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The UNC / Duke rivalry will take a unique turn this year

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UNC will be strong at perimeter, Duke will be strong in the post. Who will execute who’s style better?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the rivalry between UNC and Duke, it’s pretty fair to say that there are certain aspects people have learned to expect at this juncture. Traditional Coach K teams seem to lean more towards a perimeter-style offense. A Roy Williams team tends to play an inside-out game to get easier shots in order to get the defense to respect the big men and get shooters on the perimeter open.

Well ladies and gentleman, this year is the year that we will see which coach can coach the other coach’s style better, because for both rosters things got really…really interesting this summer.

For the first time in what seems like ever in the Roy Williams era, UNC has more questions than answers when it comes to the depth of the interior. Tony Bradley decided to take his talents to the NBA, leaving a rather big hole in the five-spot. UNC won’t be without big men, but they will be without proven talent at the position. The only forward that will have had any significant playing experience with the Heels is junior Luke Maye.

Freshmen Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman, and Sterling Manley will look to battle it out for the five-spot in the starting lineup, and only time will tell who will come out on top. Yet down the road in Durham, there’s a lot of hype around their 2017-18 roster that might be worth paying attention to (I know I know when isn’t there, but just bear with me).

When Duke’s recruiting class was about 80% complete, honestly there wasn’t a lot to get excited about for the Blue Devils. That’s not to say they weren’t able to get strong freshmen talent—they always tend to manage that—but they had questions specifically at the point guard. Trevon Duval answered the call in the offseason, committing to Duke and will likely be seeing lots and lots of playing time barring situations where Coach K may rotate Grayson Allen to the point guard spot.

Most notable in the case of the unusual makeup of Duke’s team begins with six-foot-ten power forward and five-star recruit Wendell Carter. Carter is listed on the ESPN 100 as being the number one power forward in the incoming 2017 class, and the number 5 overall player in the ESPN 100. This alone would be enough to make UNC fans yawn, as one highly ranked big man isn’t exactly the most abnormal acquisition for Duke. That is, until Monday happened.

This past Monday, the number one recruit in the 2018 class Marvin Bagley III reclassified so that he can join Duke a year early. Bagley is a six-foot-eleven forward from Tempe, Arizona and turned down west coast schools like UCLA and USC to find his way into Coach K’s hands. For the first time in quite a while, Duke has some form of sustainable depth in the post that they haven’t had in quite a while.

One could make the argument the 2015 team had depth at the post, and that would be fair, but it seems like this year Duke decided to a cheat code. Even with the two freshman, Marques Bolden will be going into his sophomore year as well who plays a true center. Being able to go big with Bolden, Bagley, and Carter would look something like FSU last year where UNC will be banging around with a lot of size and (presumably better) talent in the paint.

The one thing to note about this Duke team before moving on to the part that we truly care about: this team has a lot of big names. Aside from the players mentioned so far, Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen are still out there as well. This will be not only a true test for how well Coach K can coach a post-heavy roster, but it will be a test to see how he will be able to manage the “there is only one basketball” situation on the court. Expect Coach K to either put his Olympics coaching skills to use, or call Coach Cal for some answers

Focusing on UNC, earlier it was mentioned that there will be a lot of questions in the post due to lack of proven talent down low. While this may be UNC’s weakness right now, their strength lies in what everyone else on the floor will be able to do. Everything will begin and end with Final Four MOP Joel Berry II, who this past season proved to be one of the most dangerous shooting threats in the ACC.

The one knock on Berry’s game, if we really wanted to dig for one, would be that he doesn’t create very many assists when he is on the floor. So if he decides to polish his game to prepare for the NBA Draft, who is going to be able to make shots on the perimeter along with him?

Short Answer: Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams, Luke Maye, and as far as the freshmen go, we will likely see Andrew Platek and Jalek Felton become shooting threats as well. The potential for how well UNC will be able to shoot on the perimeter this year is quite frankly ridiculous. The acquisition of Cameron Johnson from Pitt gives UNC a very Justin Jackson-type threat on the perimeter which alone is cause for ACC coaches to shake their heads and probably lose sleep at night. When you factor in how many players Roy Williams likes to play, and their level of shooting ability, it can potentially make for a very very fun season.

So then with all of this perimeter shooting, is the post issue truly an issue? That depends on how you interpret the comments Joel Berry made to Inside Carolina:

“This year might be the year that a lot of people are not used to seeing the way Carolina plays,” explained Berry. “With Luke (Maye) being a four, he’s more of a pick and pop guy. So we need to find a five guy … we don’t need someone to be a Kennedy Meeks, or an Isaiah Hicks, or a Brice Johnson. We just need somebody that will come in and give us some good minutes off the bench, and just play the role of getting to the backboard when a shot goes up, boxing out to get a defensive rebound."

Indeed, the one thing Roy Williams will care the most about in his big men is who will be able to clean up the boards. That is now and forever one of his big focuses with any of his teams, and it is likely that that factor more than anything will determine who will get playing time in the post this year.

So with all of that said: the two UNC/Duke matchups this year could prove to be very, very interesting. Role-reversal will be the theme here, as both coaches will have to play to their strengths at positions they’re not used to having to cater to. It should make for another insane chapter in the rivalry, and one can only hope UNC will be able to give Duke a taste of their own medicine and be able to kill some of the hype surrounding them. Let’s see which coach can figure it all out first.

Oh, and one more thing: Go to Hell Duke.