North Carolina Basketball: 5 Keys to Beating Duke in ACC Showdown
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The road hasn't been friendly to North Carolina basketball this season. UNC was shellacked in Miami on Saturday, and the trip runs right through Durham, N.C.
There is no delicate tape at the end of this finish line, just a sea of blue Duke fanatics, encased by the impenetrable stone walls of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Excluding the Maui Invitational, the Tar Heels are just 2-6 away from the Dean E. Smith Center. And though they will only be 10.7 miles from their comfort zone, these young players will quickly learn this is nothing like home.
This is Oz, and Nike didn't provide the team ruby slippers for this trip.
Carolina will have to scratch, claw and fight its way to a victory on Wednesday. Bloody noses are a part of this historic rivalry. The Tar Heels must harness their inner Psycho T, get up off the floor and keep scrappin'.
If they can do that, and follow these five keys to victory, they just might have a shot at pulling off their most unlikely upset of the Blue Devils in years.
Get off to a Good Start
USA TODAY Sports
Getting off to a good start doesn't necessarily mean hitting threes and scoring as quickly as possible in the half-court set. Defense is the key to a strong opening, and the faster the Tar Heels learn that, the better off they will be.
It isn't just poor fundamentals on defense that puts Carolina in early holes. It's a lack of aggression and an overall sense of apathy for that side of the court.
When UNC went on an 8-0 tear in the first 1:26 against Maryland, it was because the defense played with more energy and intensity than ever before—or since. The players were hustling, trapping, stealing and blocking shots.
Where did that passion for defense go?
It was out the door by halftime and hasn't been seen again—at least not at that level. And certainly not for 40 minutes.
Great teams feed off defensive stops and turnovers. This team acts like it would rather just outscore their competition.
This isn't the NC Pro-Am, fellas.
Find a Way to Ignore the Cameron Crazies
It's close quarters in Cameron Indoor
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
As much as Tar Heel fans like to make fun of them (myself included), the Cameron Crazies are no laughing matter. Once players fall under the spell of their hand gestures, defeat becomes imminent.
With students lining the perimeter of the court, there is no escaping their relentless harassment. From introductions to the final buzzer, their long list of gestures and chants never stop. And the intensity of the crowd gets cranked up a notch by the presence of the program's greatest rival.
Indiana was probably quite the spectacle for the Tar Heel freshmen, but they haven't been a part of anything like this yet. And only a few players have logged significant minutes on the floor of Coach K Court.
They will find the Crazies are simply impossible to tune out. The only thing the Tar Heels can do is use the rowdy crowd to ignite the fire deep within themselves and play the game of their lives.
Because the only way to ignore the Duke faithful is to shut them up. And the only way to do that is to make the home team look like garbage.
Good luck with this one, boys.
Don't Try to End a Slump with Threes
USA TODAY Sports
Has anyone noticed a trend when the Tar Heels are having a bad shooting day?
They seem to think the three-ball is the answer to all their problems. Whether it's overconfidence in their shooting range or a desperate attempt to make up points as fast as possible, it is the wrong move.
Why take the toughest jump shot on the floor to get out of a slump?
Sure, knocking down a few treys will help swing momentum back in UNC's favor. But if the shots don't fall, it's a long rebound and an easy transition bucket on the other end of the floor. That only exacerbates the problem.
The risk of the three-pointer outweighs its benefits in this situation. Dumping it off inside, driving to the basket or lining up a 17-footer would all be better choices than jacking it up from downtown.
It just isn't smart basketball.
Defend the Perimeter at All Costs
Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports
If a defender plays Quinn Cook, Seth Curry or Rasheed Sulaimon too close, they are all capable of taking it to the rack. If he gives up too much space, none of the aforementioned Blue Devils will hesitate to drop a trey.
Pick your poison.
Taking Miami's 15-of-26 performance on Saturday into consideration, the Tar Heels may want to play close and gamble on the drive. At least there will be some help in the paint.
The Hurricanes are only shooting 36.4 percent from downtown. The Blue Devils are shooting 41.1 percent, and Cook (41.2), Curry (42.3) and Sulaimon (41.4) are the best of the bunch.
The Tar Heels will have to play tight, fight through screens and avoid those mistakes on help defense that leave shooters wide open on the perimeter. It might help if Roy had them play straight-up man defense and forget about the hedge.
But that's probably as likely to happen as a P.J. Hairston start.
Frustrate Mason Plumlee Every Possible Way
USA TODAY Sports
Is there any way the Tar Heels can suit up Dennis Rodman for this one?
Nobody was better at getting under an opponent's skin that The Worm. That's the kind of mentality those that guard Mason Plumlee will need.
There isn't a single player on this North Carolina squad that can defend Plumlee. He's smarter, more skilled and more experienced than anyone Roy Williams has used at the 5.
The best they can do is try to frustrate him every possible way.
It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to just put Joel James in there to get physical with him, even if that leads to fouls. Make Plumlee earn his points at the charity stripe.
Roy hardly uses James anyway, so he might as well throw him in there to pick up some fouls.
Plumlee is only shooting 65.1 percent from the free-throw line this season, which is the best mark of his career. He has made 27 of his last 36 free throws, but he has more bad days than good.
It may be best for the Tar Heels to take their chances with Plumlee on the line and hope to get under his skin.
In the end, Plumlee will probably score 20-plus points no matter what the Tar Heels do. But if they can execute the other keys to the game, they just might have a fighting chance.
If they don't, it's going to be a long ride back to Kansas—er, Chapel Hill.