Rivalry games always bring out the best.
The Tar Heels will need to bring their absolute best to beat No. 2 Duke Wednesday night. After getting eviscerated by Miami (now ranked No. 3) on Saturday, UNC could use a big win in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
To keep themselves in tournament contention, the Tar Heels need to win at least one of their matchups against a team that has only lost twice all season. UNC can learn a lot from both of those losses.
The first thing that both N.C. State and Miami did against Duke was shut down the Blue Devils' elite guards: Quinn Cook, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon. The three shot a combined 14-of-42 (33.3 percent) against State and 5-of-31 (16.1 percent) against Miami. None of those guards are shooting below 42 percent individually on the season.
To stop Duke’s backcourt triumvirate, Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock will have to play outstanding defense. Both have shown the ability to shut down elite guards—the nation’s leading scorer, Erick Green, had a subpar game against UNC.
Marcus Paige will have to step his game up.
The freshman point guard has looked overwhelmed at times this season, and he needs to remain calm in his first career game at Duke. His ability to stop Quinn Cook (11.8 PPG, 6.0 APG) will be pivotal.
Shutting down Duke’s guards is more important than stopping Mason Plumlee, who will get his points and rebounds regardless (he had 15 points and 11 boards in each loss). On the offensive end, the Tar Heels will need to capitalize inside.
In N.C. State’s victory over the Blue Devils, 65 of their 84 points came from post players. That’s a tall order for a team that starts defensive specialist Desmond Hubert at center.
James Michael McAdoo will have to score above his season average (14.9 PPG) for the Tar Heels to get a win. Two other post players will need to step up as well.
Brice Johnson has shown an uncanny ability to score as a lanky freshman. If he can get going and drop at least 10 points, that would be a huge boost.
6’7” sophomore Jackson Simmons needs to score when he’s on the court. The Tar Heels are without Joel James (concussion), who has great touch on his face-up mid-range. His absence makes Simmons’ production off the bench even more important. It would be hugely beneficial if Simmons matched his season high of eight points.
The final key for the Tar Heels is to get their three-point shooters going early.
Both N.C. State and Miami shot three-pointers effectively (50 percent and 47.4 percent, respectively), so the Tar Heels need to choose their shots carefully. Marcus Paige (.294 3P%), take note.
Reggie Bullock has been lights out at times this season, and P.J. Hairston has been scoring almost a point per minute over his last five games (straddling the Virginia Tech game, due to injury). These two have the ability to put Duke away. Expect to see lots of plays with screens and double screens to free them up.
Lastly, Miami decimated Duke with their transition offense. If Roy Williams gets his team going in transition, which has been a specialty with some of his more talented teams, that could put them over the edge.
Unfortunately, the list of things UNC needs to do is exceedingly long. The Tar Heels will have to play without mistakes to get the win, which will be difficult for a young team in Cameron Indoor. According to Bet Firms, No. 2 Duke is favored by 11, but the Blue Devils aren’t infallible.
Anything is possible when it’s UNC-Duke.