5 Reasons North Carolina Is so Much Better Than Duke This Year
The ACC produces some competitive teams for the NCAA Tournament year after year. However, the most exciting part of the ACC resides in the rivalry between North Carolina and Duke.
The Tar Heels and the Blue Devils almost always have Top 25 teams and are a threat to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament.
Duke may be ranked a slot higher (No. 5) than North Carolina (No. 6) in the ESPN/ USA Today Coaches Poll, but North Carolina arguably has a better team.
Here's why North Carolina is much better than Duke this year.
Not only is North Carolina the best rebounding team in the nation (45.2 per game) but Duke has not shown strong rebounding skills at all this season, and are ranked 200th in rebounds (34.8 per game).
Rebounds are often a crucial determining factor in basketball, and North Carolina's rebounding strength serves as a huge advantage for the Tar Heels.
The rivalry matchups between North Carolina and Duke could very likely be determined by rebounds, which gives the Tar Heels a good chance to sweep Duke this year.
The only good rebounder for Duke is Mason Plumlee (10 per game), and there is a huge drop-off in rebounds once Plumlee doesn't factor in, as starting forward Ryan Kelly is second on the team in rebounds with 4.5 per game.
North Carolina has two great rebounders in John Henson (10.1 per game) and Tyler Zeller (8.4 per game), and also has the support of Harrison Barnes (4.8 per game) and guard Reggie Bullock (4.1 per game).
North Carolina is a better passing team and has a principal facilitator that can create opportunities for his teammates.
The Tar Heels average 19.2 assists per game (third), whereas Duke averages 12.5 assists per game (210th).
Kendall Marshall averages an astonishing 10.1 assists per game and is one of the most unselfish players in college basketball.
Duke lacks a player like Marshall who can create opportunities for his fellow teammates. The leader in assists for the Blue Devils is Seth Curry, who averages a mere three assists per game.
Austin Rivers may be able to score but he lacks the facilitating skills that are required for great guards. He averages only 2.3 assists per game which is good for second on the team.
North Carolina has a significantly stronger frontcourt this year with John Henson and Tyler Zeller being effective on both sides of the court.
Henson is averaging 14.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game, while Zeller averages 14.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.
Duke simply does not have that kind of production from their frontcourt. Mason Plumlee (12.5 PPG 10.0 RPG 1.9 BPG) is a great player, but he is the Blue Devils' only frontcourt threat.
Ryan Kelly isn't aggressive enough to give the Blue Devils the kind of the production that they need. He averages a decent 12.5 points per game but only pulls in 4.5 rebounds per game.
Duke just doesn't have the frontcourt strength that North Carolina does.
4. Top Performers
North Carolina's sophomore forward Harrison Barnes is the Tar Heels' top performer (16.8 PPG) and Austin Rivers is Duke's top performer (15.6 PPG).
Regardless of the small discrepancy in their average points-per-game, Barnes is a more clutch player than Rivers.
Although Austin Rivers is an excellent and acrobatic player, he is still acclimating to the college game in his freshman season. Alongside his team-leading 15.6 points per game, Rivers averages 2.3 turnovers per game.
Barnes could improve his rebounding skills and could also be more of a defensive presence, but when the clock is ticking in its final seconds, he's the guy you want with the ball.
Rivers may be a great player but his freshman follies have yet to be tamed.
5. Road Performance
One road game is much too little to gauge these teams' future road performances, but it has shown us plenty in regard to how these teams respond to adversity.
Both teams lost their only road game of the year: North Carolina to No. 1 Kentucky by one point and Duke to No. 2 Ohio State by 22 points.
The Tar Heels stayed in their game against Kentucky and had the lead up until the final minutes of the game. If the last play of the game had been managed better, North Carolina would have won the game.
Duke, however, got wiped out by Ohio State and was never in contention to win the game. They got outrebounded 32-23 and relied much too heavily upon Austin Rivers, who scored a game-high 22 points.
It's a small sample to draw conclusions from, but North Carolina remained poised and competitive in their road game and Duke did not.
Their head-to-head matchups will be very exciting, but North Carolina has some clear-cut advantages over the Blue Devils this year.