By -Nick Piotrowicz | Sunday, March 17, 2013 - 12:45
GREENSBORO – It's a done argument: North Carolina is better with its small lineup.
Since putting P.J. Hairston in the starting lineup, the Tar Heels have won eight of their 10 games, with both losses coming to Duke.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said earlier this week that playing with four ballhandlers and James Michael McAdoo was “the best thing for this team.”
That's true, no doubt.
But it might not be very good for today's ACC Tournament championship game against Miami, which has won the two meetings between the two handily, though both came before UNC's lineup switch.
The Hurricanes will challenge Williams to stay with it: Miami has 6-foot-10 Julian Gamble and 6-foot-11 Kenny Kadji in the starting lineup, and 6-foot-10, 300-pound Reggie Johnson is the first guy off the bench.
Miami can play a monster lineup, and don't forget that the Hurricanes have a significant advantage at point guard with Shane Larkin, who should have been ACC Player of the Year. (It went to Virginia Tech's Erick Green).
Oh, yeah, and let's not forget shooting guard Durand Scott, who dropped 32 points on N.C. State yesterday.
And Trey McKinney-Jones, a classic wing who can shoot if defenses cave.
The Tar Heels have to do two things to be able to play small.
First, North Carolina must shoot well from 3. The Heels have made 17 3-pointers in their first two ACC Tournament games, and the have to hit from outside to open up the lane against the Hurricanes' huge front line.
Second, James Michael McAdoo can't get in foul trouble. If he's forced to go to the bench for long periods of time, Miami coach Jim Larranaga probably will play all three bigs at once, a scenario in which Reggie Bullock would probably have to guard Gamble. That's a big mismatch. Bullock isn't a post player at all, and the Tar Heels will lose if he's forced to play like one.
So, Roy, how much do you love this small lineup?
Miami's going to let everyone know just how committed UNC it to its newfound style.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Saturday, March 16, 2013 - 13:42
GREENSBORO – Duke was in line to a for-sure No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with one victory at the ACC Tournament.
Well, Maryland wasn't crazy about that idea.
The Blue Devils never led in their quarterfinals loss to the Terps on Friday, but projections from both CBS' Jerry Palm and ESPN's Joe Lunardi still have Duke as a No. 1.
Are the Blue Devils deserving? And how do they keep it that way?
For starters, Duke probably still will finish first in both RPI and strength of schedule. Duke has solid leads over New Mexico, which is second in both categories, even after the loss to Maryland.
While the ACC isn't as good as it has been in the past, Duke still finished 27-4 with one of its starters missing for nearly two months – as of now, that's good enough for No. 1.
But it can change.
Here's what Duke fans need to root for:
1. Kansas to lose as soon as possible. If the Jayhawks win the Big 12 Tournament, Duke might just be the team left out for a No. 1 seed. Kansas is eighth in RPI and 25th in strength of schedule, but they have more wins against the top 50 BPI than anyone else. Kansas currently is a No. 2 seed, according to projections, but that is in jeopardy if the Jayhawks win the conference.
2. Louisville to win the Big East Tournament. The Cardinals are ranked No. 4 in the AP rankings and in the top five of both RPI and strength of schedule. The Cardinals, along with Gonzaga and Indiana (especially win a win against Wisconsin today), would be locks for No. 1 seeds in this case.
3. Anybody but Miami to win the ACC Tournament. The Hurricanes are fourth and sixth in RPI and strength of schedule, respectively, and their will be respect for any team that wins both the regular season and tournament championships of a top-three league. Miami crushed Duke in Coral Gables, Fla. And played right with them at full strength in Cameron. A significant pair of wins, especially, could bump the 'Canes from a three seed to a No. 1. That means, Duke fans, you have to root for N.C. State, Maryland or, gulp … North Carolina. You might feel dirty. But it's in your best interest.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Friday, March 15, 2013 - 14:03
GREENSBORO – N.C. State's victory against Virginia Tech on Thursday assured all three Triangle-area teams will be playing in Friday's ACC Tournament Quarterfinals. Let's take a brief glimpse at the final three ACC quarters in the fashion of SparkNotes, which helped me pass my senior year AP English test on Heart of Darkness. Sorry, Mrs. McAshlan!
NO. 5 N.C. STATE VS. NO. 4 VIRGINIA
Tipoff: 2 p.m.
Plot Overview: The two teams meet in the quarterfinals for the second straight year with the winner advancing to play No. 1 Miami in the semifinals. N.C. State won the game last year, 67-64, and the two teams play the same styles as last season. N.C. State lives off its frontcourt and dynamic point guard, and hopes to create transition baskets with turnovers. Virginia is mostly defense and shooting but its style is overplayed a bit, as the Cavs can fastbreak if they need to. This game will be about tempo. Virginia wants the final score to be in the 50s; N.C. State hasn't won a game this season when it failed to break 60 points.
Context: The Cavaliers desperately need a victory if they're going to make the NCAA Tournament. N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said Thursday he thinks Virginia is an NCAA Tournament team, but most projections have the Cavaliers outside of the field of 68. The Wolfpack, barring a totally humiliating loss, probably doesn't have anything to worry about in this regard. Making the championship game, however, could move N.C. State from the Wild West eight-nine game – where CBS' Jerry Palm currently has it – to a No. 7 seed, and maybe even a No. 6 if the Wolfpack wins the whole thing.
Analysis of Major Characters: Virginia's Joe Harris and N.C. State's Richard Howell were both First Team All-ACC selections, and both are crucial for their teams. Harris will score his points and Howell will earn rebounds, but whichever player receives more help in his specialty area probably will be playing Saturday.
Themes, Motifs and Symbols: One theme would be to look at the regular season game – a narrow Virginia win – but ignore it in this case. Lorenzo Brown was injured halfway through the first half and C.J. Leslie was so sick that he didn't go through shootaround, though he ultimately played. The environment, the teams, the circumstances – they're all different that they were on the Jan. 29 meeting.
NO. 7 MARYLAND VS. NO. 2 DUKE
Tipoff: 7 p.m.
Plot Overview: Maryland beat Duke once this season, but it was without Blue Devils forward Ryan Kelly. Yet the Terps remain a dangerous team. For starters, center Alex Len figures to be a first round pick in the NBA Draft (if he leaves, and it's believed he will) and forward Dez Wells is one of the most complete players in the league. Add in that Maryland is desperate – it needs a victory against Duke to even be on the bubble – and there is an interesting game.
