North Carolina vs. Duke Preview: The Make-Up Game

By Jeremy Roth
North Carolina Tar Heels
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s try this again. Tomorrow night, the North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Duke Blue Devils in one of the most highly anticipated rivalry-fueled games of the entire college basketball season. This game was supposed to take place last Wednesday night, but the snow storm that brushed through the state of North Carolina caused the game to be cancelled. As a result, the Tar Heels were forced to play four games in a span of eight days, but with two wins already in the books, they are coming into tomorrow night’s game with a great deal of momentum.

When I previewed the game last week, I stressed the fact that James Michael McAdoo needed to continue to play like a star, but now he needs to find a way to just stay in the game longer than 13 minutes. In the Tar Heels’ previous game against Florida State, he fouled out very early and finished with a whopping zero points, which is unacceptable this late in the season. If McAdoo can forget about last game, and pick up back where he left off in the game against Pittsburgh, then he will give Duke some serious trouble in the frontcourt.

Marcus Paige has been a consistent star throughout the team’s seven game win streak, so there is really nothing he can do except maintain his current momentum and confidence.  He needs to get hot from beyond the arc early, and also run the Tar Heels’ transition offense perfectly in order to come out of tomorrow night’s game victorious.  Leslie McDonald is probably having his worst shooting season of his career, so that needs to change tonight if the team plans to keep up with Duke’s stellar three-point shooting game.

Duke lives off of their three-point shooting game, and it has killed the Tar Heels in past seasons. If the team can neutralize the shooting abilities of Tyler Thornton and Rasheed Sulaimon, while putting together a shooting game of their own, then Duke really does not stand a chance. Also, freshman superstar Jabari Parker has the potential to dominate the Tar Heels in both the front and the back court, so every single player on the Tar Heels’ roster must play terrific defense just to slow him down.

For the Tar Heels, Kennedy Meeks struggled to succeed throughout most of the win streak, but last game he lead the team in scoring with 23 points and finally woke up defensively. Brice Johnson has been the only Tar Heels player to come off the bench and add something to the winning effort, so he must continue his surge and keep the team’s momentum in check. If the entire Tar Heels’ front court can take advantage of Duke’s poor rebounding ability, and also capitalize on second chance opportunities, then the win streak will be extended tomorrow night.

We already know that the Tar Heels have the ability to put points on the board, but the key to tonight’s game will be their defense. If J.P. Tokoto, the Tar Heels’ best defender, can use his athleticism to lockdown all parts of the court, then hopefully Duke’s shooters will be rattled enough to get cold from beyond the arc.

Aside from the physical aspects of the game, the Tar Heels need all the mental toughness they can get in order to defeat their bitter in-state rivals.  There is always a championship-like atmosphere for this matchup, so the team cannot let the attention get to their heads. The game is in Chapel Hill, so the momentum will already start out in the Tar Heels’ favor, and it is up to the entire team to maintain that momentum throughout. If they can avoid committing stupid turnovers and stay out of foul trouble, then I really do not see how they could lose their sense of urgency in tomorrow night’s game.

Defeating Duke certainly will not be easy, but it is a challenge that the young Tar Heels team is ready to take on. Nobody expected this game to mean much in the beginning of ACC play, but now the Tar Heels have the opportunity to shock the nation tomorrow night if they can pull out a victory.


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