Hell's biggest event of the year is coming up this afternoon (4 PM, CBS). I'm only ten miles from hell, and the heat is intolerable. Luckily my air conditioner is on full blast, allowing me to write this brief preview. As if there weren't inspiration enough, Duke can knock its rivals all the way to a 5 seed (and out of a first round bye) in the upcoming ACC tournament; a loss, and UNC can hang a banner claiming a share of the ACC regular season title.
The first matchup in Cameron Indoor Stadium is an excellent example of how tempo-free stats allow for a clearer picture of what happened in a game. The score was 79-73, and the pace for much of the game was frantic, with fast breaks and layups exchanged constantly. Yet a closer look at what happened in the game shows that this was, surprisingly, a defensive struggle. There were 74 possessions in this game, still most for Duke this season, an average pace for UNC. Within this defensively minded game there were some highlights for Duke, particularly in rebounding. While Duke's 70% defensive rebounding rate was average for the season, it was the lowest percentage of offensive rebounds for Carolina on the season.
Duke's premiere defensive rebounders are Josh McRoberts, Dave McClure, who must continue this in order to hang with the Tar Heels today. On the offensive boards, Lance Thomas has been very effective in ACC play, grabbing one in 11% of his possessions. Unfortunately, the lineup for this game may be influenced by matchups more than anything else. The ability of Lance Thomas or Brian Zoubek to contain Tyler Hansbrough or Brendan Wright is a key facet of this game. On the perimeter, Duke's guards did an excellent job containing long range shooting, limiting Carolina to just 3 of 12 from beyond the arc.
Carolina is coming off of two losses, in two of their worst defensive performances of the year. Duke, meanwhile, has improved its offense lately by pushing the tempo and avoiding prolonged half-court sets. While it would not be advisable to play into Carolina's strength and push the pace, a controlled up-tempo game could be the key for Duke. In addition, look for Duke's full court press to try and limit the Carolina running game. In order to be victorious, Duke needs to overcome its fatigue problems and grab buckets late in the game.
I'm not going to make a prediction this time. So there.