North Carolina vs Duke, 9:00 PM, ESPN and ACC Network
UNC meets Duke in part one of the 2016 ultimate battle between good and evil. Here are the keys
Match-ups, match-ups, match-ups
The various match-ups in this game are pretty much everything. For UNC figuring out the best way to guard Brandon Ingram is the first priority and after that keeping Grayson Allen out of the lane where he can score, draw fouls and ignore the basic rules governing how many steps a player can take while not dribbling the ball.
Ingram is probably the bigger concern because it is the very definition of a match-up problem. Roy Williams has already said he plans to initially stick with the regular lineup using two big men. The problem there is it forces Brice Johnson to guard Ingram away from the basket which is problematic on two levels. One, it takes UNC's best defensive rebounder away from the paint. Secondly, Johnson has struggled to guard players power forwards who can drive and shoot threes. The regular lineup does keep Kennedy Meeks in the game which helps with the rebounding but pulling Johnson out of position is less than ideal for UNC.
How the rest of the defense plays also factors into how much you can tolerate should Ingram get the best of Johnson on the offensive end. If UNC is effective in keeping the rest of the Blue Devils in check and Johnson stays out of foul trouble, Roy Williams might be able to live with it. If Ingram can score and other Blue Devils get it going, going small might be the better option. At any rate, the small lineup will likely be used some just to give Duke different looks.
On the other end of the floor, there is no way on earth Ingram is going to guard Johnson in the post one-on-one. That means Duke will either use a lot of zone defense or opt for double teams. The latter could prove effective since Johnson does tend to force shots or not sense double teams quickly enough to get the ball out. If he does it willbe incumbent on UNC perimeter players to take advantage of a defense that will be in scramble mode following the double team. If Duke opts for a zone, UNC has shown some ability this season to score on that type of defense, especially since the Blue Devil zone isn't nearly as daunting as others the Tar Heels have seen.
UNC gave up 19 offensive rebounds versus Pitt on Sunday and only snagged one on its own offensive end. If the Tar Heels have any designs on winning this game, controlling the boards will be crucial. UNC has a distinct interior advantage and is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country. Duke, on the other hand, struggles to get defensive rebounds meaning UNC should be able to extend possessions.
The primary issue is how the rebounding might be impacted by what UNC does on the defensive end. As noted above, Brice Johnson being pulled away from the basket by Brandon Ingram puts UNC's best defensive rebounder out of position. That puts pressure on Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson to help clean up on missed shots if Johnson is away from the basket.
The rebounding plays into the question of going small or not. If UNC's normal lineup cannot control the boards then it makes little sense to lean on it. At that point it becomes an simple equation. If the smaller lineup is better and the rebounding is even between the two units, then UNC probably ends up going small. In short, the normal lineup needs to play to its full potential so the Tar Heels can enjoy the advantage it provides. Otherwise, it might not be worth the potential defensive match-up problems that come with it.
The caveat here is if UNC is getting anything it wants on the offensive end with the normal lineup, sticking with it makes sense with the hope UNC's tempo becomes the defensive edge the Tar Heels need. Speaking of which...
The Final 10 Minutes
It is has been well documented Duke has very little depth. The Blue Devils have a regular rotation of six players with an occasional cameo from fouling machine Chase Jeter(10.2 fouls committed per 40 mins). Assuming UNC can establish the preferred tempo along with UNC's deeper rotation, the final ten minutes of the game could be where the Blue Devils run smack into the wall.
Along those lines, it wouldn't be surprising to see Roy Williams extend the bench some in this game versus what he did on Sunday versus Pitt. Part of that would be to protect UNC interior players from foul trouble but also to keep the Tar Heels fresher for the second half. The issue with using the bench isn't necessarily so many players getting into the game but some of the odd lineups that result from it. Joel James or Luke Maye being in the game for 1-2 minutes is fine but they cannot be out there together. Keeping at least two scoring options available at all times would be ideal.
Another key aspect to this is how often UNC can turn Duke over. The Blue Devils have an excellent TO% at just under 15%. Forcing some miscues can get the transition game going and really wear on the Blue Devil players.
UNC 88 Duke 79