Duke’s problems with consistency and intensity were on display in its 78-74 overtime loss to Miami on Sunday, when the Blue Devils fell behind by double digits in the first half against the Hurricanes and couldn’t quite come all the way back for the victory.
It would be a surprise if either was an issue tonight against the Tar Heels.
In a sense, the rivalry game comes at a perfect time for the No. 10 Blue Devils (19-4, 6-2), who have needed multiple shots in the arm this season. With UNC on the docket, motivation shouldn’t be an issue.
Of course, there’s the question of the team’s confidence after the loss to Miami. But the Blue Devils have proven to a pretty solid team this year when they’re locked in. Assuming they don't misplace their motivation, here are three keys for tonight's game:
1. Win the Rivers vs. Barnes matchup
One would expect the two touted recruits would guard each other at some point of the festivities and perhaps for a majority of the time.
Harrison Barnes’ height – he’s 6-foot-8 – will certainly pose problems for the 6-foot-4 Austin Rivers. But Rivers speed could challenge the hobbled Barnes, who has said he will play despite the ankle injury he suffered against Maryland.
It’s hard to see many paths to victory for Duke if this matchup breaks UNC’s way in a decisive manner.
2. Wear down Kendall Marshall
In Marshall, UNC has one of the top point guards in the country.
In Tyler Thornton, Quinn Cook and Seth Curry, Duke has a point guard rotation that is dictated by the matchup and who is playing well. With Marshall not having much in the way of a serviceable backup, the Blue Devils’ best hope will be to try and wear Marshall down as best they can.
Otherwise, Marshall’s incisive passes into the post or to teammates in transition could be the death of the Blue Devils.
3. Come up with its defensive effort of the year
UNC and Duke lead the ACC in scoring offense. The problem for the Blue Devils is that the Tar Heels’ defense (second in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense, and 14th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defense ranking) is significantly better than Duke’s (last in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense and 91st in the KenPom rankings).
Duke has shown it can defend in stretches this season. Most of the time, those stretches have come after prolonged periods when opposing teams have had free reign to run their offense. But if the Blue Devils can pay attention to detail for 40 minutes, not get lost on screens and remember to help every time, perhaps they can flip this storyline.
If not, someone’s going to have to hit a lot of 3-pointers.