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Next Up - The End Of The Road - And UNC

As Coach K wraps up a magnificent and unprecedented era in Cameron

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski celebrates the Blue Devils’ ACC Championship victory over Georgia Tech on Sunday, March 14, 2010, in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
  • Time: 6:00
  • Date: 3/5
  • Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Video: ESPN

Duke and UNC face off in the most unusual and perhaps challenging environment since Art Heyman switched from UNC to Duke in the early 1960s, which led ultimately to the biggest fight in ACC history.

Things are a bit more collegial these days. Gary Williams was as close to Frank McGuire as we ever got again and he wasn't anywhere near McGuire’s level of nastiness, nor his ability to stir up anger in opposing fan bases ( former Duke football coach Steve Spurrier was a genius at it though). A lot of people barely know that South Carolina was in the ACC. For those of you in that camp, we suggest reading up on the bitter history between Duke and the Gamecocks in the 1960s. You will be amazed.

So what should we expect Saturday?

Well, we’re not expecting fights which is a big plus. But we are expecting a UNC team that shows a lot more fight than it did in Chapel Hill.

And if anyone wants to bet us on this, we won’t bet a right arm but maybe a couple of fingers on this: UNC will not try to guard Paolo Banchero with Armando Bacot.

Bacot, you’ll recall, picked up two quick fouls trying to guard Banchero.

The problem is someone has to do it. We don’t think Brady Manek, admirable as he has been, has the footspeed to do it. Leaky Black is 6-8 and 200. He could guard Banchero outside, maybe, but not in the lane.

And someone has to guard AJ Griffin, who can rip off 10-12 points while you tuck your shirt in.

So that’s a real dilemma. In 1979, Dean Smith faced a dilemma somewhat like that and just held the ball for nearly the entire first half. As much as Tony Bennett regrets it, you can’t do that anymore.

Would UNC go zone or maybe some sort of junk defense? We might try it, just to see what works.

The Tar Heels also have to stop Wendell Moore, Trevor Keels and Jeremy Roach. Keels has really heated up lately and Roach has become a much better offensive player down the stretch. And Moore can hurt you in a ton of ways.

Let’s look at both teams in their last four games and some key stats.

  • Against Florida State, Duke shot 31.6 percent from three and 50 percent overall. Turnovers: 11. Kenpom: 185.
  • Against Virginia: 41.2 percent from three, 48 percent overall. Turnovers: 8. Kenpom: 76
  • Against Syracuse: 46.9 percent from three, 53.8 percent overall. Turnovers: 6 Kenpom: 85
  • Against Pitt: 50 percent from three, 59.3 percent overall. Turnovers: 6. Kenpom: 189

Now UNC:

  • Against Virginia Tech: 36.4 percent from three, 44.9 overall. Turnovers: 15. KenPom: 28
  • Against Louisville: 28 percent from three, 49.1 overall. Turnovers: 13. Kempom:139
  • Against NC State: 26.3 percent from three, 51.8 percent overall. Turnovers: 16 Kenpom: 135
  • Against Syracuse: 38.9 percent from three, 40.8 overall. Turnovers: : 8 Kenpom: 85

Now, keeping in mind the differences between the levels of Duke and UNC, and the Kenpom rankings of the various other teams listed, here are the scores to those games. Duke first:

  • Duke 88 FSU 70 + 18
  • Duke 65 Virginia 61 + 4
  • Duke 97 Syracuse 72 + 25
  • Duke 86 Pitt 56 + 30

  • UNC 65 Virginia Tech 57 + 8
  • UNC 70 Louisville 63 + 7
  • UNC 84 NC State 74 + 10
  • UNC 88 Syracuse 79 + 9

You can read too much into this. Florida State was at its worst due to injuries. Louisville and State are probably dispirited. There’s still some truth into it: right now, well all season really, Duke and UNC are on different levels.

And as we’ve seen so many times, that doesn’t matter. And while Duke is favored, UNC has some things in its favor too, starting with Armando Bacot.

Bacot is an old school post player. He’s going to hit the boards and work inside. And he’s doing a great job of that.

Bacot is averaging 16.4 ppg and 12.7 boards. In his last four games though he’s had 15, 15, 18 and 18. And he’s the sort of player who gives Mark Williams trouble because he’s thick and powerful. Theo John may get a lot of minutes due to that.

Brady Manek, we have to say, has totally exceeded our expectations. We thought he would help with three point shooting, and he has, but he’s become much more than that. During UNC’s recent uptick, he’s made smart play after smart play. And while Bacot has taken just seven threes this year, hitting exactly one, Manek has taken 175 and hit 68 for 38.9 percent. He was really UNC’s best weapon against Duke’s onslaught in the Dean Dome, hitting 6-10.

And, it should be pointed out, he does a lot to free Bacot up inside. Obviously Bacot has improved year to year, but last year he didn't really get the sort of freedom that Manek gives him. If he does win the ACC Player Of The Year, someone should put Manek’s name on the bottom. He’s been that important.

UNC’s perimeter has grown up too. Leaky Black has long been a solid defender and his all-around game has gotten better as his Cox Mills teammate Moore would surely agree. RJ Davis has been quietly steady as a sophomore and Griffin’s high school teammate is averaging 13.3 ppg and shooting 45.8 percent and 40.3 from behind the line.

And then there’s Caleb Love.

Yes he’s been erratic. And yes he can at times hurt as much as he helps. But don’t forget that he has shown that he has a tremendous instinct for the clutch. That guy could shoot 1-11 and then score UNC’s last eight points in a tight game. As Bacot essentially said the other day, they basically live or die with Love. He would frustrate us too, but his instincts are thrilling. He cannot be left unattended late.

Against Syracuse earlier this week, UNC only went seven deep and that was really six deep because Ryan McAdoo got the honorary start. The sixth guy?

Puff Johnson, Cam’s younger brother. He had 16 against NC State and is going to get better. He’s someone to keep an eye on as well.

UNC’s bench is a bit of a mystery. Anthony Harris is out for the season with unspecified reasons. Dawson Garcia has left for the year to be with his family during a medical crisis. Kerwin Walton and Justin McKoy, who should be at least spot players, didn’t get off the bench against Syracuse. Walton’s minutes have been cut drastically and he hasn’t even scored since the Pitt game.

McKoy hasn't scored since January 24th and only has two rebounds in the last six games.

Freshmen Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn have rarely played.

So honestly, we have no idea what to expect from the bench.

So back to Duke.

Bacot is a handful and we could see him getting both Williams and John in foul trouble. And again, we certainly don’t expect him to get in early foul trouble like he did in Chapel Hill.

Here’s something else to keep in mind about UNC, and it’s a major historical change: the Heels are traditionally great on the offensive boards. Not so much this year - UNC is behind NC State, FSU, BC and Duke and just ahead of Syracuse. They’ve been better about it lately but by UNC standards, this is not a good board team. Part of that is keeping Manek outside for three point duty. Hubert Davis is moving the program into a different direction. It was a hard adjustment this year but the team seems to have caught on, broadly speaking.

That, and the emotional energy Duke will give to Coach K before the game, could make things dicey.

And then there’s this: Duke really wants to win this game and there is going to be huge pressure to do so, but realistically, it won’t be a terrible blow to lose, at least not tournament wise. Emotionally devastating loss?


But survivable.

For UNC though, this game is one last, desperate chance to change their fate. For them, that’s potentially a huge advantage.

We know a lot of people are assuming Duke’s a lock to win but we’ve watched these games all our lives and you know the chances are UNC is going to show up and play very, very hard and that they’d love to ruin Duke’s big day. Duke has to not match but exceed their energy.