UNC vs. Duke: X-Factors That Will Decide Clash of ACC Archrivals

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UNC vs. Duke: X-Factors That Will Decide Clash of ACC Archrivals
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The bitter rivalry between the University of North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils makes every game between these two powerhouse programs significant, regardless of record or other circumstances.

Despite the conference realignment that's under way, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was quoted on the team's official Twitter page, intimating that this intense competition will never fade:

As for this matchup, the Blue Devils enter as the AP No. 2-ranked team in the country. The game will be played within the Duke-friendly, raucous confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Cameron Crazies are sure to be in a state of pandemonium in welcoming their unranked, in-state rivals.

Other than the obvious, intimidating home-court edge Duke will have on Wednesday evening, here are some other x-factors to watch for in determining how this edition of Duke-UNC will shake out.

 

Duke's adaptability vs. UNC's functionality

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The Tar Heels haven't quite gotten on the same page all season long, with a record of 16-7. Meanwhile, Duke has gotten over the injury of versatile big man Ryan Kelly, winning all of their games against unranked opponents since that time.

However, Roy Williams' bunch is stocked with talent. If they play to their strengths, his cast of characters can hang with anyone in the country—even Duke.

This is a young team entering one of the hardest places to play in college basketball, and it will be up to the older leaders like Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald to rally the troops.

The rest of the schedule is favorable from here, so if North Carolina somehow pulls this out on the road, it could spark a huge wave of momentum for the squad to ride for the remainder of the regular season.

Considering the vastly different state of these programs this particular year, though, it's hard to argue against a dominant showing from Duke. 

 

Can James Michael McAdoo Thrive Against Mason Plumlee?

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The Tar Heels' leading scorer definitely has NBA upside, but has struggled to perform to his potential against UNC's elite competition so far this year. That trend must change if his team is to pull off the upset.

Plumlee provides a formidable test on the inside for McAdoo, and it will be interesting to see if the big man can establish a post game. His physical style on the other end of the court may also throw McAdoo off of his rhythm.

On the road against Indiana earlier in the season, McAdoo shot just 4-of-15 from the field, and made only 3-of-12 attempts in the Tar Heels' most recent loss to Miami (Fla.).

That's not exactly a strong track record, and McAdoo has to make sure he remains aggressive and decisive on the block, utilizing his superior athleticism and quickness to gain leverage.

McAdoo can't be forced into taking mid-range jumpers, and he won't have freshman center Joel James (concussion) in there to spell him for periods of time (h/t AP). That makes it all the more important for McAdoo to establish himself early, and also to keep Plumlee off the glass to limit second-chance points.

 

Transition Basketball

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UNC must snag a big advantage on the boards to win this in Durham.

Both teams are in the top-11 in the country in points per game, with the Tar Heels holding the slight edge. A big part of this matchup will be points in transition, whether they come off of turnovers or defensive rebounds.

With regard to rebounding, UNC has the gigantic advantage. Duke is going to be reliant on the three-point shot as usual, with only one stellar rebounding presence in Plumlee on the inside.

If the Tar Heels can do a good job of contesting perimeter shots and get the likes of Bullock and P.J. Hairston out on the fast break, this game could be mighty interesting.

But one Achilles' heel of this Tar Heels team is turnovers. They average 13.4 a game as opposed to 11 for Duke. In a hostile environment with a struggling team coming off of a 26-point loss, the Blue Devils' active perimeter defenders should have a chance to get hands in passing lanes and score a bundle in transition.

Bullock's offensive rebounding prowess could help absorb the possible loss in turnover margin.

The winner of this X-factor, though, ultimately comes down to how well North Carolina takes care of the ball in half-court sets, and how well Duke can knock down its outside shots.

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