Duke Basketball: Keys to Victory in Rivalry Game Against North Carolina

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2013

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 07:  Mason Plumlee #5 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates after a play during their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 7, 2013 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Duke is ranked No. 1 in the Coaches' Poll, but that doesn't mean much when North Carolina comes to town.

In reality, the Blue Devils are not playing as well as they could be with only a month remaining in the regular season. Sunday's one-point win over Boston College should have been a wake-up call that there is still room to improve.

The Tar Heels have had an up-and-down year, but they still have a lot of talent and are more than capable of pulling the upset.

In order for Duke to pull out the victory, the squad must follow these keys to the game.


Win the Rebounding Battle

Mason Plumlee is one of the best rebounders in the country, but he has received little help since Ryan Kelly went down with a foot injury.

North Carolina is not the biggest team, but the Tar Heels have a number of athletic players that can pull down boards consistently. The second opportunities are what keep the offense running smooth.

This will put the pressure on Amile Jefferson to pull his weight on the defensive end. When he's out, Josh Hairston must take over.

Neither player has been great at rebounding this season, but it will be a big part of keeping the opponent off of the scoreboard. 


Point Guard Efficiency 

In one week, Quinn Cook showed both the high's and the low's of his abilities.

Against North Carolina State, the point guard made six of his eight shots for 21 points and had only two turnovers. The team was able to score 98 points in the win.

However, he struggled against Boston College and missed eight of his 11 shots. Cook only added three assists to go with four turnovers. As a result, Duke finished with 62 points.

For the Blue Devils to win, the sophomore needs to play within himself and worry more about making the right decisions on the court.


Shoot Plenty of Threes

The old adage "live with the three, die with the three" means more to Duke than almost any other team in the country.

Against Boston College and Miami, the shots were simply not falling, and the offense struggled mightily in both games.

However, that does not mean they must change up the game plan. 

Players like Cook, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon must keep shooting and hope that playing at home turns around their fortunes. 

A three-point shooting team helps spread the floor for players like Plumlee and it allows for more chances on long offensive rebounds. This will be needed against an athletic team like North Carolina.


Keep Pace Slow

Like most Roy Williams teams, the Tar Heels love to play a fast-paced game. They usually go at least 10 players deep and they use the bench to wear out opponents late in games.

Duke does not have this luxury. The bench is usually limited to Tyler Thornton, plus a few minutes from Alex Murphy and Josh Hairston each game.

The starters will need to do most of the heavy lifting in this battle, which means they have to make sure they do not tire themselves out.

Instead of pushing the action for more fast breaks, the Blue Devils have to keep it a slow-moving game with long possessions.

This will give them a chance to stay strong late in the game and finish off the hated rival.