What: College Basketball Armageddon 2011, Part II
Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Saturday, March 5th, 8:00 PM
Records: UNC 23-6, 13-2 ACC; Duke 27-3, 13-2 ACC
That is the last time these two teams danced this dance with the veritable weight if the ACC regular season hanging in the balance. Obviously the fact that game was a winner takes all contest makes it an easy comparison to this one. Like 2008 this game is being played on a Saturday night in primetime with UNC having lost the first game of the season between the two teams. The locale is different but the approach for the Heels will be much the same. In both 2008 and 2011 UNC was in the game but did not get consistent performances from key personnel not to mention missing Ty Lawson altogether. Greg Paulus nailed several threes and the Heels were eaten alive by Duke's drive and kicks for open jumpers. When UNC went to Durham, Roy Williams made adjustments which included switching on every screen, to prevent Duke from getting so many open looks. In 2008, UNC learned from the experience of losing the first game and made the necessary moves to win the second one.
The current Tar Heels are looking at the same situation. UNC made mistakes in the first game and lost focus in the 2nd half. Kendall Marshall had issues adjusting to Duke's defense which forced him to be more of a scorer. Dexter Strickland had foul trouble which ultimately allowed Duke's Nolan Smith to heat up and drop 35 points. Harrison Barnes and Kyle Singler effectively canceled each other out while the Tar Heel big men scored but not nearly enough in the second half to stem the Blue Devil tide. UNC showed it could play with the Devils then. The assumption now is the Heels will benefit from home court advantage, the experience of the first game and some adjustments by Roy to turn the game in UNC's favor.
Heading into this one it appears UNC is coming out of the offensive wasteland that characterized a stretch prior to the NC State game in Raleigh. Having everyone respond on the offensive end with made shots is absolutely crucial. However the game could very well rest on the three remaining guards on the roster. Leslie McDonald needs to continue to hit threes of the bench, playing the role of Danny Freaking Green who dropped 14 first half points in the 2008 game to stake UNC a lead. Dexter Strickland needs to play as much as possible to keep Smith in check and give UNC's some speed in the backcourt. Then there is Marshall who was thrown off his game by Duke's defense in the first game will not be asked to make the Blue Devils pay if they permit him the kind of entry into the lane he was afford in Durham. On the interior, Tyler Zeller and John Henson need to do what they did last time. Score, rebound and block shots. Henson has taken on a new demeanor since that game in Durham developing a bit of a mean streak at times. I am not sure what precipitated the change but he is more intense and focused as evidenced by his improved FT shooting. UNC needs that from Henson in a huge way.
Of course the player everyone will be paying the most attention to is Harrison Barnes. It is my impression there exists a undercurrent expectation that Barnes is going to take this game over and lead the Heels to victory in sort of epic scoring performance. I don't know if that will happen or not since Barnes seems to only show up in stretches. That being said, the winning shot at FSU or rather his insistence on being the guy to take that shot indicates a player who loves the big moment and excels in situations where so much is on the line. This whole game is one big moment akin to the final minute of a game. Every shot Barnes shoots is potentially a game winning shot. The point here is that I would not be shocked to see Barnes play at a high level from start to finish since the feel of this game as a whole will be like crunch time.
After last season, finishing the regular season off at 24-6 and 14-2 in the ACC would be nothing short of amazing. It will also mark the complete burial of 2010 as the Heels would have returned to the top of the ACC heap. I don't know if this team can win the ACC Tournament with a short bench so in my mind it is now or never in this game.
UNC 77 Duke 74