Context: Duke fans would love for the Blue Devils to make Maryland's final game in the ACC a loss that keeps it from going to the NCAA Tournament. The Terps are moving to the Big Ten next season, but that doesn't mean Duke and Maryland get along all of the sudden. Remember, Maryland fans, who many think are the worst in the country, once chanted “F*** you, J.J.!” at Duke guard J.J. Redick. Sending Maryland home would be a nice send-off for the Blue Devils.
Analysis of Major Characters: Duke guard Seth Curry and Quinn Cook should be able to feast tonight. Maryland is young at guard and heavily reliant on its frontcourt. Curry and Cook have to be able to win their matchups handily for Duke to win easily.
Themes, Motifs and Symbols: How about a good-ole-fashioned motif? Duke is notoriously good in quarterfinals games when they receive a first-round bye. The Blue Devils have won their first game 11 straight times when they skipped the first round.
NO. 6 FLORIDA STATE VS. NO. 3 NORTH CAROLINA
Tipoff: 9 p.m.
Plot Overview: Florida State survived Clemson in the first round to advance to play North Carolina, to which it has lost twice this season. The Seminoles had to sweat to win the contest, which was the only first-round game that came down to the final minute. Since Florida State is the only team playing Friday that had to play a tense game Thursday, will the Seminoles show any signs of fatigue?
Context: Much like N.C. State, North Carolina can improve its NCAA Tournament seed with a pair of victories. North Carolina will earn a third crack at Duke (if seeds hold true), which would be an excellent opportunity to jump a seed or two.
Analysis of Major Characters: If this is a one-possession game in the closing seconds, North Carolina might be wise to put all five defenders on Florida State guard Michael Snaer. The senior has hit FIVE game-winning buzzer beaters in the past two seasons. Of course, Florida State has to get that far first against a team that by 21 fewer than two weeks ago.
Themes, Motifs and Symbols: P.J. Hairston, if he has a good game and North Carolina earns a place in the semifinals, is the symbol of the Tar Heels' change. UNC is 6-2 since moving Hairston into the starting lineup, and both losses are to Duke. North Carolina has functioned better with its small lineup, and its offense flourishes at times with an extra ball handler. Florida State doesn't match up very well with the small lineup, and the Tar Heels have a big edge on paper.
LIVE BLOG: No. 12 Virginia Tech vs. No. 5 N.C. State
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 14:15
(Page does not automatically refresh. Refresh every few minutes for updates.)
2:16 p.m. - The two teams just left the floor here at the Greensboro Coliseum to head back into the locker room. I heard Virginia Tech blaring Drake's "Started From The Bottom" before the game, so that can only be interpreted as a bad thing. Place your bets accordingly.
2:21 p.m. - The top fourth of the bracket is set after the opening first round game was played earlier today. No. 8 Boston College, which I'm not sure missed a field goal in the second half, ran away from No. 9 Georgia Tech, 84-64, and will play No. 1 Miami at noon on Friday. Olivier Hanlon scored 41 points for B.C., and did it on 14-for-18 shooting. Not bad. The Eagles shot 58 percent from 3 as a team.
2:23 p.m. - To no one's surprise, the crowd here is overwhelmingly pro-N.C. State. The crowd is almost entirely red.
2:27 p.m. - N.C. State starters: Scott Wood, C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, T.j. Warren and Richard Howell.
2:31 p.m - Baskets on the first three possessions for the Wolfpack, which is taking great shots so far.
2:34 p.m. - The Hokies are making a lot of tough shots. With the exception of one turnover, N.C. State has contested every shot. Virginia Tech is still shooting 5-for-7. Virginia Tech up, 14-13, with 14:03 remaining in the first half.
2:43 p.m. - He was First-Team All-ACC, but so many things Richard Howell does go unnoticed. A great help caused a miss, then he ran the floor and set up a mismatch. Wolfpack up 1, 11 minutes to play in the first half.
2:47 p.m. - N.C. State has been a finicky rebounding team this year, but it has been rebounding with good energy today. Now, if it stays this way ...
2:50 p.m. - Howell is the best player on the floor right now. He's doing everything well right now. A swipe and score gives him 12 points. Wolfpack getting cheered for their energy by the Wolfpack faithful.
2:54 p.m. - The eye test shows N.C. State is playing better, but that doesn't matter and I have bad eyesight anyway. Va. Tech is shooting 56 percent. 'Pack is up, 24-23, at the under-8 timeout (7:36).
3:02 p.m. - Great defense from N.C. State could be the difference. Two big stops lead to two big dunks, and the crowd here is rocking. Wolfpack 34, Hokies 27 with 3:20 remaining in the first half. The whole N.C. State contingent is standing - good times for the Wolfpack.
3:06 p.m. - Nine assists on 14 field goals for N.C. State. It's a fair stat: The Wolfpack's movement has been excellent. A lot of quality shots.
3:11 p.m. - The Wolfpack forces another Va. Tech turnover. This can be a key point if N.C. state can earn some points.
3:15 p.m. - Halftime score: N.C. State 38, Virginia Tech 32. A deserved lead for the Wolfpack, but Virginia Tech certainly not out of the picture. Any final score predicitions?
3:20 p.m. - Halftime numbers: Howell has 14 points, 3 boards; Leslie 9 and 5; Brown has two points and six assists. Wolfpack has done a nice job on Erick Green, who has nine points but on 3-for-8 shooting.
3:32 p.m. - Under way in the second half.
3:35 p.m. - The physicality in this game has changed in the few opening minutes. Lots of jostling, particularly on N.C. State's end. Who responds better?
3:38 p.m. - Both sides are making shots, but neither is gaining ground. N.C. State leads, 46-38, at the under-16 timeout (15:55).
3:43 p.m. - Lorenzo Brown throws a perfect lead pass to Richard Howell for a dunk - Brown's third assist that led to a slam - and N.C. State is on the verge of blowing this game open. 'Pack is up 11 with 13:30 to go.
3:46 p.m. - Two more N.C. State buckets (and one on a walk by Richard Howell that wasn't called) prompt James Johnson to call a timeout. Much like Bobby Knight, the Hokies are on the brink. Haven't heard any F bombs yet. I'll keep listening.
3:51 p.m. - When N.C. State has the lead with 10 minutes to play, it is 17-3. With 11:08 to go, N.C. State leads, 59-47. Very nice effort from the Wolfpack so far. Now, to stave off a desperate Virginia Tech club.
3:57 p.m. - I don't like the way Virginia Tech has been approaching the deficit. It's not insurmountable, yet the Hokies are forcing shots very early in the shot clock. No need for that yet. Wolfpack up 14 at the under-8 timeout (7:26).
