North Carolina Basketball: Position-by-Position Comparison to Duke
Though we are still a painful seven months away from the greatest rivalry in all of sports, that doesn't mean we have to wait to talk about it.
Duke and North Carolina have been doing battle since 1920, and every year since then, the fans of each team have firmly believed their squad has the clear advantage. Pushing favoritism to the side, I've compiled an objective position-by-position comparison between the Tobacco Road rivals.
As it should be expected, this was a very tight battle at every position. That's just the way it is year-to-year between these top-tier college programs.
However, I'm not oblivious to the likelihood of fans being “shocked” or “appalled” with my analysis.
That's just part of being a sportswriter. And in no situation is that more clear than talking Duke and North Carolina.
There is a lot of passion in this rivalry and I love every ounce of it. Don't hesitate to voice your opinion.
Without further introduction, let's start breaking it down, folks.
1. Quinn Cook—6'0”, 175
2. Tyler Thornton—6'1”, 195
1. Marcus Paige—6'1", 157
2. Dexter Strickland—6'3”, 180
3. Luke Davis—6'0”, 172
By all accounts, it appears the nod will go to Quinn Cook—who only averaged 11.7 minutes per game last season. Junior point guard Tyler Thornton will be there to back him up.
It will be between Dexter Strickland and freshman Marcus Paige for the starting job at North Carolina. I have a feeling Paige will win that battle and Strickland will sub at the 1 and the 2. Sophomore transfer Luke Davis will be very limited in minutes.
Neither team has a great deal of experience or size among their floor generals. Paige and Cook will be first-time starters at this level.
Both players have a very similar game, too, making it tough to decide which team has the edge at this position. Cook and Paige operate the point with speed and neither hesitates to pull the trigger.
The difference here is Quinn Cook being known for his streaky shooting, whereas Marcus Paige is more of a primetime scoring threat. Forced to score with a lack of help, Paige averaged 26.9 points per game during his senior season at Linn-Mar.
Comparatively, Cook averaged a mere eight points per game.
UNC also appears to be a little better set up on the bench, with Strickland's return to the hardwood. I have to give the edge to the Tar Heels on this one.
1. Seth Curry—6'2”, 180
2. Rasheed Sulaimon—6'4”, 190
1. Leslie McDonald—6'5”, 215
2. Dexter Strickland—6'3”, 180
3. P.J. Hairston—6'6”, 220
4. Reggie Bullock—6'7”, 205
Two things are blatantly obvious when looking at Duke and North Carolina's depth chart at shooting guard. One: the Tar Heels have a clear advantage in depth. Two: they dominate the size of the Blue Devils.
However, P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock will likely spend most of their time at small forward. This also shows a clear advantage with Carolina's versatility at the 2. Roy Williams can shift the lineup accordingly to exploit opponent weaknesses.
This looks to be a breakout year for many players on both squads.
Seth Curry has shown signs of greatness, but has been very streaky over his career at Duke. After a stellar sophomore campaign where he buried 43.5 percent of his three-point attempts, he returned to shoot 38.3 percent beyond the arc—which isn't exactly poor, either.
It still speaks to Curry's streaky nature.
Ranked 12th on the 2012 ESPN 100, Rasheed Sulaimon is a high-energy guard that can take it to the hole or spot up for a deep jumper. He averaged 27.9 points per game during his senior year at Strake Jesuit.
Sulaimon will make a huge impact for Duke in the time he's on the floor—how much time he will get behind Curry is the biggest question here.
Leslie McDonald is making his return for the Tar Heels after tearing his ACL in the 2011 NC Pro-Am. When he went down, he was the team's leading sharpshooter at 38.1 percent from downtown. Since then, he has improved his dribble and his all-around game.
McDonald has great size at the position and could very well put himself on the map in 2012.
Dexter Strickland is also making his return from an ACL tear that he suffered during the 2011-12 season. Though he isn't much of a perimeter shooter, he will knock down the occasional shot and relentlessly penetrate with his speed—a big factor in his team-high 57 percent shooting from the floor last season.
Overall, the scales still tip in favor of the Tar Heels. With four impressive athletes to choose from, it's hard to say if anyone can match their guard play—especially if Leslie McDonald lives up to the expectations that have been building for the last year.
This could be very different if Andre Dawkins didn't redshirt.
Small Forward/Three Guard
1. Amile Jefferson—6'8”, 195
2. Alex Murphy—6'8”, 220
3. Josh Hairston—6'7”, 235
4. Rasheed Sulaimon—6'4”, 190
Reggie Bullock—6'7”, 205
P.J. Hairston—6'6”, 220
J.P. Tokoto—6'5”, 185
Duke and North Carolina both have some intriguing situations at small forward.
Starting with Duke, it's hard to say who will be starting at the position. I don't think Josh Hairston will be in the running, but it will be interesting to see how the Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson battle plays out.
Both will be freshmen in 2012, as Murphy was redshirted last season. Jefferson is more gifted athletically and has a much higher ceiling than Murphy. Jefferson can also be used at the 4, and that may be a factor in Coach K's decision here.
Either way, these young men have promising futures at Duke.
Another twist at the 3 is Duke's ability to play a three-guard set. This is why Sulaimon is listed here. With Seth Curry in front at the 2, Coach K will be looking to fit Sulaimon in as much as possible.
