There is a fair amount of resignation within the Tar Heel fan base concerning how this game will go. Much of that is founded in the much talked about manner in which UNC has started games lately. The feeling is Duke will come out of the gate red-hot, can a few threes, get a couple of Mason Plumlee dunks and the Cameron crowd will go bonkers. The theory goes that UNC will be completely out of sorts, there will be a missed dunk, a couple of turnovers and six missed shots making it 14-3 by the first media timeout.
Of course, that is how the game starts for a lot of teams playing in Cameron. That is how it went for NC State last week so if it happens tonight it is not that unusual. There is always an element of "surviving the initial wave" playing at Duke. The question is can this UNC team get past the first wave and not get bowled over by additional ones while making some waves of their own?
Conventional wisdom says "no" and as Roy Williams noted on Tuesday, the match-up is not one that favors UNC. In particular Mason Plumlee and Quinn Cook are going to be very tough to stop. In fact there is some merit to the notion of doing everything possible to ensure Plumlee is the only Blue Devil who does anything truly productive on the evening. Even that might not be enough but there is a "pick your poison" element to this game. If it possible to do that and perhaps get Plumlee saddled with early foul trouble, so much the better.
On UNC's side, yes the Heels need great games from James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston. They also need Dexter Strickland to be as good as he possibly can be defending Seth Curry and it would be nice if he got some baskets in transition. As Lauren Brownlow points out on ACC Sports, Strickland is going to play significant minutes. It is going to happen and no manner of weeping and gnashing of teeth will change that. So as long as he is going to be on the floor, it would be great if he could use the tools he does have, namely his speed, to create points for either himself or other people. According to Brownlow:
UNC is 6-1 when Strickland hits double figures and 10-6 when he doesn’t. The Tar Heels are also 12-4 when he scores six or more points and 4-3 when he doesn’t. In UNC’s last road win at BC, Strickland had 14 points. He has a total of 16 points in the other four road games combined, including 12 in UNC’s three road losses combined, on 5-of-18 shooting. So if Strickland plays badly, UNC has very little chance to win.
As much as the focus is on a straight trade for Hairston on the lineup, as long as the lineup is going to stay the way it is, Strickland needs to find a way to contribute. If he can, it is clearly a helpful thing.
One thing you can say about this game is it is a "no pressure" affair for UNC. Getting for this game shouldn't be an issue and who knows, this could be a game where the conventional wisdom gets flipped. After all it is UNC-Duke so throw out the records, anything can happen, etc, etc, etc.
Duke 82 UNC 70
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