Can Duke take Kendall Marshall away from UNC tonight?
That’s probably the most important single factor in the 9 p.m. game at Carolina’s Smith Center.
The Blue Devils (19-4, 6-2 ACC) thus far have been an atypical Mike Krzyzewski team in several categories.
By program standards, they don’t play with a lot of defensive intensity. They don’t have a clear leader in the locker room or on the court. They can be wildly erratic in half-court sets. There’s not an established starting five. And it’s not clear yet that the addition of talented freshman Austin Rivers has been a smooth fit.
But despite all of those shortcomings, Duke can beat the Tar Heels (20-3, 7-1) if Marshall is neutralized.
When Marshall struggles, the Heels struggle. The prime example was that landmark 90-57 loss at Florida State on Jan. 14, when Marshall fouled out of the game, committed seven turnovers and was limited to four assists.
The Seminoles benefited immensely from Deividas Dulkys’ 32 points, but it was the suffocating rotating defense on Marshall that led to UNC’s second-half collapse.
Duke doesn’t have Florida State’s perimeter size, but the Blue Devils do have just as many personnel options and just as much quickness _ Rivers, Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry and Quinn Cook _ and Marshall will never be an exceptionally quick playmaker.
If Krzyzewski can find a defensive rotation that keeps a fresh, aggressive defender on Marshall throughout the game, UNC’s offense will suffer.
If Marshall has room to operate, he’ll get his usual barrage of assists and Carolina’s perimeter and interior talent will rule the night.
There are other issues, of course. Duke will need to shoot effectively from the perimeter and the Blue Devil bigs will have to keep the rebounding even or near even.
But if Marshall doesn’t have a miserable night, odds are the Blue Devils will.