about putting Mark Williams on Manek because that would pretty much shut Manek down.

Of course it would also take Williams away from the basket which would be stupid. Still an interesting idea.

But what if Duke did something totally unexpected? What if Coach K whipped out a five minute version of Tony Bennett’s Pack Line? What if he borrowed Mark Adams’ No Middle Defense for a bit?

What if Duke had quietly been reviving Jerry Tarkanian’s Ameoba defense, or some variant thereof? What if Duke, as Shaheen Holloway said recently, has something in the pocket to pull out later?

Of course it may be nothing on the defensive end at all.

One of the really interesting things about this Final Four is that all four teams are relatively thin so fouls are going to be a big deal for everyone (and keep in mind that Villanova is the best at the line). What if Duke lures, for instance, Bacot or Love into early foul trouble?

What if they’ve spotted a tendency that will dent the so-called Iron Five?