4:06 p.m. - N.C. State has the lead up to 16 now with 6:05 to play. Virginia Tech is now pressing, and looks to be in full desperation mode.
4:19 p.m. - Lights out for Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack leads by 19 with under 2 to play.
4:24 p.m. - Final: N.C. State 80, Virginia Tech 63.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 13:57
GREENSBORO – Kentucky coach John Calipari has a saying he has used in the past about defending a star player. He said that if you can force a star to take as many shots as he scores points, the star might actually be hurting his team.
Virginia Tech guard Erick Green is the prototypical type for this modem – an elite scorer on a bad team – but he's not a chucker by any means.
When Green has more field goal attempts than points, the Hokies are winless – but he has only done it twice.
The 2013 ACC Player of the Year is leading the country with 25.4 points per game, and even though his supporting cast isn't very good, Green doesn't often get forced into any type of desperation. He's shooting 44 percent and he's complete: He's the only ACC player that ranks in the league's top 10 in point, field goal percentage, assists and steals.
Green, even against the best teams, earns his points.
The key for N.C. State will have nothing to do with Green. The Wolfpack has to worry about creating a high number of easy baskets.
N.C. State will win this game if its talented frontcourt of Richard Howell, C.J. Leslie and T.J. Warren dominate the game. It has a big advantage against the Hokies' front line, and it must use it.
Here's the number you ought to worry about: Field goal percentage.
When it shoots the same or better than its oppoennt, N.C. State is 21-3.
Virginia Tech is 0-15 when it shoots a lower percentage than its opponent.
If you believe history, Duke's title hopes on the line at UNC
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Saturday, March 9, 2013 - 16:45
We’ll start the pregame blog off with some trivia that will make you nod your head.
Q: What do all Duke and North Carolina national championship teams have in common?
A. Every single one of them won the second rivalry game that concluded the regular season.
Duke and North Carolina annually have their second meeting of the season in the ACC regular season finale. Enough weight is added by the facts that it’s the rematch, the regular season finale and a chance for a sweep, but it adds even more gravity when considered that no team has ever lost this game and gone on to win the title.
North Carolina certainly will be ranked next week if it wins this game, but it will be a darkhorse as far as championship contenders go. No. 3 Duke, on the other hand, will not be.
A good week (and most likely a win tonight) will probably sew up a No. 1 seed barring a big upset in the ACC Tournament.
So if this is the year, Blue Devils, you had better learn from history:
Duke National Championship Teams
1991 – March 3, 1991: Duke at North Carolina, W, 83-77
1992 – March 8, 1992: Duke vs. North Carolina, W, 89-77
2001 – March 4, 2001: Duke at North Carolina, W, 95-81
2010 – March 6, 2010: Duke vs. North Carolina, W, 82-50
North Carolina National Championship Teams
1957 – March 1, 1957: North Carolina at Duke, W, 86-72
1982 – Feb. 27, 1982: North Carolina vs. Duke, W, 84-66
1993 – March 7, 1993: North Carolina vs. Duke, W, 83-69
2005 – March 6, 2005: North Carolina vs. Duke, W, 75-73
2009 – March 8, 2009: North Carolina vs. Duke, W, 79-71
And now for videos that the individual fanbases never tire of watching. Here’s Gerald Henderson elbowing Tyler Hansbrough …
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Friday, March 8, 2013 - 02:26
With P.J. Hairston in the starting lineup, North Carolina has been better. Anyone with eyes or ears or a very sharp sense of smell knows that.
To the eye, the offense has looked more composed. It looks as if North Carolina is obtaining better shots, especially in half-court settings.
If you're using your ears, you've heard UNC players saY the team’s spacing with Hairston is better than it had been with Desmond Hubert, and that’s probably the case, especially for forward James Michael McAdoo, who regularly is being matched up with fives, against whom he has a noticeable speed and skill advantage.
The offensive numbers should reflect all of that … except they don’t. North Carolina’s numbers actually have gone down since moving Hairston into the starting five; The Tar Heels were shooting 44.5 percent before him, and are shooting 43.9 with him. They were scoring 78.3 points per game with him off the bench, and are averaging 76.1 with him starting.
So if it’s not offense, it has to be defense, right?
Not exactly. North Carolina was allowing 69.3 points per game before Hairston, and a flat 66 with him – and that number is skewed favorably by two games against anemic Clemson and Florida State, both of which failed to break 60 against UNC.
That three points isn't a notable change.
So, it’s the schedule?
That would be far-fetched, too. North Carolina has beaten the current Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10 in the ACC with Hairston starting, including road wins in notoriously tough environments at Maryland (particularly) and Clemson.
And the Tar Heels have won against many contrasting styles, from Virginia’s defense-and-shooting method to Clemson’s slow-down to Maryland’s forward-heavy attack to N.C. State’s complete offense.
That the Tar Heels have won six of their seven games since Hairston was inserted in the starting lineup has something to do with assets that can’t be quantified. Hairston brings a confidence to the Tar Heels, and he’s the toughest player on the squad. That helps.
The biggest part of the winning streak, however, actually comes from an underrated part of Hairston's game: His ball-handling. Since the sophomore guard was put in the starting lineup, North Carolina's turnovers are down three per game to a very manageable average of 10.
And the Tar Heels more frequently are hitting their magic number: 19 assists. When North Carolina reaches 19, they're 14-1, the lone exception being a high-scoring loss to N.C. State in which it lost the game in the first 15 minutes.
With Hairston, the Tar Heels are reaching 19 more often; They've done it four times in the past seven games (57 percent) compared to 11 in 25 with him on the bench (44 percent).
North Carolina has all but locked up a spot in the NCAA Tournament in the aforementioned stretch, even if it loses its next two games.
As UNC coach Roy Williams said earlier in the season, North Carolina wasn't going to be a good team until it learned to play together. Hairston might just be the catalyst in all of this. He is credited for being a good scorer and a good shooter, but credit the Tar Heels' positive change to another of Hairston's traits: He's a good sharer, even if his assist numbers aren't spectacular.
Whether it's because of Hairston or the threat of him, North Carolina moves the ball better when he's out there.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Monday, March 4, 2013 - 16:42
After winning five of its six games, N.C. State has wedged itself back into contention to receive a bye into the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.
The easy point to make would be the return of point guard Lorenzo Brown. As N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said after Sunday’s win at Georgia Tech, N.C. State could be “one of those teams” contending for the league title had Brown stayed healthy.
