Three points: Physicality, offensive consistency crucial for Duke men’s basketball in North Carolina showdown

Jeremy Roach surges forward with the ball against Wake Forest.
Jeremy Roach surges forward with the ball against Wake Forest.

Duke squares up against North Carolina Saturday evening at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first Tobacco Road rivalry game of the year. The Blue Zone is here with three keys to a Blue Devil win:

Dominate the glass

In up-and-down seasons for both Duke and North Carolina, one aspect has remained consistent: rebounding. The Blue Devils rank second in the nation in rebounding percentage, while the Tar Heels sit 33rd. The outcome of this contest could boil down to whether the lengthy freshmen duo of Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively II can keep up with the physicality of North Carolina star center Armando Bacot. To do so, Duke should double-box Bacot in the paint, thereby not leaving an inexperienced freshman one-on-one with a player who has thrived in this rivalry. Doing so will shut down the Tar Heels’ consistent source of offense, limit inevitable one-on-one fouls, and force North Carolina into taking more 3-point shots, where it ranks 309th in the country. Additionally, preventing offensive rebounds would shut down avenues for second-chance points, which has been a lifeline for the Tar Heels in poor shooting nights. Dominating the boards will be a recipe for success come Saturday, as Duke is 8-0 when coming up with 40 rebounds or more and just 8-6 when it doesn’t. This sounds like a simple game plan, but North Carolina has only allowed 40 boards only one time, and that was to Alabama after four overtimes. 

Share the ball

Whether Duke wins or loses has been highly dependent on how well it shoots from three. The Blue Devils are 7-0 when making 40% or more of their threes and 14-2 when making 30% or more. A key determinant of how well Duke will shoot is how it moves the ball. Against North Carolina, the Blue Devils should rely on their talented backcourt to facilitate ball movement, break down the Tar Heel defense and create open looks. Guard play has been a key aspect of the Blue Devils’ recent success. In the victory against Georgia Tech, Duke recorded an assist on 24 of its 34 baskets, and against Wake Forest, seven different players tallied an assist. With star junior guard Jeremy Roach looking healthy and freshman guard Tyrese Proctor appearing more and more adjusted to the college level, Duke’s solid backcourt should go into Saturday’s contest with confidence and a sense of urgency to maintain offensive fluidity. A byproduct of more ball movement is more turnovers, but with North Carolina ranking 289th in forced turnovers, this shouldn’t be a problem as long as the Blue Devils make smart decisions with the ball. 

Maintain focus

As former Blue Devil Jay Bilas likes to say, this game never disappoints. Whether this young Duke squad emerges victorious could depend on how it performs in clutch time. As we’ve seen in years past, and as the Blue Devils learned the hard way last year, pre-game record and form goes out the window once the teams step foot in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Regardless, late-game success this season has been a mixed bag. Against Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils looked discombobulated at the end of the game and narrowly lost by three points, and Tuesday, Duke’s double-digit lead against Wake Forest dwindled to only two by the end of the contest. Much of these late-game struggles came due to silly mistakes, but with the stakes much higher, the youngsters must be more disciplined and resilient. This could take the form of limiting ill-advised turnovers, taking smarter shots and feeding off the crowd’s intensity. Of the current roster, only Roach and sophomore guard Jaylen Blakes know the pain of losing to the Tar Heels in Cameron Indoor, and if the Blue Devils play to these key points, this should remain true come Saturday. 


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