Key Three: Can the young Blue Devils stay poised in their biggest road test yet?



After falling hard to St. John’s on the road, No. 9 Duke will look to rebound Thursday night against its archrivals—the No. 21 North Carolina Tar Heels. The Blue Zone gives three keys for a Blue Devil victory:

Win the battle on the glass

There is only one team that has grabbed more rebounds than Duke this year: North Carolina. Despite losing most of its post players from a national championship-winning team, the Tar Heels have been able to dominate the boards at the best rate in the country. 

Led by senior forward Luke Maye, who averages a double-double, North Carolina’s offense has run primarily through rebounding. That’s not a good sign for the Blue Devils, who just got shown up on the offensive glass by St. John’s, of all teams. With Theo Pinson and Sterling Manley, the Tar Heels have a bevy of talent in the post—but lack in height. 

Manley is the only one with size to challenge Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III at 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds—Pinson and Maye are 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8, respectively. If Carter and Bagley can exploit this height advantage to win the battle on the glass, Duke will be able to beat North Carolina at its own game and put itself in a very good position to win. If not, it could be a very long 20-minute drive back to Durham for the Blue Devils. 

Exploit the Tar Heels' inability to defend the perimeter

The Tar Heel defense has been strong, but has one glaring hole: it can’t stop anything from deep. North Carolina is among the worst teams in the country in opponents’ 3-point percentage, something the Blue Devils will have to take advantage of Thursday. 

Led by Gary Trent Jr.’s shooting tear, Duke has been strong from beyond the arc in its last two games, but struggled in its two previous games against Wake Forest and Virginia. The Blue Devils will need a team effort from deep—not just Trent—to fully exploit this weakness. 

They will certainly need more in that department from Grayson Allen. The senior captain has generally wilted under the spotlight after putting together a career performance in November to lead Duke past Michigan State. Trevon Duval and Alex O’Connell will have to be efficient as well.  

Grow up fast

This rivalry is not for the faint of heart. 

The Blue Devils will have to be locked in and as calm as they possibly can be in their biggest road test yet. So far, outside of a trip to Miami, Duke hasn't impressed away from home, flunking three tests that it should have aced—at Boston College, N.C. State and St. John's. 

A team that rolls out four freshmen on the floor routinely will have to avoid the slow start that cost it against Virginia and the Red Storm—it’s not easy to come back in the Dean Dome. This is arguably the biggest rivalry game in college basketball, and the crowd will bring it. 

Now, it’s up to those freshmen to decide if they’re up to the task. 


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