North Carolina vs Duke: What Wednesday Night's Battle Tells Us About Both Teams
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For at least a half of basketball, many Duke fans probably heard Doug Gotlieb's voice echoing in their subconscious memory: "Alarmingly Unathletic."
That is exactly how the young, spry Tar Heels made the Blue Devils look vaulting out to a 14-point halftime lead, a lead that would be as high as 16 points.
But never has the oft over used phrase "a tale of two halves" been more appropriate in describing Duke's come-from-behind victory.
The Blue Devils outscored North Carolina by 20 points in the second half after they appeared to make a commitment on the defensive end and on the boards.
So what does this victory tell us about the each team?
North Carolina is much better
It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that North Carolina is much improved over last season's debacle.
They are an athletic and long team, that can run the floor well despite the lack of a point guard with blazing speed.
That being said Kendall Marshall is the real deal and his court vision is as good as any seen in the ACC in a good while.
How did Wednesday night's game rank in the history of the Duke-Carolina rivalry?
The Tar Heels use their length to hit the boards hard and Tyler Zeller's ability to run the court allowed North Carolina to pile up fast break points before Duke even knew a fast break was occurring.
Defensively there are lapses but overall a much better team especially on the interior where John Henson, and Zeller use their height and length to make it very hard for penetration and kick-outs.
Harrison Barnes is mortal
After putting together a few very nice games and playing a pretty good first half, the Tar Heels super frosh was no where to be found in the second half.
This isn't all bad because he played excellent defense on Kyle Singler when he was matched up with him; still, North Carolina could have used his offense down the stretch and they just didn't get it.
That isn't to say Barnes suffered a setback. He has clearly showed glimpses of what he can do, but when the Tar Heels probably could have used an offensive burst he became invisible.
He will be a very good if not great player for North Carolina, but this season has shown he is just like any other freshman learning the ropes.
Kendal Marshall is North Carolina's best player
While many may scoff at this notion, it didn't take many Duke fans and of course the Duke team long to figure out who was the driving force on this version of the Tar Heels.
Marshall had his way for stretches of the game. Either getting into the lane at will and creating for himself or others, or making no look half-court passes that found streaking big men for easy layups.
Marshall showed how good he is and will be.
While he may not be super quick, or the greatest shooter, he has shown the ability to drive North Carolina's offense something they didn't have last year, and never really had this year when former Heel Larry Drew II was running the offense.
Duke finally showed it can take a punch
In the Blue Devils' two losses this season, they were essentially knocked back from the opening tip and never fully recovered.
Wednesday night appeared to be the third instance of this phenomenon. Duke looked lost on defense, couldn't stop North Carolina in transition and couldn't buy a rebound.
Add in they weren't shooting well, except for Nolan Smith, and you have yourself a 14-point halftime deficit.
The second half showed Duke still had some fight and from the opening sequence after intermission it was clear the Blue Devils were going to show it.
That stretch to begin the half ended up with the Blue Devils drawing a charge and going down the floor and having essentially a four-point play after a foul, one made free throw, a tip out and a three-pointer.
For a while it looked like North Carolina would weather the storm, but Duke kept fighting, using their experience to overwhelm the younger Tar Heels, who never regained the lead after the Blue Devils grabbed it with just over six minutes left.
Come-from-behind wins always can be a spark, but having one against your arch-rival could give Duke the confidence to know they can take a shot and still bounce back, something they hadn't done in their previous loses.
Nolan Smith is the ACC Player of the Year
If anyone doubted it before Wednesday, very few can doubt it now.
Smith scored a career-high 34 points in the win, carrying Duke in the first half and then getting some help from backcourt mate Seth Curry, who scored 22.
Smith lead the comeback and helped slow down Marshall and the Tar Heels for much of the second half.
While it may not always be pretty, Smith has shown he can take this team on his shoulders and carry them to the finish line. That in and of itself is a characteristic for a most valuable player.
It is hard to imagine any other player in the ACC being more valuable to his team than Smith is to Duke.
Duke Remains the ACC's top dog
For the time being the Blue Devils have separated themselves from the rest of the ACC pack. The win gives them a full game-and-a-half lead in the ACC standings over the Tar Heels.
This shouldn't come as a shock to anyone but the reality is many were thinking before the year even began that Duke might run the table.
Florida State disproved that completely, St. John's re-emphasized it and North Carolina for one half made many question how good Duke really is.
The Blue Devils responded and showed how a veteran team can respond to adversity.
Going forward both teams have a good chance to run the tables until next month's rematch, which could end up being for the regular season title—just the way this rivalry is suppose to be.
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