North Carolina will be taking on the Duke Blue Devils on Thursday, Feb. 20 in a makeup game from last week. The original game was postponed due to winter weather. Even though another week has passed since the two teams were supposed to play, not much has changed as far as the outlook of the game is concerned.
North Carolina and Duke still have violently different strengths and weaknesses that will butt up against each other when the two face off. What each team does well is almost diametrically opposed to what the other does well across the board.
It will be a fascinating clash because of this dichotomy.
Starting on the inside, there are a few things that the Tar Heels do extremely well that Duke struggles with.
Defensive rebounds per game: UNC ranks second in the ACC; Duke ranks 13th.
Offensive rebounds per game: UNC ranks fifth in the nation; Duke ranks 137th.
These are surprising stats in two respects. First, UNC has struggled at times to find a solid big man rotation. Coach Roy Williams has altered his starting lineup and rotation a number of times in the frontcourt already this season. Despite the uncertainty, it seems that anyone he throws out there is excelling on the boards.
On the other hand, Duke's Jabari Parker leads the conference in rebounding at 8.5 per game. Teammate Amile Jefferson leads the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and total rebound percentage.
It is almost inexplicable that a team with two superior rebounders could be so bad overall at crashing the boards. Yet in the team's five losses this season, Duke has been outrebounded by at least five in every one and by an average of 9.4 per loss.
The problems for Duke don't stop there though.
Field goal percentage defense: UNC ranks 25th in the nation; Duke ranks 248th.
Blocks per game: UNC ranks third in the ACC; Duke ranks 14th.
These two figures go hand in hand. Duke cannot protect the rim. Parker and Jefferson have combined to block 47 shots this season. No one else on the roster has blocked more than eight shots all year.
With an inability to protect the paint or thwart opponents from finishing at the rim, Duke opponents are shooting 45 percent from the floor this season. Carolina has ironically shot just a shade over 45 percent on offense this season (45.5), meaning Duke makes every opponent look like the Carolina offense.
On the defensive end, UNC is holding opponents to an impressive 39.5 percent from the floor. Thanks to athletic wings and an endless rotation of bigs and active guards, the Heels' defense has kept the team afloat through dry spells this season.
However, things are not all peachy for Carolina in this Duke rivalry game.
Three-point attempts and total makes: Duke ranks first in the ACC; UNC ranks 15th.
Three-pointers per game: Duke ranks sixth in the nation; UNC ranks 342nd.
Free-throw percentage: Duke ranks first in the ACC; UNC ranks 15th.
Carolina's troubles with free throws and threes have been well-documented all season long. It is no secret that it has a dreadful go of it in both areas. However, Duke's excellence in the two most important shooting locations is almost as uncanny.
The Blue Devils have attempted at least 20 threes in every single conference game this season. Not only do they attempt a ton of shots from deep, they are the sixth-best team in the country in made threes per game and seventh in total threes.
Even better, the Dukies rank fourth nationally in three-point percentage at 41.1. Carolina is so atrocious that the NCAA refuses to even rank it in this category. OK, not really. The Heels haven't attempted enough threes to qualify, but FYI, they have hit just 32.3 percent from deep.
So in a battle between the excellence of Carolina's defense and rebounding versus the excellence of Duke's shooting, who has the advantage?
Well, no other team in the ACC matches Duke from both the three-point line and the foul line. Virginia Tech is the only other conference school ranking in the top five in both made threes and three-point percentage. However, the Hokies are atrocious from the foul line.
As for Carolina, no one in the ACC matches the Heels in terms of rebounding, blocks and field-goal defense. Clemson and Florida State both excel at blocking shots and in field-goal defense, but neither one ranks higher than ninth in total rebounds.
The Tigers are fifth in the ACC in offensive rebounding and sixth in rebound margin. So if they are the best ACC comparison for what UNC can dole out, it may be relevant to note that Clemson beat down Duke 72-59 earlier this season, for whatever it's worth.