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article imageOp-Ed: ACC Men’s Basketball Preview — North Carolina vs. Duke

By Paul Bright     Feb 7, 2012 in Sports
Chapel Hill - The UNC Tarheels and Duke Blue Devils renew their rivalry Wednesday night. Which key players will affect the outcome of this matchup?
It’s the time of year where family members, friends and neighbors gather around to watch one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports: The UNC Tar Heels men’s basketball team will take on the Duke Blue Devils at The Deangroup Smith Center,February 8th at 9pm EST. Last year the teams split the regular season games and met for a third time during the ACC Tournament. Duke triumphed, 75-58. This year’s match up should be full of fireworks with no clear favorite identified, given the current season play for both storied franchises.
Duke (19-4, 6-2) is having a year that’s reversed course for their traditional style of play. Duke’s perimeter defense has been sorely lacking- teams are hitting 43% of their shots against them to include 32 percent from beyond the arc. Yet scoring from the post has been dominant thanks to Mason Plumlee hitting 59% of his points in the paint. Duke’s two conferences losses include dropping a buzzer-beater against the red hot Florida State University Seminoles and the recent overtime defeat against Miami, in which Duke missed all six free throws during the extra period. However, stellar play and leadership from Seth Curry and unheralded freshman Quinn Cook have kept Duke afloat.
UNC (20-3, 7-1) hasn’t had the easiest of seasons despite their roster of talent and experience. Half of the Tar Heels are Juniors or Seniors, but Junior Dexter Strickland is done for the year with a torn ACL. The Tar Heels lost by 33 to FSU and barely came out alive against Maryland. They are on a five game winning streak.
Key Players To Watch
Duke. Austin Rivers has been playing below expectations this season and was even benched by Coach K at one point. Rivers- son of Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers- has slowly earned his way into more playing time by focusing on defense and looking for the open play versus score first, which doesn’t bode well to Duke’s team approach.
Ryan Kelly’s inconsistency has made him an X factor for every match up. If he’s scoring, he isn’t rebounding. If he’s rebounding, he isn’t scoring and is in foul trouble. The most consistent part of his game is his free throw shooting. At the beginning of the season, Kelly hit 18 in a row and 32 out of 37.
Mason Plumlee, the middle of the three Plumlees playing for Duke (Marshall is red-shirting this year), has consistently dominated the lane with his post up moves all year. Can he do it against UNC’s 7-foot Senior Tyler Zeller?
Carolina. Everyone knows Harrison Barnes should be riding the bench right now- in the NBA. He’s clearly the best player on the team, the ACC and maybe in all of Division I. Many projected him as a lottery pick in this year’s draft but Barnes wanted another shot at the NCAA title. The biggest question is still about his leadership when things aren’t going so well for UNC. Against Maryland, a hobbled Barnes did show signs of leadership as they crawled back from a big deficit to get the win. Even though Duke is having a shaky defensive year by Duke’s standards, they can put up points in a hurry. Will Barnes step up if they get a big lead?
Reggie Bullock is filling the shoes of Dexter Strickland, who tore his ACL five games ago and is out for the season. His minutes have increased but the positive stats have not. Duke’s horrible shooting defense might give him a chance to be an X factor, but he’ll need to do more than stuff a drive against Duke, who can be deadly beyond the arc.
Perhaps the most consistent player on the Tar Heels roster is Kendall Marshall. He’s second in the nation with 9.8 assists and less than 3 turnovers per game. During the comeback win against Maryland, Marshall dished out 16 assists. His scoring, however, isn’t much to talk about, with Strickland only reaching double digits twice so far this season.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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