Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Wednesday, February 6th, 9:00 PM
TV: ESPN or Raycom/LF
Records: UNC 21-1, 6-1 ACC; Duke 19-1, 7-0 ACC
Here we go!
There are any number of storylines being hyped for a game that is huge with any other storylines attched to it. You have the top five angle, the return of Dick Vitale, ACC and NCAA implications, first game since The Foul and now the injury to Ty Lawson. So it is chock full of various angles you can look at this game from but for me it boils down to just a handful of questions.
1. Will Ty Lawson play?
I think he won't but they will not decide until game time if he will or not.. All reports from Chapel Hill during the day indicated that Lawson did not have a high ankle sprain which is tougher to recover from but just your plain vanilla ankle sprain. Lawson also did not do much at practice besides shoot but we was able to put weight on it, however he was also on crutches Tuesday morning. I know he will receive top flight treatment to get his ankle ready for play but if I had to guess right now I would say he does not play.
2. What does losing Lawson mean?
It means Quentin Thomas will get the bulk of the minutes. And make no mistake, this is the only option simply because Roy is not going to shift anyone else around, besides Marcus Ginyard, to run point. Thomas has played fairly well over the past few games and did a decent enough job to help UNC survive FSU. The offense in that game did not seem to run as smoothly but I tend to owe some of that to the fact losing Lawson was dropped on the team four minutes in and they simply never got on track. Having had two days of practice and sort of knowing that this would be the case, hopefully the offense functions a little better starting out the game with Thomas running the show.
3. How much does it hurt UNC against Duke?
I would say it takes a position that was an advantage for UNC head-to-head and move it into the push column at best or maybe give some advantage to Duke. QT will face a very tough pressure defense and has not historically excelled against that kind of duress. The danger is if the pressure overwhelms QT then it jeopardizes the offensive flow and the ability to get the ball into the hands of players who can hurt the Devils. UNC should own the interior and play even on the wings though they give up something there with the way Duke spreads the floor, drives for kickouts and hits threes. The PG play could be the lynch pin for the whole game but only if Thomas plays badly.
4. So UNC is royally screwed right?
Absolutely not. I think QT will have a huge game if Lawson cannot go. As I said previously, I also think it sells the rest of these guys short to think that Hansbrough and Co. is not going to step up their level of play to compensate for what they might be missing from an absent Ty Lawson. Remember, Hansbrough, Green, Ginyard and Thomas were on the team that went into Cameron in 2006 and knocked off #1 Duke on the Devils' senior night honoring two of their most prominent players Shelden Williams and JJ Redick. By all rights, Duke should have blown UNC's doors off that night but unfazed by the Crazies the Heels took care of business. I expect nothing less tonight.
5. So who wins?
I think UNC finds a way. It will be a tough game and granted there is plenty of things to worry about if Lawson does not play but it will really come down to which team can use their strength most effectively. Personally I think the Tar Heel inside game can be more reliable that the Blue Devils outside shooting based on the shooting percentages alone. The two keys to this game are defensive in nature. Can Duke pressure QT and the rest of the Heels into an egregious number of turnovers and can UNC stop Duke from penetrating to the rim? Whatever happens in respect to those two questions probably decides the game. At any rate, it will be as it always has been and that is one of the best games of the season.
UNC 82 Duke 70