Sunday, March 10, 2013

THE BATTLE OF THE BLUES: Duke-UNC


Johnny J

UNC PRIDE!


With conference tournaments starting next week, it's only right for me to finish up the NCAA regular season with my favorite team, the North Carolina Tar Heels. They had won six straight, before losing Saturday night to their rival, the Duke Blue Devils, who headed to Chapel Hill to face a re-surging Carolina team.The match-up and the location didn't phase Duke as they beat Carolina 69-53. Duke started the game on a 14-0 run and never looked back.  Duke would wind up doubling-up on UNC 28-14 in the 1st half.  What better way to finish the season and send a message to your rival?

I was hoping the Tar heels would send Coach K, better know as Mike Krzyzweski (or vice-versa--Ed), and the Blue Devils a lesson. It didn't happen. In fact, Duke senior Mason Plumlee, had one of his best games finishing with 23 points and 13 rebounds.

"You want to be playing at your best going into the tournament and you can't afford a loss at this point in the season where you're questioning your lineups and what your identity is," Plumlee said. "It was the kind of win we needed going into tournament time."

The Tar Heels currently sit at 22-9 and finished at 12-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and 9-3 in their last 12 games. They finish two games behind Duke in the conference. The Heels have shown why they should be considered a high seed a two or three seed. If they win their conference tournament, why not a number one seed?  I mean, I know its a long-shot, but hey, the rankings are all politics anyway, right? For instance, how does Duke and Indiana keep high rankings, when they keep losing?  Indiana has lost three times as a number one seed this season, but for some reason they find themselves sitting at number two behind Gonzaga.

UNC to make noise in the tourney?
I'll drink to that!
I tell you one team that should at least break the top 25 rankings next week--it's North Carolina. The Tar Heels  have gone 6-1 in their last seven games and are one of the hottest teams in the ACC right now (Currently 31st in BPI; 18th in RPI--Ed). Why? It's simple; a small tweak in the line-up. They have been playing "small ball." North Carolina's Coach, Roy Williams made the change of starting reserve guard P.J. Hairston. The change puts another deadly, three-point shooter on the floor. Hairston shoots a decent 38% fom long range and is another player on the floor who can create his own shot. It also takes pressure off of guard Reggie Bullock, who shoots a ridiculous 45% from behind the arc.

“One of the ways we've been struggling is scoring and so putting P.J. in there gives us another scorer in the lineup," said coach Williams.

Williams first made this move on Feb 13, when North Carolina lost by five at Duke.  Ever since that loss, the Tar Heels have won by double digits, in the last five of seven games and 6-1 overall.

#22, Wayne Ellington,
Carolina Blue! 
“It’s like a triple barrel gun — all of us shooting at the same time. It’s hard to stop us." said Hairston referring to Bullock and James Michael McAdoo, the latter being a great, low-post player.

This causes match-up problems for opposing teams. It puts Hairston at the power forward position, with McAdoo moving from the four to the five. Now remember, Hairston, is a guard playing the four. This stretches the floor, allowing penetration from the guards, or a one-on-one situation for McAdoo, who moves to the five.  You feed the ball to the big man, he gets doubled, and he's able to kick it out to shooters all across the perimeter. I like it--small ball at its finest!  My only concern is rebounding and the next man off the bench. Right now the heels are tied for 8th in the nation in rebounding.  They average 39.5 per game. They replaced 6-9 Desmond Hubert, with 6-5 Hairston. I hope that number doesn't dip heading into the tournament.

The sixth man is a very important part of a team; someone who can bring instant offense. Now that Hairston is starting, they're going to need someone to step up in his former role. I believe that person can be junior guard Leslie McDonald. McDonald tore his ACL in 2011, although he hasn't let the injury slow him down.  He only averages 7.6 points per game, but he has potential to be more of a threat: he shoots, he drives and he can dish.

I like this move by Coach Williams as he finds ways to exploit other teams' weaknesses. He uses his team's areas of strength very well. So even though the Heels lost their last regular season game, I believe they still can go deep in the tournament. That lost was just a wake-up call. Time to get serious now. Cheers to that!

More NCAA is available here

All photos courtesy of Johnny J.

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