Transition defense will be the key to the Carolina-Duke rematch.
So many angles exist for Saturday night’s blockbuster on ESPN, which strangely chose the 6 pm starting time after Zion’s injury and conflicting prognoses from Coach K’s day-to-day diagnosis and word from the Duke medical center that it was a 4-6 week knee sprain. And unless the Duke coach is using a smoke screen and planning to play his big guy, the TV ratings as well as ticket prices are heading south.
The Blue Devils could certainly win the game with or without Zion. They again have the most talented young players in the country, and despite being near the bottom of the ACC in 3-point shooting can get extraordinarily hot like they did at Virginia. Rebounding will be a problem, especially without Zion. But they’re all athletes capable of pressure defense like in the 23-point comeback win at Louisville.
Where Duke is most susceptible, however, is in transition defense when the Tar Heels make a steal, get a rebound or even jump inbounds after a made basket. In the first game, Carolina had 19 points off 20 Duke turnovers and 14 fast break points compared to 11 and 8 for the Devils.
Granted, K and his team were stunned and disoriented after Zion went out, but the Heels’ passing game gave them fits with 62 points of their 88 in the paint. Overall, Duke does not play the disruptive, passing-lane defense that Krzyzewski took to a new level when he began building great teams in Durham. He’s conceded during his self-imposed one-and-done era that it takes more than one season to teach that kind of D.
This team has even better athletes and works harder than the Bagley-Carter frosh of last year. But learning to get back against a ball-breaking opponent is also instinctual and, frankly, not a priority for kids on their way to making millions.
Roy Williams has done another terrific coaching job this season, even better than last, and he again has upperclassmen who have meshed together as the schedule wore on. Cam Johnson, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams and Garrison Brooks wouldn’t be a great track relay team but they can sure get the ball off the board and keep up with Coby White on the blow by down court and a snappy secondary break.
That’s where the game was won in Durham, by shooting 65 percent from inside the arc. And that’s where it will be won, or lost, in Chapel Hill.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk match-ups.