I read the recap for Duke's 62-40 win over Wake Forest on ESPN.com and there was a great deal of time spent talking about how great the Duke defense was in this game. Apparently Wake has not scored as little as 40 in an ACC game since Billy Packer was in grade school. And I supposed it is fairly impressive that Duke held Wake to 33% shooting while forcing 21 turnovers until you remember that Wake Forest is downright dreadful in almost every aspect of their game. Now compare the way this game was presented to the recap for the UNC-Clemson game which makes zero mention of UNC's defense. The problem with that is UNC went on the road and held Clemson to 33% shooting and forced 19 turnovers but gets nary a mention. So why the disparity in how the game were reported? Here is what I think.
The established perception of Duke is that they are a great defensive team and yes they do a very good job but statistically speaking the only part of their defense that is vastly superior to UNC's defense is three-point percentage defense where Duke is holding opponents to 27% shoot from beyond the arc(1st in the ACC) whereas UNC is giving up 33% from outside(7th in the ACC). Plain vanilla FG defense is a wash with Duke at 39% and UNC at 40%. UNC actually forces more turnovers per game than Duke does 16.9 to 15. 6which is good enough for the middle of the pack in the conference. I tend not to look at the scoring defense because that is somewhat deceiving since UNC plays a faster pace than Duke and therefore will automatically give up more points in general. The perception of UNC is that they do not tend to play great defense and the performance at Virginia Tech is given as one example. However, on paper the numbers are virtually the same and I would surmise that UNC completely shutting down a 17-2 Clemson team on the road is far more impressive than Duke shutting down the worst team in the conference at home.
The issue here is that certain media perceptions are engrained early in the season. In Duke's case, they are woeful on offense, but the defense has been very good for the most part. Couple that with the fact Duke has won several games with their opponent scoring a very low number which is automatically assumed to mean Duke is playing lockdown defense. The problem is Duke is simply playing a slower pace which creates a lower score. And while they are one of the better defenses in the conference they are not that much better statistically speaking than a UNC team which was tagged early as being a poor defensive team but since has improved a great deal. Now does the Duke defense tend to more disruptive? I think it does but the final product is still the same from a numbers standpoint and I would very much like to see how that defense plays out when it does get UNC in the building in February.
So to answer my question above I think Duke does play very good defense but I also think that UNC has shown at this point in the season they are very capable of playing the same level of defense as they showed against Clemson. I would think a defensive performance against downtrodden Wake, other than the one we saw, would have been criminal.
Source for statistics: The ACC