On Saturday night, the world will be watching one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports when Duke travels to Chapel Hill to take on UNC. It will be the final guaranteed showdown of the season between these archenemies, and viewers should be in for quite the show.
In the Tar Heels' first game using the small lineup, they essentially went blow-for-blow with the Blue Devils in the extremely unfriendly confines of Cameron Indoor. In the end, it was a loss, but North Carolina's performance on that night was shockingly spectacular.
Now the new lineup has six more games under its belt, and it has the pleasure of playing in front of its home crowd at the Dean E. Smith Center. But Duke has also has Ryan Kelly back, who was unavailable for the first meeting.
There is never a lack of storylines when these two teams do battle.
Which situation is more favorable on Saturday? Is it the experience of UNC's starting five? Or is it the return of the versatile Kelly?
We won't know for sure until Saturday night.
In order for the Tar Heels to show they have gained the advantage, they will have to exploit Duke's few deficiencies and make the best of every offensive possession. That will take smart basketball, and the five keys I have laid out will certainly put UNC on the right track.
Smart shot selection is something I have continually preached in my keys to the games. And until the Tar Heels get a grip on those threes, you will continue to hear about it.
It is one of their greatest weaknesses.
Particularly after last season, it's great to see North Carolina shooting 37.6 percent from downtown. But it could really improve that percentage if the players didn't jack them up so much.
When shooters are in the zone, I have no issue with them launching it. But shooting them while they are slumping in the half court will do nothing but dig a deeper hole.
All they have to do is wait for a a nice, open shot where they can fire it in rhythm. Shooting threes for the sake of it simply won't cut it against the Blue Devils.
Considering Duke is holding opponents to 29.5 percent from that range, it would probably be in the Tar Heels' best interest to keep those treys to a minimum. In the last meeting, they were held to 5-of-18 shooting from behind the arc.
While defending the three is a strength, one of Duke's greatest weaknesses is defending cutters and slashers. UNC needs to make that the focal point of its offense, rather than deep jump shots.
Dexter Strickland, Marcus Paige and P.J. Hairston should be penetrating relentlessly on this defense. Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo should be cutting into the lane and be ready for the dish.
Carolina wings also have a size advantage over its Duke counterparts, so it wouldn't be a bad idea for Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston to post them up once in a while.
As much of an advantage as the Tar Heels have in those two areas, the three ball should be their last option.
On defense, the Tar Heels need to be especially careful about giving help when they don't need to. Even worse is when a UNC defender gets caught in the space between the driver and the shooter spotting up, where he is of no help to anyone.
Duke loves to kick it out to their shooters, and it has four extremely deadly ones to worry about.
Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Ryan Kelly are all shooting over 40 percent beyond the arc. Rasheed Sulaimon is just shy of that mark at 39.1 percent.
The group is averaging seven made threes per game—and Ryan Kelly only played in 17 of those. In the two games since his return, Kelly has buried nine treys.
The Tar Heels can't afford for the Blue Devils to get easy looks from downtown. That will mean playing tight defense, not losing their man and fighting through the plethora of screens Duke will be setting. And fighting through screens means not taking shortcuts.
They will also have to get physical—especially down low. That duty will weigh heavily on the shoulders of James Michael McAdoo, who will be doing battle with Mason Plumlee at the 5.
As ripped as these guys are, neither of them are very physical players. If McAdoo can muster up a bully mentality, he can push Plumlee off the block, where he is least comfortable. He did a great job of that in the first half of the last meeting, but then he started flopping every time Plumlee touched him in the second.
I love it when McAdoo steps up to take a charge on a driver, but that whistle will rarely get blown in the post. He needs to learn to hold his ground and save the flopping for a more favorable situation.
As well as Hairston has played at the 4, this is one game where Roy Williams may be better off putting Bullock in that spot. Hairston's strength has been the main reason for him playing power forward.
But Ryan Kelly is no brute, and the Tar Heels would probably benefit more from Bullock's length and superior defense.
Kelly won't hesitate to post up, but he will also be running his defender all over the court. He's very crafty with his shot selection too, and UNC must counter that with an equally-crafty defender.
Bullock is the best the Tar Heels have to offer in that category.
This will also move Hairston to the 3, where he can abuse the smaller guards and small forwards on both ends of the court. Sulaimon typically plays that position the most for Duke, and Hairston has over an inch and 35 pounds on the freshman.
Sulaimon is also prone to some bone-headed errors, and Hairston is good enough to take full advantage of his mistakes. And his physical nature will certainly make Sulaimon uncomfortable.
Maryland may not have come out with the win against North Carolina on Wednesday, but it certainly did Duke a favor. In the final minutes of the game, Mark Turgeon unleashed a full-court press that demoralized the young Marcus Paige.
Until Roy forced someone else to handle the ball, the freshman point guard just kept turning it over. Instead of dribbling through the press, he'd stop and get trapped before he could get the ball out. He finished the night with a career-high eight turnovers.
I swear I felt a drop of Coach K's drool hit my head.
Especially since they are playing in enemy territory, it would be a smart move by Krzyzewski to initiate the press from the jump. And I won't be the least bit surprised when he does it.
Roy shouldn't either, so he should be preparing Paige and the others to counter this. If they can get the ball up the court quickly, there will be an advantage in numbers on the other end.
The same can be said of the traps Duke likes to give in the half court. Kelly is extremely good at this, as Shane Larkin found in Miami's last game against Duke.
Whether it's Paige or Strickland, the ball handler has to see this coming and drive before Kelly gets there. That gives the offense a four-on-three situation while the trapping defenders recover.
That's how you make them stop trapping. Otherwise, the UNC point guards will be feeling the heat all night long.
Obviously, Roy Williams would like to see two halves of domination from his crew. But the biggest key to the game will be how Carolina plays the first half.
Duke has struggled in the opening half of games this season. In 17 ACC games, the Blue Devils have been held under 30 points five times. One of those was against North Carolina, where it managed to hold Duke to 29 points at Cameron Indoor.
Then the Tar Heels were outscored 44-35 through the remaining minutes.
Mike Krzyzewski is one of the best—if not the best—at halftime adjustments. The Blue Devils average 36.4 points in the first half and 41.4 in the second during conference play.
Not once have they scored under 35 points in the final 20 minutes.
The Tar Heels must pad the lead as much as possible in the first 20. That will mean doing everything that has been mentioned today, along with exploiting the Duke weakness I listed yesterday.
Considering how close the last game was—albeit without Ryan Kelly—UNC can certainly come out with the win in the Dean Dome. But it will take 40 minutes of smart basketball to do so.