Ryan Kelly #34 of the Duke Blue Devils battles for a rebound with Bernard James #5 of the Florida State Seminoles during play at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke makes shots. Plain and simple.
The Blue Devils have the fifth most efficient offense in the country, while UNC has the 17th, a difference of 6.7 points per 100 possessions, according to Ken Pomeroy's stats. In ACC play, that margin is even wider. But the two teams go about getting their points in very different ways, and it all begins with Duke's field goal percentage.
Barring the occasional year when Duke has a strong player at center, the Blue Devils typical rely on perimeter shooting, and this year is no exception. Only Boston College attempts more threes than Duke, and the Eagles don't find the bottom of the net nearly as often. So it's no surprise that the most shots are taken by two pure guards, Austin Rivers and Seth Curry, followed by 6'11 Ryan Kelly, who still takes a third of his shots from behind the arc.
Curry is a known quantity at this point. In his two games last season against the Heels, he scored over twenty points in each. He takes an equal number of shots from two and from three, but against Carolina he's more likely to rely on the latter; in Duke's loss in Chapel Hill last season he was the only Blue Devil to sink a three. He had six.
That game in Chapel Hill augers well for the Heels. Their perimeter defense was strong, and of Duke's 67 points, 50 came from two players, Curry and Nolan Smith. Smith's 30 points have graduated, and Austin Rivers hasn't been able to replace him. Not for a lack of trying, as Rivers takes more shots and scores more points than anyone else on the team, but he's been incredibly streaky. He's been benched more than once, had games where he's been a non factor, like Georgia Tech and Clemson, his first two ACC road games. He has the worst effective field goal percentage of any of the Duke starters, although not by much, and will be the easiest to force out of his rhythm. He may be halfway there already, expecting to defended by Harrison Barnes when it's more likely he'll see Bullock's hand in his face.
And this brings us to Ryan Kelly. Kelly is tasked with replacing Kyle Singler as the big man who spends surprisingly little time in the paint. Instead Kelly is more often using his size on the perimeter, drawing out a defender to an uncomfortable position and either draining the three or driving to the hoop. Unfortunately for him, UNC's big men are quite comfortable outside, and John Henson's wingspan can be a game-changer. Playing alongside Singler last season, Kelly was a non-factor in his two games against UNC, scoring 2 and 4 points. He's improved as he's been thrust into a more prominent role, but I still expect him to struggle.
Surprisingly, the best shooter on the team at the moment is Mason Plumlee, middle child of the Plumlee clan. He too has had no success in past games against the Heels, but this year he's emerged as the team's best rebounder and the player with the highest effective field goal percentage. He does get a lot of his points off those offensive boards though, which may make for slow going against Tyler Zeller. Plumlee's older brother has watched his minutes decline this year, but I expect him to get a lot of time tonight as Krzyzewski throws bodies at the UNC interior. We might also see more of freshman Michael Gbinije, who although smaller than the Plumlees could present interesting matchup problems for the Heels.
The player I do expect to have a big night, besides Curry, is Andre Dawkins. He too has been streaky, and also has had little success against UNC, but can have big nights when the bigger names are drawing all the defensive focus. He's more of a three-point shooter than his fellow guards, but also picks his shots a bit more carefully than Rivers does.
The big unknown in all of this is exactly what type of lineup Krzyzewski will go with for the majority of the game. He may try to go big to try to slow down UNC's offense at the expense of his own shooters; he may prefer to go small and swarm the perimeter, denying entry passes and taking his own chances with Duke's perimeter shooting strength. It's almost guaranteed the Blue Devils will slow the pace down, although if their smart they'll challenge the offensive boards more than a lot of recent teams – State especially – have attempted. Duke will need second chances at the rim to score enough to keep the Heels at bay, but I'm not sure it will be enough. In their last two games against Carolina, only Seth Curry among the current roster had any success against the Heels. While there's been some improvement, and Austin Rivers is a big unknown, I don't see this team having the talent and maturity to keep up with UNC.
Carolina wins by ten.