When Brown plays, N.C. State is 10-3 in the ACC.
When he doesn’t, the Wolfpack is 0-3.
Even with Brown, though, there were some downright ugly performances by the Wolfpack. (A DOA showing against Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico and an uninspired performance at Michigan come to mind.)
While Brown’s production is invaluable to N.C. State, the Wolfpack is dealing with stress much better than it did earlier in the season. Brown deserves some credit, as he’s handling the ball more frequently than any of his teammates.
This looks to be a team-wide trend, however. Let’s look at the past six games for N.C. State:
At Clemson (W, 58-57) – The Wolfpack trailed by four with 19 seconds remaining in regulation. Certainly panic time. N.C. State obtained a trip to the free throw line, earning a key two points and while stopping the clock, then received some luck after Clemson missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Wolfpack ran Gottfried’s play out of a timeout perfectly, freeing up Scott Wood for the game winning 3-pointer with two ticks on the clock. It went about as perfectly as a desperation scenario can go.
Vs. Virginia Tech (W, 90-86, OT) – Hokies guard Jarrell Eddie hit a layup with two seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime, then he sank a trey to take a one-point lead with 1:45 to go in overtime. N.C. State didn’t cave either time. After Eddie’s 3-pointer, N.C. State outscored Virginia Tech, 7-2, the rest of the way.
Vs. Florida State (W 84-66) – A welcome sight for N.C. State partisans that had grown used to blown leads: N.C. State led by double digits for the entire second half.
At North Carolina (L, 76-65) – The lone misstep, though this also deserves some weight because the Tar Heels are the best of the six teams listed here. The Wolfpack led by one point with 7:42 to play when it committed three turnovers in the next three minutes, helping the Tar Heels complete a 13-2 run that all but decided the outcome.
Vs. Boston College (W, 82-64) – The Eagles cut the lead to five in the early stages of the second half and looked to present another home nail-biter for the Wolfpack. Instead, N.C. State held B.C. without a point for four-plus minutes and went on a 10-0 run to establish a 15-point edge.
At Georgia Tech (W, 70-57) – The Yellow Jackets made a bucket to come within two points with seven minutes to play. With the Atlanta crowd rocking, the Wolfpack swayed the game the other way. It held the Jackets to one field goal in the next six minutes and went on a 10-2 run to take back a double-digit lead.
It’s March, and there are going to be close games that decide the rest of the year. These six games haven’t turned N.C. State cold-blooded, but it is a start. And that’s encouraging for a talented team that can beat anyone.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 18:11
DURHAM – After losing at Virginia, No. 3 Duke has the country's fifth-ranked team 44 hours later.
How will the short turnaround affect Duke?
On paper, it would make sense to say that little rest would harm the Blue Devils, who aren't very deep, are trying to nurse to two starters and are coming off a loss.
But despite all those factors, Duke is 8-1 this season when playing 72 hours or fewer after a game.
It doesn't make sense. Seth Curry hardly ever can practice because of a nagging shin injury. Ryan Kelly hasn't played since Jan. 8 as Duke tries to hurry him back without aggravating his foot ailment. Further, the Blue Devils have three true freshmen – Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy – playing an average of 51 minutes per game, and usually players in their first year of college ball begin to wear down with a 30-plus game schedule.
Probably the biggest reason for Duke's success on short rest is its reliance on starters and shooting. Duke's five starters average 68 points per game – second highest in the country – and the Blue Devils shoot 41 percent from the 3-point line and nearly 73 percent from the line. That means a lot of relatively low-stress points.
That said, Duke's only game on fewer than 48 hours of rest came against Elon, a potential NCAA Tournament team but nowhere near as skilled as Miami.
The Hurricanes clobbered the Blue Devils, 90-63, in the meeting in Coral Gables, Fla. earlier this season, and not just because Kelly was out. Miami is a bad matchup for Duke. The Hurricanes are huge; With five legitimate big men to rotate on Mason Plumlee, Duke's only consistent low post scorer, the Blue Devils must rely on jump shots.
So if you're rooting for Duke, don't be worried about the rest. Be worried about the Hurricanes. Duke must shoot its way into forcing Miami to play a small(er) lineup. If Duke does that, its odds are great. If it makes it a low-post game – like 2012's game at Cameron, a Miami win – it's in trouble.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 14:30
DURHAM – A formality. That's what this is.
Or, so we're lead to believe, even if Duke and Boston College played a one-point game in Boston two weeks ago today in which the Eagles had a chance to win the game on the final possession.
With two heavily-touted games left – Miami at home and at North Carolina – Duke needs to sew up the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference with home wins against this B.C. team and Virginia Tech in nine days.
That said, the Eagles aren't a walkover. Even if the Eagles are at a talent disadvantage, they're well-coached. Steve Donahue has done a nice job of grooming this club and earned quite a bit of praise from other ACC coaches, to whom the Eagles have challenged even one spot from the bottom of the league.
Boston College also has the type of player that can bother Duke. Because B.C. has 7-foot center Dennis Clifford, Mason Plumlee probably won't guard athletic Eagles wing Ryan Anderson.
Anderson is averaging 15 and 8 for the season as a sophomore and very likely will challenge for First Team All-ACC in his last two years.
Duke's natural matchup for Anderson is Ryan Kelly, who is still out with a right foot injury. Anderson shot 8-for-14 in the first meeting and scored 17 points.
Anderson probably will have to score more than 20 to help Boston College earn its first ever win at Cameron.
Duke does have a very nice matchup on offense, however.
The Eagles are ranked 329th in the country in 3-point defense, which is a bad sign coming into Cameron. Duke is shooting 41.4 percent from behind the arc, which ranks fourth in the country. Five Blue Devils have had two or more games with three or more made 3-pointers, including Seth Curry, who has hit three or more triples 13 times.
More, Duke has hit double-digit 3-pointers in nine games this year. To no one's surprise, Duke is 9-0 in those games.
If the Blue Devils are hitting early, it's going to be a long afternoon for the Eagles.
Virginia's defense is special -- but UNC's defense will tell the story
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Saturday, February 16, 2013 - 12:29
CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina comes into today's game (Noon, WRAL) in desperate need of a victory. The Tar Heels (16-8, 6-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) are running out of time to change their course and secure an NCAA Tournament berth.
Starting with today, North Carolina has at least six more games, though it didn't pick the best time to have a must-win.
The Cavaliers, who have won their past three games and seven of their past nine, have the second-best defense in the country, allowing just more than 52 points per game.
