UNC vs. Duke: 6 Things to Take Away from the UNC Victory
By beating rival Duke, the North Carolina Tar Heels secured their second consecutive ACC regular-season championship and their fifth title in six years.
In the game, the Tar Heels played some of their best basketball of the entire season, securing 20 more rebounds than the Blue Devils while holding them to a scant 28.6 percent on three pointers.
Here are six things to take away from the Tar Heels' beatdown of the Blue Devils.
1. When UNC Dictates the Tempo, They Are Almost Unbeatable
In the first half, North Carolina didn't play basketball against Duke, they held a track meet.
While Duke may be more of a half-court team, they have shown all season that they can play a full-court game as well as anyone else in the country.
This didn't phase the Tar Heels, though, as they jumped out to a 22-5 lead and quieted the raucous Cameron Crazies.
The Heels scored in a variety of ways: layups, dunks, jumpers, free throws. While this is routine for any basketball team, it was the way UNC got these shots, patience in the half court, pedal to the metal after a missed shot or turnover by Duke.
The scary thing is UNC is capable of doing this to almost anyone when they dictate the tempo. However, as teams like Virginia and Wisconsin have shown, the Tar Heels won't always do that.
If UNC is able to set the tempo like they did in the first 10 minutes against Duke, there are few teams in the country that could take them down.
2. UNC Has a Newfound Sense of Pride on Defense
At the beginning of the season, North Carolina's defensive formula was "have one very good perimeter defender and several big guys who can alter shots."
Once Dexter Strickland went down with a torn ACL on January 19th, the first part of that formula disappeared.
Since he went down, North Carolina has allowed about 65 points per game.
The defensive effort really was on display against Duke. Carolina was more aggressive on defense than they have been all season. They hedged screens, boxed out, pressured the ball-handler and played fantastic help defense.
How do you know UNC's defense was locked in?
John Henson and Tyler Zeller, two of the better shot-blockers in the country (in Henson's case, arguably the second best behind Kentucky's Anthony Davis) combined for one block in the entire contest.
The Tar Heels defense gave Duke nothing, and it showed on the scoreboard.
3. UNC Can Overcome Adversity
While Duke certainly hasn't owned Cameron Indoor Stadium the way they have in the past, it still is arguably the toughest place to play in the entire country.
Between its wild students, high temperatures, and for lack of a better phrase, home cooking, few opponents walk into Cameron and truly dominate the Blue Devils.
However, the Tar Heels had something in their favor: revenge. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more brutal loss than the Heels' loss to Duke on February 8th, especially when you remember that this years' Tar Heels squad was supposed to be the best team in the country, and Duke was supposed to be in the midst of a "down year."
All year, people have been questioning North Carolina's toughness, and as Dick Vitale put it during the broadcast, "killer instinct." By walking into Cameron, never being remotely intimidated and withstanding multiple Blue Devils' runs, Carolina proved they have the fortitude to withstand extreme adversity.
4. An Aggressive Kendall Marshall Is a Good Kendall Marshall
Kendall "Butter" Marshall had arguably his best overall game as a collegiate player, scoring 20 points, dishing out 10 assists and snatching 4 rebounds.
While he has had better statistical performances (like the 22-point and 13-assist outing against NC State earlier this year), this was probably his best all around game.
Marshall showed off his ability to drive against whoever Duke threw at him. While it may not have been pretty, it certainly was effective.
Marshall's attacking was key to this game. By the time Carolina took their 22-5 lead, Marshall already had five assists, four of which were to Tyler Zeller. Many of the looks Zeller had were because of Marshall's ability to draw defenders as he got into the paint.
When Kendall Marshall is aggressive like he was against the Blue Devils, he's able to create even more opportunities for his teammates than he does already. Which, if you play for one of the other 67 teams that make the NCAA tournament, is a terrifying thought.
5. UNC's Ancillary Players Are as Indispensable as Their Stars
The Tar Heels are like the old New York Yankees teams from the 1990s-2000s; their core four gets the brunt of the attention, but the other parts around them are just as important.
UNC has four potential All-ACC first-team performers in Zeller, Marshall, Henson and Harrison Barnes. Of course, they wouldn't have beaten Duke without those guys playing as well as they did.
However, the surrounding pieces were just as important.
Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston haven't been knocking down threes at the torrid pace that everyone expected, but their hard-nosed (albeit not extraordinary) defense and ability to crash the boards as shooting guards is something every team in the country would kill to have. The 14 points and 10 rebounds they had between the two of them showed up in the stat books, but their defense on Seth Curry and Austin Rivers was equally impressive.
James Michael McAdoo was all over the place against Duke. He really played his tail off and had some awesome moments, especially when he gave UNC fans his own interpretation of Rasheed Wallace's famous dunk against Duke in 1995.
Between those three guys and the duo of Stillman White and Justin Watts, Carolina has the depth needed to play well in case something were to happen to one of their four stars.
6. Making Threes Is the Tar Heels' Bugaboo
For all the good things to come out of the beatdown at Cameron, there's one glaring issue: three-point shooting.
UNC has plenty of guys with the ability to knock down three-pointers at any time. Barnes, Bullock, Hairston and Marshall have shown that when they need to hit threes, they are certainly capable.
However, consistency has been the issue. North Carolina doesn't have anyone shooting over 40 percent from downtown. The closest is Barnes at 39.6 percent, with Bullock not far behind at 38.6 percent.
The real problem is Hairston.
Dick Vitale pointed out that Hairston is one of the best shooters Roy Williams has ever recruited during ESPN's broadcast of the Duke game, but the results just haven't been there. Both he and Bullock get plenty of chances during the course of the games but don't always convert.
If Hairston and Bullock can consistently find their strokes before the tournament starts, that added dimension of their offense would make the Tar Heels even more of a threat to teams like Kentucky and Syracuse.
If they don't, then the Tar Heels can face some problems come tournament time. Although if they play 48 minutes of basketball like they did against Duke, they can beat anyone in the country.
Follow Bill DiFilippo on Twitter @bflip33.