As for UNC, they will be in a similar situation. Bullock and Hairston were both recruited to play shooting guard, but the loss of Harrison Barnes leaves only one player at the position. Fortunately, they have the size to step in against small forwards.
In reality, it could still be considered a three-guard set for Carolina when they are on the floor.
J.P. Tokoto shows a ton of potential and has been compared to Vince Carter, with his impressive ups. While he lacks a perimeter game at this time, he is a great slasher and a pesky defender.
Both teams appear to be in good hands at small forward, but they also lack experience. Here, I have to give the edge to North Carolina.
The talent is close and Jefferson is an impressive prospect. But the Tar Heels are loaded with athleticism and have a little more experience under their belt. This is one category that is definitely subject to change, however.
Ryan Kelly—6'11”, 230
Amile Jefferson—6'8”, 195
Todd Zafirovski—6'9”, 240
James Michael McAdoo—6'9”, 230
Brice Johnson—6'9”, 187
Jackson Simmons—6'7”, 220
There is no battle for the starting power forward spot at Duke or North Carolina. Ryan Kelly and James Michael McAdoo have their spots on lock.
Ryan Kelly is extremely versatile at the position—to the point he could play small forward, too. However, it doesn't look like there will be a need at the 3.
Kelly has a solid post game and can force defenders deep with his 40.8 percent shooting from three-point range. He actually led the squad in accuracy beyond the arc. He may very well be the purest basketball player for the Blue Devils.
Amile Jefferson was actually recruited as a power forward, so he should have no trouble backing up Kelly as needed. Todd Zafirovski will be a junior and has only managed 2.1 minutes per game through his career. I don't expect that to change now.
With the athleticism of James Michael McAdoo, his ceiling is as high as anyone on this list. His game isn't anywhere near complete, however. I'm sure he will reveal some semblance of a post game in 2012, but I don't expect to be blown away from what I saw last season.
For now, McAdoo's game is all about his endless motor and dominant athleticism. He is also a steal machine, but hasn't displayed much beyond that defensively. His jumper is decent, but he doesn't have much range.
Brice Johnson is also a promising prospect at the 4. Though he is only 6'9”, Johnson has outstanding length and a great face-up game. He needs to step up his game with his back to the basket, but he does have better range than McAdoo.
Johnson is also better defender in the post and is very good at blocking shots.
Though he won't be used very much, Jackson Simmons has also shown some promise. He won't be a star by any means, but I would take him over Zafirovski.
In the end, the scales tip the way of the Devils. There is just too big a question mark over McAdoo's head right now. However, if he lives up to the hype he has been drenched in for the last couple years, Carolina could hold an advantage when these two do battle.
For now, I have to give it up to Duke.
Mason Plumlee—6'10”, 235
Marshall Plumlee—6'11”, 225
Joel James—6'10”, 260
Desmond Hubert—6'10”, 220
Brice Johnson—6'9”, 187
For Duke, it's out with Miles Plumlee and in with Marshall Plumlee. The third of the Plumlee brothers could very well be the best of them all. With a range out to 15 feet and a redshirt year to learn from Mike Krzyzewski, Marshall should be ready to prove it.
He will still have to play second fiddle to Mason Plumlee this year, however. Marshall should still get plenty of work, considering Mason averaged about 27 minutes per game over the last two years with Miles on the team.
I hope everyone followed that. There are too many Plumlees—and their names all start with an “M.” Anyway, don't be surprised if Coach K doubles up on Plumlees with a three-guard set.
Duke is definitely solid at the center position. Carolina could be.
With Tyler Zeller gone, all signs are pointing to freshman Joel James to become the starter for the Tar Heels. Though his offensive game isn't polished, I have no doubt James will cause some serious trouble for opponents on the defensive end—even the Plumlee brothers.
James uses every bit of his 260 pounds to control the block, hitting opponents with the impact of a freight train. He will be a star in the future, but he's still a work in progress.
Sophomore Desmond Hubert will be backing him up with a wingspan comparable to John Henson—7'3” to be exact. Hubert only averaged 4.9 minutes per game last season and didn't show much over that span.
Hubert did pack on an extra 20 pounds during the offseason. He also worked on different aspects of his game with former Tar Heels Rasheed Wallace, Marvin Williams and Deon Thompson.
We could see a whole new Desmond Hubert next year. For now, I remain a skeptic.
Even though he's 6'9”, Brice Johnson has enough length to get some looks at the 5, too. He doesn't have the body to bang, but he has the athleticism and blocking ability to hang with the bigs.
Though the Plumlee brothers aren't exactly walking highlight reels, they bully their opponents with size, motor and fundamentals. This category goes to Duke, as there is only 123 minutes of experience at the 5 for Carolina.
Duke managed to top Carolina in two of the five categories, but not by a wide margin. In most situations, it had to do with experience and having seen what these Blue Devils can do on the college hardwood.
Athletically, it is no contest. UNC wins that in a landslide, which could make all the difference when these two actually do battle.
For the most part, we know what Duke has. They didn't lose much from the 2011-12 season. The Tar Heels lost four premier starters from last year, leaving questions marks that can only truly be answered when the season begins on November 10.
Just remember, this is a preseason comparison—before we have seen anyone in action. This topic will be revisited before their first meeting in mid-February. By then, we could very well see a completely different breakdown.
One thing is guaranteed, though. It will be a tight battle between these two when they meet again. There will be sweat, blood and possibly some tears. It doesn't get any better than Duke versus North Carolina.
Spark the flames.
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