Guard Joe Harris has been on a hot streak. He's averaging nearly 22 points per game in his past five games, though his efficiency is the story. Harris ranks first in the conference in 3-point shooting (a torrid 48.4 percent), fifth in field goal percentage (49 percent – impressive for a primarily jump shooting guard) and has made more than 76 percent of his free throws.
The Tar Heels played well in their loss to Duke on Wednesday, finally showing potential of the team they should be. North Carolina played with passion and energy against the Blue Devils, a big part of the reason the Tar Heels made No.2 Duke sweat the entire night.
That said, North Carolina's effort has not been consistently good this season. North Carolina has made a habit of starting games poorly, and Virginia isn't the right squad against which to continue that trend.
Virginia has held eight opponents (two in the ACC) to fewer than 20 points in a half this season. The Cavaliers aren't the type team that allows 35 points in a half – it would be foolish to expect North Carolina to blow the doors off of the Cavaliers, so falling behind by double digits can be a death sentence.
North Carolina can play at Virginia's slug-like pace – pay attention to the other end. The Tar Heels will win or lose on defense, which was excellent in the first half against Duke.
But the D in Chapel Hill, like most of the season, has been hit-and-miss. North Carolina has allowed 70 or more points in the four times in the past six games, when it has gone 3-3.
If the Cavaliers break 70, North Carolina stands almost no chance of winning this game.
Virginia is perfect when scoring 70-plus, and 9-0 when shooting greater than 50 percent.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - 21:06
Forget bragging rights, North Carolina can re-enter itself in the final field of 68 NCAA Tournament teams with a victory at No. 2 Duke tonight (9 p.m., WRAL).
An unranked Tar Heels team has not won at Cameron Indoor Stadium since March 4, 1990 – one day before Duke senior forward Mason Plumlee's birthday.
North Carolina's hope to win this game lies in the first eight minutes. When the whistle sounds for the second media timeout of the half, North Carolina has to be leading or within a possession or two.
The Tar Heels have played four teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 this season and have complied a 1-3 record. They've also played one team currently in the Top 25 (a loss to No. 11 Butler) and a true road game against another major conference opponent (a loss at Texas).
The common theme? North Carolina has been buried in the first half of every one of those losses.
At Indiana, North Carolina allowed the Hoosiers to score 46 points in the first half, and the game became so out-of-hand that Indiana pulled most of their starters midway through the second half.
Against Butler, North Carolina trailed by 17 at halftime. Against Texas, the Tar Heels trailed by 13 after 20 minutes. At N.C. State, the halftime deficit was 19, and at Miami, it was 17.
So look at the game's opening stages with the same value as you would the first few minutes after halftime.
A large part of controlling the game will fall on North Carolina freshman point guard Marcus Paige. He'll be the one with the largest share of the ball for the Tar Heels, and the one through whom the offense will flow. Paige needs to ensure Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo touch the ball a good deal from the jump.
On the other end, he'll be guarding Duke's Quinn Cook. The Blue Devils already have excellent shooters in Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon, but the offense reaches its peak when Cook is hitting 3-pointers.
P.J. Hairston has been reliable for the Tar Heels in big games, but the Tar Heels need his backcourt mate to be just as good.
So all it takes is for a true freshman to go into Cameron against the No. 2 team in the country and keep his unranked team at that level from the outset.
By -By Nick Piotrowicz | Saturday, January 26, 2013 - 13:18
1. How will the Blue Devils guard Dez Wells? Maryland's combo guard-forward is 6-foot-5 and a strong 215 pounds, and presents a matchup problem with his ability to shoot (50.4 percent from the field) or pass (8 assists in the Terrapins' last game), or even space the floor for his teammates. Wells is the only Maryland player for whom Duke doesn't have a natural matchup. Wells is too strong for Rasheed Sulaimon and likely has a quickness advantage against Amile Jefferson, but Duke doesn't have much of a choice with Ryan Kelly out. The Blue Devils have an advantage at any other position, and Maryland likely will need 20-plus points from Wells to win this game. His scoring will be key to helping Maryland's over-matched guards.
2. This, one way or another, is a statement game for Duke. Conference favorite North Carolina went through a similar situation last season when they were embarrassed on the road by an the upstart ACC team on national TV, though the outing didn't derail their season as they still went on to win the regular season title. After its loss to Miami, the Blue Devils can't afford another loss. The ACC champion almost never makes it through all 16 games without a loss, and the Hurricanes still have yet to play N.C. State or the return trip to Duke. By no means are the Blue Devils out of the race, but a cheap loss – today or otherwise – will give them three conference losses and a tough circumstance to winning the ACC.
By -By Nick Piotrowicz | Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 21:56
1. Clemson is going to bother a lot of teams in the ACC, and by season's end, could be a darkhorse to make waves in the conference tournament. Brad Brownell's Tigers are well-coached, playing good defense and taking care of the basketball. Right now, they don't have much shooting or a ball-handler that can obtain his own shot, and they're struggling to score enough points to win ACC games. But they're young – 11 of their 13 players are freshmen or sophomores. With some time to mature, they could be dangerous in early March.
2. Duke can't afford to play as sloppy as they did for the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Blue Devils grew careless on defense and seemed to have no clue how to break Clemson's press. They turned over the ball three straight times against the press at one points, nearly turned it over again and were forced to call a timeout because of it. To see the faces of Duke's coaching staff was to think was losing, not on the way to another double-digit victory. A stretch like that against N.C. State on Saturday might result in a loss.
3. Quinn Cook is playing with a ton of confidence, and not just because of his awesome post-3 celebration. (He holds up three fingers on both hands, kisses them, then pretends to holster them.) After shooting 0-for-11 against Wake Forest, the sophomore scored 27 points and wasn't afraid to take any shot. He certainly is Duke's best option at point guard. Tuesday, he looked like an All-ACC first team point guard.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 19:01
1. Hypothetically, this is the same type of game that Duke played against Wake Forest. Clemson has 13 players – two seniors and no juniors. Like the Demon Deacons, the Tigers still are a young squad that has to prove it can win tough road games in its ACC schedule. But in reality, the Tigers are much further along than the Demon Deacons and present a much tougher challenge for Duke. The Tigers run 6-foot-6, 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9 across the frontcourt and have decent length to pair against the Blue Devils. Clemson is among the top defensive teams in the country (allowing 56 points per game) and has been outstanding with handling the basketball – especially for a young team – with a plus-3.5 turnover margin. The Tigers haven't seen a team of Duke's caliber, but they play the type of game that can keep them in contention. That is, provided they aren't overwhelmed by the environment.
