Saturday’s battle of Tobacco Road rivals might not be the Top 10 battle prognosticators expected in the preseason, but that it remains one of the biggest games yet in the college basketball season underlies the magnitude of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. In such a competitive contest, it’s easy to over analyze the matchup for potential advantages, but I argue that the team that wins tomorrow will be the one that does the simple, obvious things better than the opponent. Case in point, I believe Duke wins tomorrows matchup if the following happens:
Duke takes less than 18 shots from beyond the arc. A common thread between five of Duke’s six losses this season is an over-reliance on the three-point shot. Duke shot 3-for-21 against Kansas, 2-for-19 against Purdue, 8-for-27 at Wake Forest, 3-for-20 at Clemson, and 9-for-23 at Virginia Tech; the lone outlier is the loss at NC State where Duke only attempted 15 threes. Meanwhile, some of Duke’s best performances have been correlated with quality over quantity beyond the arc: 5-for-11 against Xavier, 5-for-13 against Ohio State, and 6-for-17 at home against Wake Forest. Not only does this marker indicate Duke is taking higher quality shots, it also means they’re attacking the Tar Heels off the dribble.
Duke gets at least one Tar Heel starter into early foul trouble. North Carolina’s lack of depth is well established, and was a major factor in their loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Duke can put North Carolina on the defensive by forcing their players, and in turn Coach Hubert Davis, into tough decisions with foul trouble. And the precedent is there: a key in Duke’s blowout victory in Chapel Hill last season was quick fouls on star Armando Bacot.
Kyle Filipowski or Jeremy Roach leads Duke in scoring. Duke’s defense has been superior to its offense for most of the season, and relying on an unexpected source to lead the scoring isn’t a recipe for success in a rivalry game. In fact, either Filipowksi or Roach has led Duke’s scoring in all but seven games this year, two of which were losses. Simply put, Duke’s stars need to shine.
Duke refuses to give North Carolina guards open shots. There’s a valid argument that Duke should focus defensively on Bacot, given that he’s the motor that drives the Tar Heel offense. But barring something unusual, Bacot will get his points one way or another; North Carolina is most dangerous when his production is complimented by their guard tandem. With that in mind, maintaining pressure defense on the perimeter, rather than sacrificing that to double Bacot, could be the more fruitful direction, especially given Caleb Love’s tendency to start forcing perimeter shots when frustrated.