The #8 North Carolina Tar Heels travel up the road to Durham to take on Duke tomorrow night for The Rivalry Game. Carolina is coming off a hard-fought win over Notre Dame Sunday to stay in sole possession of the ACC lead. The Blue Devils have K back on the sidelines and are coming off a home win over Pitt. That victory came in similar fashion to UNC’s home win over that squad. However, previous games go out the window tomorrow night. Here are three things to watch when the Heels take on their arch-rivals Thursday at 8:00 PM.
Watch Luke Kennard
The 6-6 sophomore guard is leading the way for the Blue Devils. He leads the team in points per game, minutes per game, free throw percentage, and three-point percentage. Against Notre Dame, the Tar Heels were improved on the defensive end of the court, even without Theo Pinson. UNC will need their best defensive performance of the year thus far on the road against a Duke squad in an underdog role. In too many games this season, a single player on the opposing squad kills Carolina’s chances or makes the game a lot more interesting than it should. If Kennard is hot from three and Pinson is out, it could be a long night for Carolina.
The classic “Inside versus Outside” offense battle is not as clear
Carolina pounds the glass and scores in transition. Dukes uses motions to penetrate or set up the open outside shot. Those offensive trends may largely remain the same, but there could be some differences this year. For example, Carolina is a more efficient three-point shooting team, scoring at a clip of 37.5 percent per game, compared to Duke at 36.8 percent. In terms of three-pointers made per game, Duke is at 8.1 and Carolina is at 7.6. On the inside, everyone knows about UNC and rebounding, leading the nation at 44.7 rebounds per game. Duke is not too far behind, coming in with 37.7 rebounds a contest.
When it is all said and done, second chance points will be the difference. Will the outside shots fall for Justin Jackson or Luke Kennard? Will the drives be available for Joel Berry II or Grayson Allen? Or will it be up to the Carolina front court quartet or Duke’s big guys to clean up after missed shots?
Making runs and controlling emotions
In the history of the rivalry, early runs by a team can make a big difference in how the first half turns out. Subsequently, those types of situations lead to an early and critical beginning to a second half. Like Justin Jackson said earlier this season, the silencing of a road crowd is a great feeling. This season, a solid Carolina run at the end of the first half has been more important than jumping out to an early lead (see: Miami). However, at the end of the day, the sequence to watch will be after the under 4:00 media timeout. No matter what has occurred earlier in the game, this team can determine the outcome of the game with team defense and the right responses on the offensive end.
This season, there has been plenty of emotion from Coach Roy Williams. Those emotions were on display against Notre Dame on Saturday during the second half. Everyone knows Roy and K will be ready. How will their players respond? What will be Carolina’s response
if when Grayson Allen trips someone and throws a temper tantrum? How will the Blue Devils respond when Joel Berry sticks up for his teammates? And do not forget, Cameron Indoor Stadium is a spooky place with all those phantom calls and clock issues. The team that channels their emotions, rather than loses control of them, will ultimately be victorious.