Wednesday, February 9, 2011

5 critical factors for Duke-UNC

After a pair of double-digit Duke wins last season, the No. 5-ranked Blue Devils and No. 20 North Carolina appear to be heading toward a meeting worthy of the storied rivalry at 9 p.m. today at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

First place in the ACC is on the line. The Tar Heels (17-5, 7-1 ACC) have won five in a row. Duke (21-2, 8-1) remains the team to beat in the ACC until some other team can knock the Blue Devils from their perch.

Here are five critical factors to watch in the game tonight:

1. Nolan Smith on the drive. Much of Duke’s offense relies on senior guard Smith’s ability to create offense on drives into the lane. The Blue Devils set ball screens for Smith, and he slices through defenses for easy layups against most opponents.

But North Carolina is not like most opponents. In John Henson and Tyler Zeller, the Tar Heels have two big guys who will make it difficult for Smith to finish over them even when he gets a step on his defender and maneuvers into the lane.

Smith will have to rely on ball fakes, pull up jumpers and kick-out passes to create offense if Henson and Zeller take away his path to the rim.

2. The Marshall plan. Duke guards Smith and Tyler Thornton made no secret of their plan to rattle North Carolina freshman point guard Kendall Marshall, who handed out 16 assists on Sunday against Florida State.

The Blue Devils plan to try to rattle Marshall before he can get the Tar Heels into their offense. Thornton has gotten the best of Marshall before when they met in high school, and the crowd at Cameron should assist in that effort.

If Marshall doesn’t get rattled, there is a chance he will get fatigued without a true backup behind him in the wake of Larry Drew II’s sudden departure. You can be sure that Duke is counting on wearing down Marshall with pressure unlike anything he has faced.

3. Wing men. Both teams have wings coming off the bench who are capable of having huge nights from 3-point range.

Sophomore Leslie McDonald and freshman Reggie Bullock will have a chance to make a difference for North Carolina. Sophomores Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins have hit many big threes for Duke this season but also have disappeared at times.

Whichever pair gets hot in this game will have a huge impact on the outcome.

4. Board meeting. Each of these teams excels in rebounding.

Duke hasn’t been outrebounded since a Jan. 2 game against Miami. North Carolina last was outrebounded on Dec. 18 in a loss to Texas in Greensboro.

Mason Plumlee has emerged as one of the top rebounders in the ACC for Duke, but the Tar Heels have two solid big men on the boards in Henson and Zeller. Whichever team imposes its will on the boards will have a significant advantage.

5. The Cameron factor. Marshall and Barnes, the freshmen in North Carolina’s starting lineup, can’t possibly imagine how highly charged the environment in Cameron will be for this game.

Tar Heel sophomore starters Henson and Dexter Strickland will have unpleasant memories of last season’s 82-50 loss at Duke. Somebody with a bit more maturity will have to steer North Carolina in the right direction emotionally.

By virtue of being the most experienced player in the starting lineup, junior center Zeller might have to fill that role.

Ken Tysiac


Unknown said...

The key to tonight's game is turnovers. If UNC minimizes its turnovers -- compared to earlier this year -- it has a chance. Not taking care of the rock adds up to comfortable Duke win

Anonymous said...

As a neutral opinion, I'm going with the experienced, Championship-seasoned veteran team that's riding a 32-game home win streak. Duke by 11.

Anonymous said...

Duke wins whether or not the Heels "play their dadgum BUNS off."

Michael Procton said...

No contest here. Duke should be disappointed to win by less than ten.

Anonymous said...

How about simply score more points than your opponent.

Anonymous said...

Boom! Duke: 33 straight in Cameron. To UNC's credit, next losable game for Duke at home should be Miles' Senior Night 2012. Duke will have won 50-something in a row by then.