Duke will round out its season by traveling to North Carolina Saturday. The Blue Zone breaks down three aspects of the game that could tilt the contest in the Blue Devils’ favor as they look to avenge their Tobacco road rivalry.
Adjust to Zion Williamson’s absence
It was a little over two weeks ago when just one minute into the Duke vs. North Carolina game, the hopes and dreams of Duke fans were crushed upon the tearing of Zion Williamson’s shoe. The pain may have dampened, but there is still no telling on when Williamson will rejoin his teammates on the court. The team will be up against its Tobacco road rivals again this weekend, and this time it will need to learn how to adjust to Williamson’s absence if it wants to avenge what the shoe took with it that night.
Overall, the Blue Devils have definitely lost some of their strength in the last couple of weeks, as they took their fourth loss against Virginia Tech and even had a close call against Wake Forest. North Carolina is a much stronger team than both of these teams, so winning will be a real challenge. Williamson’s lack of presence on the court this weekend is going to be an incredibly difficult obstacle for the team. Losing a player with his size and athleticism is tough, however, the team has proven to be able to make adjustments to losing vital players. There were many doubts about Duke winning against Virginia upon Tre Jones’ absence, and although Williamson puts up more points than Duke’s starting point guard, the thought of the Blue Devils winning shouldn’t be overlooked.
Tre Jones’ matchup with Coby White
Just about anyone who’s been following Duke basketball this season can agree that the heart of the Blue Devils’ defense has been Jones. When Duke lost him for a couple of games due to a shoulder injury, right before the Blue Devils were matched up with UVA at home, the Cameron Crazies went into panic mode. He’s comfortably sat in the top of the nation for assist to turnover ratios for the length of the season. Jones has been able to silence the leading scorers of opposing teams, as the pressure he put on St. John’s Shamorie Ponds held the twenty-point per game player to hit just three of his 11 shots.
Jones needs to bring these same skills that he’s proven he has against North Carolina this weekend. He’ll be up against Coby White again and will need to stay focused on slowing down the points on North Carolina’s end. Jones will have to help his teammates out even more than usual by forcing White to turn the ball over, especially now that the Blue Devils have lost one of their big scorers.
Watch out for Luke Maye
He’s been haunting the dreams of Duke students for almost four years now, even more so after the Blue Devils took a loss to the Tar Heels this season. Luke Maye may just be Duke’s most hated opponent, and the worst part is that he’s actually really good. The guy knows how to clean the glass, as he currently ranks second in the ACC in rebounding, averaging 10.3 per game, a number that has gone up since the Blue Devils played him. This has contributed to North Carolina’s strong rebounding reputation this season.
Duke will need to slow Maye down, limiting his ability to rebound, which will be quite difficult Williamson. Maye led his team with 30 points the last time Duke played North Carolina, so it will be essential for someone to stand in his way. Players like Marques Bolden who have a size advantage are going to have to step up for the team and work well in the paint. Bolden currently leads Duke in blocks, averaging 1.8 per game so he is the best candidate for stopping Maye down low. On the other end of the court, there needs to be some good rebounding that can match North Carolina’s strength. R.J. Barrett is a good candidate for this role, as he averages 7.4 per game.
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