Posted: 1:22 a.m. Saturday, March 9, 2013
The rematch with Carolina is almost upon us and as intense as it is, the second game is never as intense as the first simply because as soon as it’s over we all start obsessing over the ACC Tournament and beyond. Between nine and 11 though, it’s on.
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Carolina comes in with a potential advantage as James Michael McAdoo is having an issue with his back and a bulging disk. He says he’s playing but is listed as a game-time decision.
Duke fans have long been amused/annoyed by the accounts of UNC players who are said to be nearly incapacitated, but, like the faux exhausted James Brown being escorted offstage by Danny Ray, suddenly throw off the cape and dash into the fray to play heroically.
Is it a serious problem? We don’t know. We believe Roy Williams cares about his players though and doubt that he would risk anyone’s future health for a mere victory, even one over Duke. And we also hope McAdoo is fully aware of whatever is going on, because back injuries can be extraordinarily difficult. Ask Bill Walton, who revealed recently that his back woes nearly drove him to suicide.
All that said, we fully expect him to play and probably fairly well.
One of the things that UNC found in Durham was that there was a zone where McAdoo could go, near the foul line, and find the precise point where Mason Plumlee didn’t want to come out any further.
He hit several shots from there and helped to keep UNC close.
We’ve also had a theory for some time that Duke and UNC are so extraordinarily bound together that they are nearly doppelgangers: what happens to one soon happens to the other.
So Duke has a dip in 1995; UNC goes through the Doherty era. Coach K has back woes; Roy Williams has vertigo. Duke wins in 1991 and 1992; UNC takes the crown in 1993. Black Sunday.
It happens so often that we can’t even remember them all (keep this in mind because it happens constantly). But the latest looks like a starter playing through an injury: Seth Curry, meet McAdoo.
Aside from McAdoo finding that sweet spot against Plumlee, UNC also managed to penetrate a fair amount thanks largely to the small lineup they installed that day.
Of course, Duke played the first game without Ryan Kelly, who made such a remarkable return against Miami.
His presence may make it harder to find that spot and may mean Plumlee can play down low more.
Kelly and UNC’s small lineup mean a mismatch, and mismatches can go either way.
Kelly and Plumlee will have to deal with McAdoo and probably PJ Hairston defensively; Hairston will likely be asked to guard the 6-11 Kelly, who plays a lot on the perimeter, although given the mismatch, he may play inside more.
On several occasions, notably at Boston College and against Miami in Durham, opponents have either blown around the defense in the lane for penetrating shots or curled up and either split two defenders or simply gone around them (Shane Larkin) for short attempts.
UNC is in a position to exploit McAdoo’s jumpers and to penetrate as well. The three point shooting by Hairston, Reggie Bullock, Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald make it harder to guard both the bonusphere and the lane.
On the other hand, though, Duke’s big men present some real challenges for UNC. Plumlee, playing 35 minutes in Durham, harassed McAdoo into a 4-12 afternoon. None of the other big men were effective.
Plumlee finished with 18 points and 11 boards. He also picked up four fouls, and that’s where Kelly could be very helpful. He tends to be the high to Plumlee’s low but can certainly play inside, not least of all when the opponents are a good bit smaller.
Duke’s perimeter will have to step up. Curry has not been the defender he might have been this season because of his injury. Quinn Cook at times has been an excellent defender; at other times, he’s been average.
Duke’s best perimeter defenders have been Rasheed Sulaimon and Tyler Thornton.
Sulaimon is big enough and strong enough to deal with Bullock or Hairston; Thornton is a classic pest.
Actually, he’s a bit more than that.
First, he’s an excellent defender who has guarded players from 5-10 to 6-8. Yes, he’s a pest, but he also has a knack for getting under people’s skin. He has excellent footwork, he gets physical with his assignment and he doesn’t mind woofing a bit.
It won’t surprise us though if Duke finds a significant contribution from either Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson or Alex Murphy. They’ll have to defend either outside-in or inside-out and that will require speed.
It took Ol’ Roy a while to accept that he didn’t have a second big man. UNC has always preferred to have that setup: Mitch Kupchak, Tom LaGarde. Brad Daugherty, James Worthy. Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson. Tyler Zeller, John Henson. Eric Montross and the vastly underappreciated George Lynch.
It’s not quite like Duke playing zone but it’s well against their tradition.
So give Williams credit for making an unpleasant but highly productive change.
And also give Duke and Kelly credit for a remarkable return.
On Saturday, one rebuilt team will defeat the other. Let’s hope Duke prevails.