CHAPEL HILL — Welcome to game day. No. 6 North Carolina tonight travels to No. 4 Duke for a regular season finale that will decide the ACC regular season champion. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils have met six times before to decide the regular season league championship. UNC is 4-2 in those games.
Before looking at some things to watch, be sure to check out the array of content we have posted online. For your reading pleasure …
-Jack Daly’s story putting into perspective what is at stake on senior night tonight in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
-My story about how the Tar Heels recovered from that devastating loss against Duke last month.
-A story with some memories of the rivalry from Dick Vitale, who will be calling his 41st UNC-Duke game tonight.
-Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer looks at five memorable rallies in the series.
-And who has the edge tonight? A breakdown that’s not likely to provide Kendall Marshall with added motivation.
Now onto the three keys for UNC:
Limit the effectiveness of Duke’s 3-point shooting. As I wrote in this space yesterday, this is far easier said than done. The Blue Devils attempted 36 3-pointers the first time these teams played, and they made 14 of them. UNC coach Roy Williams charted Duke’s 36 3-point attempts and placed them into nine categories.
Some of Duke’s 3-point attempts came off of dribble penetration and passes out to the perimeter, some came after screens, some came out of diagonal passes out from the post. That they came in such a variety of ways makes it difficult for Williams and his team to focus on any one defensive strategy.
The Blue Devils will again attempt plenty of 3-pointers. That’s what Duke does. But UNC has to make it as difficult as possible for Duke to get open looks from the perimeter. The one area where the Tar Heels can show significant improvement from the last game against Duke is how UNC reacts to perimeter screens on defense.
According to Williams, four of Duke’s 3-point attempts in the first game came after UNC players went under screens instead of over them, leaving the Blue Devils open just long enough to get a shot off.
Dominate on the interior and take advantage of second-chance points. Duke has the better collection of perimeter players with the likes of Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, all of whom will challenge UNC’s perimeter defense. But the Tar Heels, with Tyler Zeller and John Henson, hold a clear advantage on the interior.
That showed in the first game, when UNC outscored Duke 42-14 in the paint. The Blue Devils attempted just 14 shots in the pain, while UNC was 21-for-38. Still, as dominant as UNC was on the interior, the Blue Devils outscored the Heels in second-chance points.
UNC generated just 12 points off of 15 offensive rebounds, while Duke had 17 second-chance points off of 12 offensive rebounds. Naturally, some of Duke’s second-chance points came on 3-pointers, while UNC made just one 3-pointer during the entire game.
A big part of the Tar Heels’ offense this season has been taking advantage of second chances. As much as UNC dominated in the lane in the first meeting, the Heels didn’t capitalize on their second chances. .
Remain aggressive regardless of the score. UNC held a comfortable lead throughout most of the second half during the first game between these teams. But the Tar Heels allowed Duke to hang around, within striking distance, until the Blue Devils embarked on that memorable rally.
Harrison Barnes, the sophomore forward for UNC, said he felt that his team tried to slow it down and that it was content to play conservatively with the lead. Barnes said earlier this week that the Tar Heels instead should have remained aggressive on offense.
UNC’s offense isn’t built around running a lot of clock. The Tar Heels want to run, and they want to maximize the number of their possessions. UNC is at its best offensively when it maintains that quick pace and if the Tar Heels find themselves up by 10 points midway through the second half, they can’t grow comfortable.