A Post-Challenge Discussion: Where are Duke and UNC Headed Right Now?

Streeter Lecka

We're talking about the state of the ACC after the Big Ten Challenge. Join us!

McLeod: Wow, what a game last night!! Nice comebacks by Duke and the ACC, too. How do we feel now about Jason Williams' (I can't call him "Jay") ACC 1-5 rankings: Duke, Maryland, NCSU, Miami, UNC???

Will: I can't argue with it. Heels could feasibly fall anywhere between 1-7, depending on which team shows up more often. Get Hairston back and James starting and able to go 25 mins/game, and I think we're top 2 or 3. Get Paige comfortable and we'll win it.

McLeod: I'll give you a possible 2nd place if all those "ifs" come to pass. No way Duke doesn't win the league. Head and shoulders better than anyone else. You can come with the November vs March performance argument, but the body of work in November shows a complete, mature, and talented team. Depth is the only issue I see, and that "if" can be silenced "if" Marshall Plumlee can provide any minutes at all.

Will: Too many ifs in play to pen Duke in as winning it yet, depth being a huge one. Not too many teams with all their starters averaging 30+ mpg and only one other player averaging more than 10 at this point. What happens in tightly called games where K isn't able to manage foul trouble like he's been doing so far? What happens when someone goes down w/ a 4-6 week injury? Not to mention, what happens when Mason starts yanking free throws, or when everyone goes inexplicably cold, which will happen more often this year w/o a Dawkins to sub in?

McLeod: The huge minutes by the starters is a concern, but K is not new to that kind of rotation and managing it successfully (see: 2010).

Injuries - no team can plan for that.

Mason's free throws - aside from his last one last night (which barely caught the outside of the net) I don't think it's going to happen. He's a different player this year who came back to school to win/get better.

There are too many weapons on Duke's squad for everyone to go cold. And it's less about the number of weapons than the type of weapons. Plumlee won't go cold from inside the paint; Cook and Sulaimon get to the paint easily and are more versatile than Dawkins. The only outside-only guys right now are Curry and Kelly (and Thornton, but I don't count on his points). This team is much more balanced and less prone to the proverbial Duke 3pt shooting slump.

Will: I didn't see the second half last night, but it sounded like it was a little Sulaimon-Kelly 3-point barrage they depended on to get over the top of Ohio State. If that's not there, it's likely a loss. Even Sulaimon said that once the threes finally started falling, they new they'd be alright. It sounds like they still see the three as a fundamental (maybe even requisite) ingredient to success. What will happen in the several games that arise where that security blanket is absent, due to foul trouble, cold shooting, or a combination of both?

I attribute Mason's improved foul-shooting more to blind confidence in K the Witch Doctor than to any discernible mechanical improvement or self-assuredness in his own ability there. Perhaps he can keep the confidence up all year, but if the demon of doubt begins to creep back in...?

I'm a fan of strategizing to absolutely lock down on the three-point shooters (like Lenzelle Smith on Curry last night), and letting Mason get 20-30 a night as long as you make him earn half of that from the line. The first part of that is terribly difficult, but if teams can do that successfully (or if Duke just misses), I think it's a recipe for several tough losses.

Duke's undoubtedly the frontrunner, but there's a lot that could happen.

Bart: The " if -your -good -players-didn't-do-the-things-they-are-good-at-doing-you-wouldn't-have-won" argument is weak with an extra helping of weak sauce.

Will, I admire your optimism especially as regards Hairston. If everyone on YOUR team suddenly starts playing out of their minds and beyond their years, I agree, UNC might finish better than 3rd.

In all seriousness, I would love for Will to address why this won't be 2010 all over again for UNC. That's a discussion I've already heard and seen a couple of places since the Indiana game.

McLeod: 11 of Sulaimon's 17 second half points were from 2pt shots or the free throw line. That's a healthy mix and proves he has the ability to get into the paint if and when his outside shot isn't falling. 3pt shooting will always be a significant factor for Duke, but this team has other weapons it can rely on if/when needed.

