This is nowhere near the most anticipated Duke-UNC matchup in history, or even recent history, as the Blue Devils are ranked second in the country and coming off a six fame winning streak while UNC is unranked and struggling to find its footing. The old saying goes in this rivalry that you can throw the records out when these two matchup. While that might be true, let’s at least take at look at some stats that might tell us how these teams got here and where an upset might be born or another curb-stomping could take place.
I got my stats from the Team Comparison over at Statsheet.com, a great resource if you’re looking to see how two teams matchup with each other.
It’s no secret that Duke has been tough to beat this season, even though most of their wins came early in the season when Ryan Kelly was healthy. With Kelly out, Duke stumbled once against NC State in their first game attempting to adjust without him and another time against the Miami Hurricanes. That Miami loss doesn’t look so bad now, as the Hurricanes are ranked #3 in the country and are receiving numerous first place votes. At home, Duke has no blemishes on their record and their margin of victory this season against unranked teams at home is 23.5 points. If this weren’t a rivalry game, I’d expect that margin to hold true. That said, it’ll likely be a lot closer than that.
UNC has only one good win on their resume so far this season, so tonight’s game has added meaning for a team currently projected as a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, that win over then #20 UNLV came in the friendly and soothing confines of the Dean E. Smith Center where they have put up an impressive 11-1 record. UNC is under .500 on the road this year, which includes forgivable losses to Indiana and Miami but also a really bad loss to a Texas team that hasn’t done much outside of winning that game. In games against comparable competition to tonight’s foe Duke, the Tar Heels have yet to put up a W. If UNC is able to pull off the upset, it will truly be a case of rivalry games superseding the team’s records.
Duke is often thought of as a slow, plodding offense by many who don’t pay attention to the game. Truthfully, the offensive style Duke employs changes based on the talent at hand and this team is built to run. Quinn Cook is comfortable pushing the tempo, finding post players down low for easy layups often on the break. More dangerously, Duke’s shooters get into position very well in transition and Cook has shown the ability to find guys for wide open three-pointers if the defense doesn’t get set. The Blue Devils’ 1.13 points per possession ranks 9th in the country and when they are hitting from outside it’s hard to stop them.
UNC has been known as a stellar offensive squad under Coach Roy Willliams, mostly due to the uptempo pace they play. When they have a point guard who is able to keep up that pace of play and distribute the ball, it’s one of the more fun offenses to watch in the country. This year is no exception, as the Tar Heels’ 73.8 possessions per game ranks 6th in the country. UNC wants to run at every opportunity, and putting up 1.06 points per possession allows them to punish inferior talent. That won’t be the case tonight, and the Tar Heels’ execution in the halfcourt will determine whether or not they can pull off the upset.
While UNC is not known as a great defensive team, they have been quite effective this season except for a few games. Their .94 points per possession defense comes in right behind Duke but due to the fact that they squeeze more possessions into a game, they’re giving up five more points per contest. A lot of the numbers for these two teams are very similar, which was surprising to me before I compared the two teams. If you’re a UNC fan, the 12.8 assists per game given up and 31.8 3PT% should be concerning. These are both areas where Duke excels and if those stats keep up that could spell disaster.
Duke will have to do a good job of not giving UNC easy 2-pointers, as that is their biggest area of weakness. Most of this will come to getting back in transition well and if the Blue Devils are making their shots it will be tough for the Tar Heels to run. I’m assuming that Coach K would rather give up some rebounds on the offensive end (an area where Duke has struggled all year) so that they can get back on defense.