What a difference a year makes. This time last season the first tilt in the rivalry series featured two top ten teams, but on closer inspection Duke didn't have the look of a title contender (despite a gaudy record) while UNC was clearly among the tiny handful of best bets. It produced a memorable finish to a mostly meh game (get ready for all the replays of the Rivers shot you Tar Hole fans... heh heh). But this rivalry is never lacking in unexpected results.
This year conventional wisdom has Duke firmly among the slightly larger pool of contenders (assuming Ryan Kelly comes back for the post-season) while the Heels big loss of talent has left them in what looks to be a 'transition year' - or at the very least not the kind of season we spoiled fans on Tobacco Road feel is our birthright. So how can the Heels return the favor and steal a game at Cameron this Wednesday? Here is some Duke perspective on how to break down the Devils:
- Be Offensive. From the view in Durham, there is plenty that UNC does that is offensive - those embarrassing uniforms worn for the Miami Massacre for instance - but in this case I mean on the glass. This season the Heels have not been as dominant in the rebounding differential area, but Duke is once again very vulnerable here. Their first shot defense is vastly improved over last season, but the Devils have had many games giving up 15+ offensive boards. UNC can get some easy points (kinda like the GPA boost from a lot of their 'classes') here that are a real demoralizer to defensive intensity.
- Sweep the Legs... of the Seniors. I don't have a lot of hard stats to back this up, but Duke has shot the ball WAY better at home this year than on the road. (not shocking for any team really) That said, their opponents would be well advised to take their chances letting the Devils underclassmen get shots early and hope for yet another frigid offensive start - which have been numerous this year. What they cannot do is let Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee come out and dominate offensively. Strickland will most assuredly be dogging Seth - and that matchup should be a good one. If you could trans-mutate Joel James' hippo-britainic land mass onto Desmond "why am I starting" Hubert you might have a chance to play Plumlee one on one. But I don't think the Heels can afford not to double Mason early and often. Which given how he has struggled with baseline-initiated double-teams is probably a good strategy. Don't leave Seth off the double-teams though. Make the other guys try to beat you.
- Don't Get Caught Staring at the 3-pt Arc (of the Covenant). It will melt your face off. UNC relies a lot on three point shooting for their offense. But sitting back to try and rain threes (especially if Duke starts seeing some go in) would be a mistake. While Duke's defense is much better this year - a testament both to solid play this season and woeful inadequacy the last - they are still vulnerable to dribble penetration. Stickland, Hairston, and even Bullock/Paige should try to put the ball on the deck and get to the rack. Curry is not super quick and Quinn/Tyler are prone to pick up unnecessary hand check fouls. Or in a best case scenario for the Heels, they get Mason to pick up some cheapies - though he has not shown himself worthy of the Rim-Protector merit badge.
- Hope for a Melt-down where Duke gives up a 10 point lead with under two minutes left on their home court. Hey, it happens. Yes yes I know the Heels drubbed Duke at Cameron last year, but that doesn't mean I won't gleefully remember this as much as possible:
Like Duke last season, I don't see much hope for the Tar Holes in Cameron, but that's why they play the games right?