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How a Lawsonless Carolina Can Still Embarass Duke

Ty Lawson is a gametime decision (unless you take Mike Patrick's word, always a dicey proposition), leaving the Tar Heels at a decided disadvantage tonight if he doesn't play. So how do the Heels win it with a less-tested guard running the point?

  1. Own the Boards. Outrebounding Duke is an easy task on paper. Duke is only an average team in rebounding percentage on both ends of the court, and without Zoubek they only play two guys taller than 6'6", and none above 6'8". But offensive rebounds against a team that shoots like Duke - with lost of rapid outside shooting - is more difficult than you think. Balls bounce of the rim erratically, with a lot more distance than folks are used to. The Devils can't be allowed two or three shots at the rim every time down the court.
  2. Push the Ball, but Not the Shot. UNC and Duke both run fast-tempo offenses, and both are incredibly uick to get back on defense after missed shots. There won't be as many fast break opportunities as the Heels are used to, especially without Lawson's speed, and they have to recognize when the layup isn't there and, kick it out for a set offense or quick outside shot. Steals don't help if UNC just gives the ball back or commits the charge at the other end of the court.
  3. Get Fouled. Duke is 19th in the country in fewest fouls per possession, because they're cheating, cheating bastards they focus on perimeter defense and denying the entry pass, reducing the interior contact where most fouls happen. Against a bigger team that succeeds in getting the ball into the paint, however, the fouls and brutal injuries for the Duke coaching staff to dickishly dismiss will begin to flow, and there are few teams more effective at getting charity points on an offensive possession than the Heels.
  4. Strike the Right Balance with Perimeter Defense. Duke is going to shoot the three. They'll heave it up more than one out of every three times down the court (for the Heels, that number is closer to 1 in 5) and will often put all five players behind the arc, with their biggest player, Kyle Singer, third on the team in three point attempts. So the defending the three and all the mismatches inherent therein is an obvious must. Ginyard and Green, of course, are excellent defenders, and Hansbrough is surprisingly quick on the perimeter, but it will still be a playing style the Heels rarely see. And you can't overcompensate - Duke's only other offensive weapon is the drive to the basket, and with the defense spread to the extend the Blue Devils require, it's easy to get past an individual defender. The three is still a low percentage shot even in Durham, and defenses overplaying the perimeter is how Duke has the 10th highest effective field goal percentage in the country.
  5. Turn There Obnoxious Habits Against Them. One of my favorite moments in the Carolina-Duke series was at Cameron when Ed Cota brought the ball up the court against fan-favorite Steve Wojciechowski - at least that's how I remember it, anyway. Wojociechowski goes down for his patented floor slap, and Cota chose that moment to drive by his defender for the easy layup like the guy was, well, slaping the foor like a sycophantic jackass. Do you know the easiest shot to take in basketball? It's the one where your defender as flopped to the ground like a French soccer player, something that you'll see from Greg Paulus two or three times tonight, gauranteed. The refs will buy it some of the time, but Duke can be baited into hammier acting that the officials won't fall for. Yeah, it won't get you a lot of points, but the hilarity for the fans more than makes it worth the effort.