Will, your scenario above still involves 3 different issues striking 3 different players in the same game, or, as you mention *several* games. I just don't see it. Duke won it all in 2010 with "the big three". This team is more balanced and relies more equally on all 5 starters (if only the 5 starters).

Will: My argument wasn't "if-your-good-players-didn't-do-the-things-they-are-good-at-doing-you-wouldn't-have-won." At least not in regards to the OSU game. That is a weak argument, because it's usually true for all teams in any game. I was actually arguing the opposite, in response to McLeod's view that poor three-point shooting won't be as significant a factor for this Duke team. I actually think your good players (like Curry, Kelly, and Sulaimon) need to do the things they're good at (like make threes) for y'all to win ball games against decent teams playing well or good teams playing decently. I also believe there is a significant chance that one or more of those guys finds foul trouble while one or more of those guys goes cold while the other or more of those guys is shutdown by a perimeter defender several times this season.

I'm up for the 2010 debate, (the number one reason it not being a disaster again being that Larry Drew is now in UCLA, where he actually is repeating UNC 2010, or at least the first half of UNC 2011) and I'll even throw in some "why this won't be 2010 all over again for Duke" as well. It might just take me a while, since I seem to have repressed all memories of that season.

Bart: 3 point shooting will not be as significant a factor for this Duke team as it has in most years past ( see Plumlee, Mason) McLeod is right. We had 5 made threes last night. 3 of them came at critical moments, sure, but that's a minuscule number by Duke's normal winning standards. The fact that we won last night gives the lie to your argument.

Scott: The biggest difference for Duke thus far compared to last year is that they have multiple guys that can get in the paint in different ways. It's not just the Austin Rivers show when shots aren't falling. Now, I'll admit that Cook and Sulaimon can still tend to hug the perimeter -- and against teams that CAN'T play OSU's kind of perimeter defense, they get open shots.

But once they understood that the perimeter shots weren't going to be there, but that the drive to the lane was available, everything changed. It wasn't the three-ball that won the game for Duke. It was realizing we could get to the hole, combined with a healthy bit of crashing the defensive boards after making Amir Williams look like Dennis Rodman in the first half.

As for Carolina -- it's not as bad as it seems. I can't imagine them not getting second or third in the conference. I refuse to get my hopes up and think Roy has another missed tourney in him. But man -- if he does, that has to be a pattern. And this time with no championship to hang your hat on.

Bart: Incidentally, Alex and I both think this Year's Duke team is probably better than 2010 or certainly will be by year's end (assuming Seth is healthy).

2010 Duke caught lightning in a bottle. This team can hurt you in a lot more ways, though, like that team (and to Will's most valid point) foul trouble combined with lack of depth will be an issue at some point.

Will: But getting into the paint has always been a part of Duke's game for the past several years--Smith and Scheyer (somehow), to compare to 2010 and 2011--it's just typically used to set up the three. I guess you're saying that K will put more of an emphasis on utilizing penetration for two points instead of three. Ok. It would be a different strategy from the past few years, and I think it's risky to bet on Cook, Curry, and Sulaimon as consistent penetrating scorers, but I hear ya. I probably wouldn't have ever bet on Smith either.

So, is your big three of Curry, Kelly, and Mason as good as your big three from 2010? Probably not. Is your next three of Cook, Sulaimon, Thornton better than Lance, Zoubek, and Miles? Probably. I don't know if it's significant that your next three this year are all guards and your 2010 next three were all post players, but I think it is significant that you have only one true post player averaging more than 10 minutes a game right now, and that you're not planning to rely on the three. Somebody besides Mason is gonna need to get more than five boards a game for you. Perhaps you do have a big five this year instead of a big three, but you've also only got six players averaging double-digit minutes compared to nine in 2010. It's just doesn't seem like the recipe for a team that is going to drive the juggernaut for a whole season.

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