Another chapter begins.
Tomorrow night on primetime television, Duke will host UNC and begin this season’s edition of the most historic rivalry in college basketball.
On paper, the Blue Devils should have a huge advantage. They are playing at home in the tough Cameron Indoor Stadium. Even more, the 21-2 Blue Devils are ranked No. 2 in the latest AP polls, while the 16-7 Tar Heels are unranked.
But those numbers don’t matter, as the game will be a war early on.
The key for Duke is neutralizing the two versatile UNC forwards, James Michael McAdoo and guard-forward Reggie Bullock.
McAdoo is the far and away the most talented player on the UNC roster, but teams have struggled to stop him. He has scored fewer than 10 points only twice this season. But one of those games was the Tar Heels’ last game, an 87-61 blowout loss to No. 8 Miami. McAdoo finished with only six points and three rebounds on 3-for-12 shooting.
He will look to have a huge game and be aggressive early. Duke star forward-center Mason Plumlee must show the type of physicality that the Miami defense showed and keep McAdoo off-balance, forcing him outside toward Duke's perimeter defenders.
The Miami defense also held McAdoo to no free throw attempts, and Plumlee must stay out of foul trouble.
As for Bullock, he will likely be paired with Amile Jefferson or Josh Hairston early on. The loss of Ryan Kelly hurts greatly, as he is a huge player for the Blue Devils.
Bullock is a smart player with good shooting range, and Jefferson and Hairston must defend him tightly and force Bullock into mid-range jumpers and occasional three-pointers. Bullock makes 44 percent of his three-pointers, but he is more comfortable inside the arc where he is a more natural scorer.
Hairston is one of the more inconsistent players on the roster.
He has shown the ability to rebound and play good one-on-one defense, but he gets beaten a lot on both sides of the ball. Duke will need him to step up for this game and beyond, especially with the loss of Kelly.
Jefferson may not have the strength of some of the other forwards, but he can use his size and long arms to keep Bullock off-balance on defense.
On offense, Duke will need Mason Plumlee to have a huge day.
UNC has many tall and versatile players, which is why they rank second in the nation in rebounds, but none of them can match up physically to Plumlee. The closest player is perhaps McAdoo or the inexperienced Desmond Hubert.
Either way, the Blue Devils need Plumlee to dominate the paint. He must score a lot of points on offense, as well as rebound and limit second-chance opportunities for UNC.
Seth Curry must lead the charge on offense, too. Shane Larkin had a field day for Miami against UNC, and Curry should take note. He and guard Durand Scott finished with a combined 35 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds and eight three-pointers.
Miami exposed this deficiency against guards last game. Curry must lead the team as usual, as well as make his open three-point opportunities.
If the Duke role players step up in the wake of Kelly’s absence, as well as outrebound the Tar Heels, then the No. 2 Blue Devils could secure a home victory in the first leg of this heated rivalry.