2. Can Clemson's bench hold the margin? The Tigers don't need their bench players to take over the game, but they need them to be competitive and not allow Duke's reserves to run away with the game. Two Clemson bench players, Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper, are fourth and fifth, respectively, on the team in scoring, accounting for 15 of the team's nearly 67 points per game. Their contributions on the offensive end will be a huge factor in whether the Tigers can be in the game into the second half. Duke has eight players who have scored double-digits in a game this season. To keep up, even in a low scoring game, Clemson probably needs to win bench points.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Saturday, January 5, 2013 - 11:54
1. The first 10 minutes are survival for Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have to hold back No. 1 Duke's starting five, which accounts for 87 percent of the Blue Devils' points, the second highest rate in the NCAA. Further, the Demon Deacons rank 275th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio and have a negative turnover margin thus far. If the Blue Devils begin the game by forcing turnovers and using fast breaks to obtain easy baskets, the score will become ugly very quickly.
Wake Forest isn't a great shooting team, but the Demon Deacons have the ability to control the tempo. As freshman guard Codi Miller-McIntyre grows, there certainly will be struggles, and there have been so far. But the young guard has shown why coach Jeff Bzdelik liked him in high school so much. If he works well with guard C.J. Harris and forward Travis McKie, as well as limiting his turnovers, Wake Forest can hang. The halftime score will be telling: Wake Forest is 21-2 when leading at halftime under Bzdelik; they're 7-46 when they're not.
2. With Wake Forest likely to try to limit possessions, the 3-ball will be crucial in this afternoon's ball game. Duke is hitting nearly 42 percent of its shots from behind the arc as a team, which is the fifth-best percentage in the country. What's tough for Duke's opponents is that 3-pointers come from everywhere: Duke has four players with 18 or more made 3s through 13 games. Wake Forest is dead-last in the ACC in defending the 3. The Deacons want to keep this game in the 60s. To do that (and avoid its sixth-straight loss against Duke), Wake Forest has to keep Duke's shooters at bay.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 16:45
Duke's season-opening win against Georgia State didn't lend much of an indication of whether the No. 9 Blue Devils will be playing on a Monday night in early April, but that's a long way away.
What Duke's game against Georgia State can tell us is how it might fare against Kentucky, the defending national champion which looks nothing like it did seven months ago but is ranked No. 3 regardless.
Here were the take-aways from Duke's opener:
1. The Blue Devils spaced the floor pretty well. That's a good sign for an opener. Spacing tends to progress as players gain more game experience and familiarity playing with their teammates, and Duke showed an excellent base – the Blue Devils consistently were solid with off-ball movement and creating good shots. Georgia State played a 2-3 match-up zone for most of the game, a system that intends to create then take away passing lanes, in turn causing turnovers. Duke had nine turnovers in the first half, though in the second half it began successfully entering the middle of the zone, which created stressed rotations and good looks. Duke hit 11 three-pointers; the final margin was 23.
2. Can Duke protect the rim? Georgia State didn't provide much in the way of top-tier athletes, but Kentucky sure will. Duke's best lineup, at least as of today, looks to be Tyler Thornton, Seth Curry, Rasheed Sulaimon, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee. Kelly's a power forward … kind of. In his heart, he's a perimeter player, which means that set has four players that aren't playing much interior D. Kentucky is going to attack the goal. Forwards Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress are athletic wings whom the Blue Devils don't match up with particularly well, especially considering Kentucky could play both with Kyle Wiltjer, who is 6-foot-10 and can shoot from deep. If Kentucky can create quality shots by exploiting those match-ups, Duke's in for a long night.
3. How far Duke goes will ultimately rest with Mason Plumlee. He has excellent feet and nice touch around the paint, but he's too often gone into a shell when playing bigger, talented players. When Plumlee is playing well – as he did against Georgia State with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting, 14 boards and four blocks – Duke's offense is lethal. Plumlee is a smart passer, so when teams double him or cheat with help, he'll create an open three-pointer for Curry, Kelly or whoever is playing point guard. When a big man can take Plumlee out of the game (like Miami's Reggie Johnson, who ate Plumlee's lunch on Super Bowl Sunday), lanes close for scorers and shooters don't have many open looks, and Duke scores in the 50s and 60s instead of the 70s and 80s.
4. Coach Mike Krzyzewski is counting on the two true freshmen for big minutes. Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson played a combined 43 minutes in the opener, though tonight against the Wildcats will give us more of an indication how the two Cameron newbies will handle the merciless ACC slate, which is fewer than two months away. Both took good shots and didn't assume this level was high school extended, which can be an issue for a highly-touted prep player. Sulaimon, in particular, appears to be finding a niche with Curry on the floor. The two pull the defense apart with their ability to shoot, and both can drive. Both earned several wide-open shots.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 13:19
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is fond of saying that you learn a lot about a football team from its first two games.
Well, it only took one game to see what can be very successful for Duke. In their 46-26 romp against Florida International, the Blue Devils found a set that really works with their personnel.
Duke was wildly successful with a two-running-back, three-wide-receiver shotgun formation against the Golden Panthers. The two backs sit on each side of quarterback Sean Renfree (or Brandon Connette, who ran the set once), with a two receivers on one side, and another receiver on the other.
What really makes this look dangerous, though, is the flexibility it provides Duke, and the Blue Devils' adeptness at being deceiving with it.
Let's look at Duke's use of the formation before the game became a blowout. After the Blue Devils went up, 44-14, early in the third quarter, their philosophy obviously changed, and safety and clock management became paramount concerns. Until that point, Duke had nine drives. It ran the look 10 times for 105 yards, which accounted for one-fourth of its total offense.
The formation kept FIU guessing. Out of the 10 plays, five were runs and five were passes. No two plays were alike, though a few tricked FIU into believing they were seeing a rerun. Further, Duke used the set in any scenario. The Blue Devils used it on first-and-10, second-and-10, third-and-15 and third-and-one. They used it down seven and up 23. They power ran, speed ran, deception ran, threw short, medium and long, and did so to the left, center and right.
And it all worked.
Here are its uses:
- First-and-10, trailing, 7-0: screen to the left for one yard (Drive ends in a punt, though this play proves useful later)
- Second-and-10, trailing, 7-0: sweep to the right for eight yards.
- Third-and-15, trailing 7-0: crossing route from right to left for 13 yards. (The gain prompts Duke to go for it on fourth down, where it obtains a first down. Duke scores a touchdown later in the drive )
- First-and-10, tied at 7: draw off a faked screen pass for nine yards.
