Duke Basketball: 5 Keys to Beating North Carolina in Tobacco Road Showdown

David AldridgeFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2013

Duke Basketball: 5 Keys to Beating North Carolina in Tobacco Road Showdown

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    The latest clash in the greatest rivalry in college basketball will occur Saturday night when the No. 3 Duke Blue Devils head to Chapel Hill, NC., to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Dean Dome.

    The Blue Devils are still in the hunt for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, while UNC is looking to avenge an earlier loss to Duke this season on February 13.

    A North Carolina win would also bring the Tar Heels even with Duke in the conference standings.

    It will be another tough road test for Mike Krzyzewski's team, but here are five keys for Duke to beat North Carolina in Saturday's showdown on Tobacco Road.

1. Attack the Tar Heel Front Line

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    Much has been made of Roy Williams' decision to go to a smaller lineup in the first game against Duke and all of North Carolina's subsequent games.

    The move to insert P.J. Hairston into the starting lineup and play with a smaller front line has made the Tar Heels more explosive and athletic, while also making them more efficient on offense.

    Duke struggled with UNC's lineup in the game on February 13 and could face similar issues in Saturday's contest.

    However, the Blue Devils will also have a significant size advantage they need to take advantage of. With Ryan Kelly's ability to stretch the floor, it should open up more one-on-one opportunities for Mason Plumlee in the paint.

    Plumlee must be assertive and attack James Michael McAdoo or any other defender that tries to stop him from getting to the basket.

2. Account for P.J. Hairston

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    In the first game between Duke and North Carolina, P.J. Hairston was the best player on the court.

    Hairston led all scorers with 23 points and also added eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal. Fortunately for Duke, Hairston did this while having a poor shooting night from the perimeter—going 1-of-7 from beyond the three-point line.

    Because of his speed and strength, Hairston is a difficult assignment for any defender. Yet, this could provide another opportunity for Ryan Kelly to show his ability to impact a game on defense just as much as he does on offense.

    Whether it's Kelly or any other Blue Devil, keeping Hairston in check will be a major priority for the Duke defense.

3. Strong Transition Defense

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    One of the trademarks of any team coached by Roy Williams is their emphasis on pushing the tempo and making plays in transition.

    And with the shift to a smaller lineup, North Carolina has made it even more of a priority to speed up the pace of the game. Getting players like Reggie Bullock, James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston in the open court creates a huge advantage for the Tar Heels.

    The fast-paced style of play also helps get the crowd at the Dean Dome even more excited for a game against Duke.

    For Duke, keeping the tempo under control and limiting North Carolina's opportunities to make plays in transition will be huge.

4. Make James Michael McAdoo Take a Dribble

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    James Michael McAdoo is one of the most skilled big men in college basketball.

    He came in to the 2012-13 season with a tremendous amount of hype, causing many to believe he has underperformed this season. However, McAdoo still has very respectable numbers. He's averaging 14.6 points and nearly eight rebounds per game.

    The key to defending McAdoo is similar to how many teams have successfully defended Mason Plumlee—beat him for position and make him put the ball on the floor.

    When McAdoo is forced to put the ball on the floor before making a move to the basket or going up for a jump shot, he is not nearly as effective.

    Duke will need Plumlee to give McAdoo a strong dose of the medicine he received from Alex Len and Akil Mitchell.

5. Fight Through Fatigue

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    It is no secret that Duke relies heavily on its five starters.

    Mason Plumlee averages over 34 minutes per game and Quinn Cook is just behind him at 33.6 minutes per game. Along with those two, Seth Curry is playing over 31 minutes per contest while nursing a leg injury that has bothered him all season.

    In addition to the pressure that will be on those three players, Ryan Kelly is still working his way back into playing shape and has already talked about having to push through fatigue.

    If this turns into a high-scoring game where both teams are pushing the ball up the court, it could be difficult for the Blue Devils to have enough stamina for a full 40 minutes.

    Mike Krzyzewski must manage his timeouts wisely to help give his guys timely breaks, and the Blue Devils must weather the storm of North Carolina's tempo.