Coach K's Duke squad holds a few key advantages over the UNC Tar Heels.
There's nothing that Duke Blue Devils fans hate more than when Duke loses to the UNC Tar Heels. Fortunately for those fans, the Blue Devils will have some significant advantages over the Tar Heels this season and should have a great chance at victory.
There might not be a better rivalry in sports than UNC/Duke. You just get the sense that every one of their games means a little more, not just to the players, but to the fans as well.
The Blue Devils may have flamed out in last year's NCAA Tournament, but Duke fans can always hold on to the Austin Rivers-led comeback against the Tar Heels. That game alone could have been enough to brand the season a success.
Picking up a win against UNC matters more than one against any other team, and Duke is going to want every possible advantage over the Tar Heels. This year, it looks like they'll have more than a few of them.
Here's what Duke has over UNC heading into the 2012-13 season.
Mason Plumlee leads a talented Duke frontcourt.
The Blue Devils may have lost big man Miles Plumlee to the NBA, but they still have plenty of talent in the frontcourt.
Two other Plumlee brothers (Mason and Marshall) will still be suiting up for Duke this season, and they'll be helped by senior forward Ryan Kelly and highly-touted freshman Amile Jefferson (ranked No. 25 overall by ESPN).
Mason Plumlee is the star of the group. He averaged 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds last season and is the unquestioned leader of Duke's frontcourt
Plumlee is an athletic big who can impact games offensively and defensively. He's a strong shot-blocker (1.6 blocks per game last season) and has the size and skill to draw double teams in the post.
Plumlee's ability to score in the post or kick the ball out to open shooters is essential for the Blue Devils, especially considering the way that his frontcourt mate Ryan Kelly can shoot.
Kelly has the size of a center (6'11”) but the three-point range of a guard. He shot almost 41 percent from three last year, connecting on 40 of his 98 attempts. He and Plumlee compliment each other perfectly and should play even better together with another season under their belts.
Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee are inexperienced, but both are extremely talented. They should see early minutes, and Jefferson in particular could be an instant impact player for the Blue Devils.
On the other hand, the Tar Heels lost their entire frontcourt to the NBA. Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller are all gone, leaving UNC with some major holes to fill.
The Tar Heels definitely have talented bigs (led by sophomore James Michael McAdoo and freshman Joel James), but they don't have anyone as proven as Kelly or Mason Plumlee.
That adds up to a definite frontcourt advantage for the Blue Devils.
Duke returns four starters from last year's team, including Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee.
Having an experienced team means the world in college basketball, and Duke will have a definite edge in experience over the Tar Heels this season.
Duke returns four starters this year, losing only Austin Rivers from last season's 27-7 squad. Rivers was a great player, but the Blue Devils should be able to fill the gaps he leaves behind.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, are losing four of last year's starters to the NBA. UNC has plenty of talent, but it's tough to make up for that lack of experience.
At the end of the day, experience really does matter in college basketball. There's a reason that teams like Butler and VCU have enjoyed recent postseason success, and it's not because they overwhelmed teams with their talent.
VCU and Butler upset highly-touted teams like Kansas and Pittsburgh because they were experienced. They understood how to play together and were able to prove it when the stakes were at their highest.
Veteran teams just understand the game better. They don't get flustered when they surrender an early lead or get into foul trouble. They have a level of composure and comfort that younger teams can't match.
Little things like that are lost among all the numbers and stats that dominate college basketball, but when two teams of near-equal talent meet, they can make all the difference in the world.
The Blue Devils have a clear edge over the Tar Heels in terms of experience, and that could prove to be a big factor in this upcoming season.
Curry will be looking to score more this season and should be in for a big year.
Seth Curry hasn't been bad at Duke by any means, but he hasn't been great either.
When Curry transferred from Liberty after the 2009 season, he was expected to make an immediate splash. Curry was the freshmen leader in points per game (20.2) and was supposed to bring instant offense to the Blue Devils.
He hasn't had quite that kind of impact yet, but this could be the year that he finally emerges as a star.
Curry is a born scorer but hasn't been able to focus on scoring for the Blue Devils. Austin Rivers's emergence last year forced Curry to take on the role of a distributor, which isn't his strength. Even Coach K admits that Curry was miscast, telling reporters (per News-Record.com's David Morrison):
"Seth is one of the best players in our league. Last year we experimented with him, bringing the ball up. We didn’t have a true point."
Despite being out of place last season, Curry still scored 13.2 points per game, good for second on the team.
He's one of the best shooters in the ACC (he hit 38 percent of his three-pointers this season and 43 percent in 2010-11), and is capable of putting his head down and getting to the basket as well.
This year, Curry will be asked to focus almost solely on scoring and should finally have the breakout season Duke fans have been waiting for.
The Tar Heels just don't have anyone on their roster who can light it up like Curry can. Freshman Marcus Paige (ESPN's No.1 point guard in the class of 2012) might be UNC's best bet, but he's still raw and is going to have to adjust to the speed of the college game.
Curry will be at the center of Duke's offense this season, and his scoring ability gives the Blue Devils the edge over UNC.
Duke's Ryan Kelly can light it up from outside.
Even with sharpshooting guard Andre Dawkins redshirting for personal reasons, this year's Duke squad can really hit from outside.
Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry are obviously capable bombers, and Tyler Thornton and incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon (ESPN's No. 12 overall player in the class of 2012), while streaky, have three-point range.
On the other hand, the Tar Heels have no proven shooters behind guards Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston.
What's even more concerning for UNC is that Hairston (who has a reputation as a great shooter) connected on just 38 of his 139 three-point attempts last year, good for 27.3 percent.
Incoming transfer Luke Davis shot 32.5 percent in his one season at Gardner-Webb and could provide a bit of relief. But UNC still won't have the shooting that Duke does.
Duke will be able to stretch defenses far more effectively than the Tar Heels, which will make their offensive attack that much better. Mason Plumlee and guards like Curry and Sulaimon are going to have a lot more room to operate in the paint—a luxury that the Tar Heels just won't have.