- Second-and-one, tied at 7: dive left for nine yards and a first down.
- First-and-10, tied at 7: Deep fly route down the left sideline for 46 yards. (Sets up a touchdown on the next play).
- First-and-10, leading, 13-7: Wide receiver screen to the right for nine yards. (Sets up a touchdown on the next play.)
- First-and-10, leading, 20-7: dive right for three yards. (Leads to a punt.)
- Third-and-one, leading, 27-13: read option using Connette, no gain. (Leads to a field goal.)
- Second-and-ten, leading, 34-13: hitch route on left side. (Leads to touchdown two plays later.)
No. 25 Stanford will have to stop this formation to slow Duke's offense. As the Cardinal will see on film, though, there isn't any one play or player to on which to focus.
Yet another reason Duke coach David Cutcliffe and his staff deserve credit: Nice play design, good execution and better play calling.
By -By Nick Piotrowicz | Saturday, September 1, 2012 - 18:08
Duke takes on Florida International at 7 p.m. The game is available on espn3.com.
1. How will Duke's offense fare with so much movement? Duke already was thin at wide receiver before Blair Holliday's accident on July 4, but now the Blue Devils have moved running back Desmond Scott to wide receiver. Scott was Duke's best back in 2011, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, so it will be interesting to see if Duke simply plugged one hole by creating another. The Blue Devils averaged 94 yards per game on the ground last season, which was the worst mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. FIU was 22nd in the country against the run a season ago, meaning Duke will be tested running the football.
2. Will the urgency be there? Make no mistake, this is a must-win game for Duke. The Blue Devils' goal is to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since the 1994 season, though their schedule isn't favorable for the six victories they'll need. In addition to Duke's five ACC Coastal Division foes – which includes trips to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech – the Blue Devils also drew Florida State and Clemson from the Atlantic Division, which are ranked No. 7 and No. 14, respectively. Duke has to beat FIU to have a prayer of getting to six victories.
In Duke's opener last season, it was utterly flat and uninspiring in a 23-21 loss to FCS opponent Richmond. There can be no such letdown tonight.
3. How will FIU succeed in the absence of its departed star? Golden Panther receiver T.Y. Hilton (72 catches, 7 touchdowns) was the focal point of FIU's offense in 2011, but it's unlikely the Indianapolis Colts will let Hilton come back and play for old times' sake. The Golden Panthers found every way to get the ball to Hilton in 2011 and relied on his ability in key situations. Who will emerge as the Panthers' playmaker?
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Friday, March 23, 2012 - 19:21
Style: The Bobcats play as a mid-major team should, given the talent and depth disadvantages most smaller schools face. Ohio ranks third in the country in steals per game, sixth in turnover margin and outscore opponents by an average of 8.2 points per game, which is remarkable. The Bobcats defend the three well, holding opponents to slightly above 29 percent from 3-point range, which is 10th-best in the land. Coach John Groce has meticulously molded a smart, capable nine-man rotation that plays within itself.
Matchup: Certainly a favorable one for North Carolina, but the Bobcats aren't helpless, either. Ohio launches an absolute truckload of 3-pointers (777 attempts this season, an average of 21. 6 per game), which is the biggest hole in Tar Heels' game. North Carolina does not have a player shooting at or above 40 percent from behind the arc, but Ohio does not have anywhere near the size UNC does. North Carolina's frontcourt of Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller will have significant size and skill advantages.
Overrated Factor: North Carolina's height. Don't be surprised to see Ohio play zone and make UNC a jump-shooting team in an attempt to nullify UNC's size. Of course, rebounding out of a zone is more difficult, but the Bobcats might not have a better method. Ohio will get decimated if it wants to play the matchup game, so why bother?
Underrated Factor: Kendall Marshall's pacing of the offense. His assist numbers are jaw-dropping, but his ability to shift the Tar Heels into fifth gear is the most underrated portion of his game. At times, North Carolina has looked uncomfortable in half-court, and that's not going to improve with Marshall out. Stillman White is not Marshall, but he's been serviceable running the offense at times. How that manifests for an entire game is yet to be seen. Heck of a time to start.
Game-Changer: Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper. With Marshall out for tonight's game, Cooper – who already is Ohio's best player – must take advantage of the Tar Heels' new defense. UNC likely will attempt to hide White on defense, but Cooper has been Ohio's lifeblood since he stepped on campus in 2009. In the Bobcats' upset victory against Georgetown in 2010, the Hoyas trimmed Ohio's lead to seven late in the second half. Cooper, then a freshman, pulled up for a 27-footer with 25 seconds on the shot clock. He buried it. Georgetown never challenged again. He's gutsy, but as the Ohio fans say on Twitter, #InCoopWeTrust. The Bobcats go as he does.
What decides the game: The Bobcats' 3-point shooting. The best defense for a good shooting team is length, and the Tar Heels have plenty of it. If Ohio can hit double-digit 3s, they'll make this game very close. If not, they'll be making a trip to the St. Louis airport tomorrow.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Sunday, March 18, 2012 - 17:12
Style: Creighton is an offensive juggernaut. The Blue Jays are the best shooting team in the country at 50.7 percent, they're ranked second in assists per game and they shoot the 3-pointer better than everybody except for two teams. Sophomore Doug McDermott is ranked third in the country in points per game (23), but shoots nearly 61 percent from the floor. Creighton shoots 42.5 percent from 3-point-range as a team. North Carolina doesn't have a single player shooting higher than 40 percent.
Matchup: Creighton and North Carolina are certainly different in how each team scores. The Blue Jays prefer half-court offense, good movement and finding open shooters. The Tar Heels aren't as adept in half-court sets – sometimes they're downright uncomfortable in them – but very few teams run as North Carolina does. Pace will be a big deal, but defense will decide the winner. Creighton does not matchup well with North Carolina on defense, but North Carolina doesn't matchup well with Creighton, either.
Overrated Factor: North Carolina's size. The Tar Heels have one of the biggest frontcourts in the country, but Creighton is good rebounding team. Both squads rank in the top 25 in the country in rebounding margin, and it's not as if the Blue Jays haven't seen big teams before. They're 4-0 against teams from BCS conferences this season.
Underrated Factor: Ability to maximize possessions. Creighton's propensity to nail the 3-pointer allows it to beat teams even when it isn't shooting a higher percentage. If North Carolina scores on five out of every 10 possessions, but Creighton hits a 3-pointer on three of its ten possessions, that would mean North Carolina is up one even though it is shooting 20 percentage points higher. If the Tar Heels play as sluggishly as they did at times against Vermont, they're in trouble against a Creighton team that is never out of a game.
