Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s finally that time of the year again. After a Super Bowl weekend full of national anthem gaffes, provocative Groupon commercials, and a whole lot of Greg Jennings puttin’ the team on his back, we can finally focus on what really matters in the world of sports (at least to us). It’s finally time for us to shift our focus back to the hardwood as we approach what arguably is the greatest rivalry in sports: Duke versus UNC. In anticipation of tonight’s matchup, Crazie-Talk compiled our own “Top 5” questions surrounding the game:
1) Will the real Mason Plumlee please stand up?
One of the keys to a Duke victory is how well Mason Plumlee plays on both sides of the ball. In Duke’s two losses thus far, the Sophomore Forward has combined for a measly 5 points, coming off of only one made field goal. The volatile play, coupled with his 38% free-throw rate, remain key challenges that Duke must overcome if they expect to make a deep run in the tournament. I expect Mason to have a solid shooting performance on Wednesday, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of those baby hooks he pulled against NC State. But if he doesn’t show improvement in his shooting by mid-March, expect the “Hack-a-Plumlee” to become a defensive staple among opposing teams.
2) Can Duke hit free throws?
Though problems at the line primarily involve Duke’s big men, this year’s squad has uncharacteristically underperformed from the charity stripe. Duke shot 53% from the line while missing 15 free throws in their last game against NC State, a stark contrast from the usually reliable teams of the past. While the team successfully masked its free-throw deficiency against State, don’t expect for that trend to continue as conference play begins to heat up. One can simply rewind back to the Derrick Rose-led 2007-2008 Memphis Tigers (or any Clemson team of the last 10 years) to see a prime example of how a talented squad can cripple under lackluster free-throw ability.
3) Will the three ball drop?
I know, I know—this entire article seems to revolve around shooting. But on a team without the senior leadership of Zoubek and LT, it’s time to accept the fact that this squad will ultimately rely on its perimeter play. It’s no secret that this team, similar to previous Blue Devil squads, relies heavily on the 3-point shot. A good shooting night can lead to a blowout, but a poor performance can plague an entire team into defeat (see: St John’s game). If Duke wants to beat a talented Carolina team tonight, they’ll need to find a balance in their offense if the 3’s don’t start falling.
4) Does UNC’s return to the Coaches Top 25 mean anything?
It seems that John Henson and Co. took the “making other peoples’ lives relevant” concept to a whole new level. As UNC re-enters the top 25, The Tar Heels coincidentally have finally made themselves relevant again. Sarcasm aside, this team has improved tremendously from the beginning of the season. Carolina has won three straight ACC games by 20+ points, the first time that has happened since the 05-06 season. The recent success, which occurred in the midst of Larry Drew II’s sudden departure (validating the concept of ‘addition by subtraction’), hinges on the strong play of Henson, Barnes, and Drew’s replacement, Kendall Marshall. They are coming into the tonight’s rivalry game with a lot of momentum, so expect a strong performance from UNC.
5) Who wins the game?
Had I written this post at the beginning of the year, I would’ve easily given the nod to Duke in this matchup. The Blue Devils simply had more experience, offensive firepower, and coaching than their counterparts at Chapel Hill. However, after the world’s most famous toe—no, not you Mrs. Rex Ryan—took away the nation’s most dynamic point guard, the two teams should enter tonight’s game on much more equal footing. I expect for this game to be much closer than most may predict—a Duke victory with a margin of around 3-5 points. At the very least, UNC will play much better than they did in last year’s epic fail (see video below). Watch for the Cameron Crazies, as usual, to push the Blue Devils past the Tar Heels in a very physical matchup between the two rivals.
Prediction: Duke wins 73-70
What will Rashad Mccants’s father post on Facebook after the game?