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Round One Preview: What this Game Means for Duke

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…

Well here we are. Only hours to go before we wade chest deep into the rivalry. As always there are plenty of stories to watch, but let’s take a look at what’s at stake tonight for this year’s Duke team:

  • First Place in the ACC. Boy the ACC has been a jumble of surprises this year. No teams are dominant. Everyone has proven to be dangerous. Every team has had some dissapointing showings. I confess I haven’t seen Maryland play this year (due to the inexplicable conundrum that is ACC scheduling we will see them twice in the second half of our league games) and its certainly surprising to see them nipping at the Devil’s heels. Duke needs this game tonight to stay a full game ahead of Wake and Maryland.
  • Road Warriors or Road Kill. Duke has, for the most part, played very poorly on the road this year. The Big Three especially have stuggled to shoot the ball well away from Cameron. Even the game Saturday at BC, where they managed to hold on, poor shooting kept Duke well below their league leading 81 points per game. As has been discussed here before, Duke is a very experienced team that has not played that way on the road. UNC’s current state of desperation will likely make the environment even less hospitable - but their confidence is not very high (Deon Thompson admitted in an article today to ordering food under a pseudonym). If Duke can make some shots early they may be able to break the Heel’s fragile psyche.
  • Is there anyone in the Middle? Duke has a lot of interchangable parts in their frontcourt rotation but no real strength to speak of. (If only picking up silly hedging fouls 35 feet from the basket were a strength…) On paper UNC has a decided advantage in front court talent even if Tyler ‘dont call me Zombie’ Zeller doesn’t play. One of the Plumlees really need to find a way to chip in 8-10 reliable points with at least a token post move or two if Duke is going to advance far in the tournament this year. Of course the only way for them to be able to chip in those points is to be on the court - not sitting on the bench with foul trouble. Our only other hope is for Lance Thomas to keep hitting 15 footers and maybe try a few less head-fakes and a few less Flail-a-saurus attempts to draw fouls.
  • Kick em while they’re down. Of course its always sweet to beat UNC. Even this year when they are struggling so mightily. As I said yesterday, the pressure is all on Duke - they probably should win this game. But if they don’t, they are still in first place in the ACC. So while the pressure is on Duke, this game is much more important to UNC. Any hopes of resurgence to even a .500 ACC record that Baby Blue Nation is stubbornly clinging to will certainly fall away if they fall tonight. And while their demise is not great for the rivalry, it sure would be sweet to strike the killing blow. (FINISH HIM!!   *insert gruesome Mortal Kombat fatality here)