Game-Changer: Forward Ethan Wragge. If you buy into the Tar Heels' comparison of Creighton to Duke, than Wragge is Ryan Kelly. He's big, he's skilled, he can space the floor and he can hit the 3-pointer. A bench player, Wragge shoots better than 41 percent from behind the arc in his career. His 12-or-so minutes in tonight's game could be a huge advantage for Creighton.
What decides the game: Turnovers. While the Blue Jays are powerful offensively, they do not take very good care of the ball. Creighton has a negative turnover margin (-1.7), which is uncharacteristic for a team that scores as much as it does. North Carolina is the wrong team against to play sloppy against, as it lives off forcing turnovers and scoring fast break baskets. If the Blue Jays can keep the fast break points close, they stand a good chance.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Friday, March 16, 2012 - 19:08
Style: Lehigh is a shooting team, and a good one. The Mountain Hawks are ranked 27th in the country in total offense (76 points per game), and they're one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the land. They shoot nearly 78 percent from the free throw stripe, which is third best in the country. Their assist-to-turnover ratio is over three, which ranks in the top 25 in the country, and they're fairly deep. Ten Mountain Hawks play 10 or more minutes per game.
Matchup: There have been easier No. 15 seeds, that's for certain. Duke's best weapon against Lehigh would have been Ryan Kelly, whose size and shooting ability would have been difficult for the Mountain Hawks to defend. Lehigh is a small team, with their two biggest regulars at 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-8, and removing the 6-foot-11 Kelly does the Mountain Hawks a big favor. Mason and Miles Plumlee are still better than Lehigh's Gabe Knutson and Justin Maneri, but don't have the ability to stretch the floor. This will be a guard-oriented game, as Lehigh would prefer.
Overrated Factor: Duke's defense. Much has been made of the Blue Devils' defense, which is ranked 218th in the country, but their 'D' fits Lehigh's style. The Blue Devils defend the 3 pretty well, holding opponents to 31.7 percent from behind the arc this year. A big part of the Mountain Hawks' potential upset will be making 3-pointers.
Underrated Factor: Lehigh is well-rounded for a team seeded as low as it is. The Mountain Hawks have won 12 of 13 and beaten many of those opponents by a decent margin. They have 26 wins, a school record, and they're playing well right now. Hot jump-shooting teams always have a chance.
Game-Changer: Lehigh's C.J. McCollum. The junior guard already has more than 2,000 points for his career, and he has another 30-plus games if he returns and stays healthy. Out of any club that's a No.15 or No. 16 seed, McCollum is the single most dangerous player. Guards win in March, and his fearless approach makes him a good candidate for a tournament hero. Duke has to force McCollum into shooting a low percentage.
What decides the game: The benches. Many mid-major teams can contend with their first unit, and many guys like McCollum could play in a power conference. The big difference is usually the bench. Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins and Josh Hairston will be important in Duke's quest for a 14th appearance in the final 32 in 15 years.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Friday, March 16, 2012 - 15:09
Style: Vermont plays very disciplined, fundamental basketball. They're not particularly imaginative on the offensive end, but they play excellent defense and they take care of the ball. The Catamounts allow just over 60 points per game, and have allowed 80 once (to Long Island, who also made the tournament). Vermont turned the ball over five times in its play-in game against Lamar, and its type of basketball bodes well in March. They're tough to frustrate and tougher yet to force into a track meet.
Matchup: They're polar opposites of North Carolina, which runs at every opportunity. The Catamounts will try their best to lessen possessions, eliminate fast breaks and use as much of the shot clock as they can. Vermont doesn't have the size or athleticism North Carolina does, so its style fits pretty well given its significant disadvantages. The down side for the Catamounts: North Carolina saw a better version of Vermont in Virginia, and won handily.
Overrated Factor: While the venue is “neutral site,” North Carolina fans have about an hour-long drive to Greensboro, whereas Vermont fans have a nearly-15-hour trek. Homecourt advantage is exaggerated in the NCAA Tournament, though. Tickets are sold by sessions (two early games or two late games per ticket), meaning there are fans for four teams present. With the crowd split into fourths, any advantage is negligible. The non-partisan fans usually root for the underdog, anyway. Further, Vermont is tied with Murray State for most road wins in the country (33) in the past three years.
Underrated Factor: The Catamounts are not an adept 3-point shooting team, and being able to hit the 3 is imperative for the mid-major upset in the tournament. Vermont averages 5.4 3-pointers per game, which won't be enough against the Tar Heels. Vermont is going to lose the fast-break points battle, and it needs to find ways to keep up with UNC. Making 3s are a great way of staying involved with a team that has superior talent.
Game-Changer: Vermont guard Four McGlynn. He shoots more 3-pointers than any other Vermont player, and his shooting off the bench can keep the Catamounts in the game. He scored 18 points against Lamar in the play-in game, and splashed six 3-pointers in one game earlier this season. In these should-be-one-sided games, confidence is a must for the underdog, and McGlynn is the Catamounts' energy man.
What decides the game: North Carolina's size. Only two Vermont players are taller than 6-foot-9, and neither of them plays more than 12 minutes per game. Even without Jon Henson, Tyler Zeller should have a great game.
By -Nick Piotrowicz | Saturday, March 3, 2012 - 19:31
1. The battle at point guard will be bigger than it usually is, which is saying something. Kendall Marshall has 289 assists this season in 30 games (8.37 per game, which is second in the conference), and is such a massive part of North Carolina's offense, that Duke winning or losing will very likely be decided on what type of game he has. If Seth Curry (or Tyler Thornton or Quinn Cook) can keep him under 10 assists, and keep him from creating easy shots for his teammates, he's choked off the UNC offense's main vain. Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson are all great players, but the offense runs through Marshall. Stop him, stop the Tar Heels.
2. Andre Dawkins can win the game for Duke. The Blue Devils might still win if Dawkins is a non-factor, but they're very difficult to beat if he is hitting from deep and playing acceptable defense. The maddening part about Dawkins for Duke is that he's so inconsistent. He has time where he looks like he can be first team All-ACC as a shooting guard, and other times when it's easy to forget he played. Case-and-point: He scored 21 points on seven 3-pointers in the first half against Wake Forest, then didn't score the rest of the game. He scored 22 points in a overwhelmingly physical game in Tallahassee to help Duke beat Florida State, then scored a combined three points against Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. If good Andre shows up, the Blue Devils should take the conference tournament's one seed.