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UNC vs. Duke: Three Things Learned

Hard pill to swallow, but Carolina must take this medicine and get better

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The immediacy of a decisive defeat stings the memory, but it can be a valuable learning tool. Duke’s triumph wasn’t guaranteed, but most prognosticators predicted a Blue Devil win, if not the demolition that occurred. Reflection after such a battering is in order, so let’s hold hands and brave last Saturday’s nightmare one last time. Here are three things learned from the loss to Duke, Coach K’s final game in Chapel Hill.

Defensive Assignments

Collective groans were heard across the country after Duke won the opening tip and fans saw Armando Bacot match-up with Paolo Banchero. Bacot is a capable defender and rugged defensive rebounder, but his success is mostly realized close to the basket. Having to chase Banchero on the perimeter was always going to be a losing proposition. Banchero got to work immediately, hitting two of his first three jumpers (including a 3-pointer) in the first 90 seconds of the game.

It’s easy for armchair quarterbacks to say what Hubert Davis should have done, but watching Leaky Black clamp down Banchero for the rest of the first half had to be frustrating to watch. The Duke star freshman did not score again for the rest of the first half, and only got going in the second half when he started posting up Leaky on the block and utilized his 50 pound advantage. By that point, Leaky was exhausted, having played every minute of the first half, and 17 of the second.

Carolina could really have done with the defensive versatility of Dawson Garcia and Anthony Harris in this game. Alas, we’ll never know how close the Tar Heels could have made this contest if they were playing with a full deck of cards.

Cold Starts

Carolina was in the danger zone just three minutes into the game. The Heels were down 13-2 (having only hit one of their first seven shots) with Bacot on the bench and a frontcourt of Brady Manek and Puff Johnson left to hold the door. Being down only 11—with open 3-pointers in the corner and top of the key by RJ Davis and Brady Manek—was a small miracle.

That breathing room was squandered when Duke ran off a 12-0 run to begin the second half. Once again, Carolina started slowing, hitting one of their first four shots (with a turnover). The Blue Devils did a great job pressuring UNC’s ball-handlers and not allowing them to run smooth offense. The Tar Heels got stuck with too much one-on-one action, which was a losing proposition with Duke holding an advantage on just about every position on the floor.

For the rematch, Carolina will need to focus on beating pressure defense with penetration and forcing Mark Williams to abandon Bacot or Manek looking for blocks, and dishing to Bacot for a dunk or Manek for an open three. Easier said than done, I know, as Duke is KenPom’s #15 defense. Again, it was always going to take a near perfect game to beat Duke. That goes double when they’re in Cameron.

Rebounding Woes

Hubert Davis said that he wanted to emphasize crashing the offensive boards, but the days of Carolina dwarfing opponents in the rebounding category are probably over. This is by design as much as effort, as the four-out-one-in can only get you so many second chances. Those chances shrivel up when the opponent has talented rebounders like Banchero, Mark Williams, and swingman Wendell Moore to secure defensive rebounds.

Carolina is also at a distinct disadvantage to grab rebounds when 1.) Armando Bacot is on the bench for any appreciable amount of time and 2.) when the opponent shoots 58% for the game. It’s hard to grab defensive boards when you’re constantly taking the ball out of your own net. Better and more disciplined defense is a must. Hubert Davis has decided to run with a shortened bench, for good or for ill. He needs his preferred rotation to not be saddled with foul trouble.