Sports fans got a treat last night when Tobacco Road foes Duke and North Carolina faced off in part one of the greatest rivalry in college basketball and arguably all of sports.
Propelled by the dominate second-half play of Joel Berry, lights out shooting by Kenny Williams and the swarming defense of Theo Pinson, the 21st ranked Tar Heels defeated the 9th ranked Blue Devils 82-78.
Here are my 5 observations from round 1 of this heavy weight matchup:
1. Duke Must Get Better on the Defensive End of the Ball
March is fastly approaching and if the Blue Devils want to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, it is imperative that they improve their defense. There’s very little communication, sloppy adjustments and an overall lack of intensity on the defensive side of the ball. It’s a common cliche’ that defense wins championships, but it’s true. Duke can have all the talent in the world, but it won’t matter if they can’t stop the other team from scoring. Tough defense leads to good offense. Just ask the Tar Heels. They proved that last night.
2. Grayson Allen’s Play Must Improve
Duke captain Grayson Allen returned for his senior season in order to be the leader on an extremely talented, but youthful, Duke team and although I’m sure his veteran presence is felt in the locker room, it means little to nothing if those qualities don’t translate on the court. Allen has struggled in all of the Blue Devils’ losses this season – scoring less that 10 points in every losing effort with the exception of Duke’s first loss of the season to Boston College where he scored 14 points on 5 for 20 shooting. The Blue Devils looked lost offensively late in the game when they were still within striking distance. This is where Grayson needs to step up. This is where his senior leadership should shine. This is why he decided to stay for his final season. Grayson Allen is going to have to find himself quickly, or they will continues to lose games against less talented opponents.
3. Will and Passion Outweigh Size Every Time
Duke was the bigger and stronger team in Thursday night’s game, but someone failed to tell the Tar Heels that. UNC out-rebounded Duke 44 to 38 including 20 to 11 on the offensive glass. Those rebounds led to 12 second chance points and 10 fast break points. Simply put, Roy William’s squad wanted it more and it showed on both ends of the court. Their defense was tight, ball movement was good and they went straight at Duke’s shaky defense by attacking the basket. On paper, UNC shouldn’t have won this game, but never bet against passion and a pure will to win.
4. Roy Williams Out-coached Coach K
Roy Williams catches a lot of flack (and often time its deserved) for this coaching during games, but Thursday night his squad was more prepared. His squad seemed better suited. His squad made subtle halftime adjustments. For the first time, Roy Williams out-coached Mike Krzyzewski. Tar Heels fans, mark this date on your calendar the next time Roy lets an opposing team’s run go too long without stopping the bleeding by calling a time out.
5. UNC Will Go As Far As Joel Berry Takes Them and That’s A Good Thing
Joel Berry is a DOG. Unlike Grayson Allen, the UNC senior showed poise and leadership on the court in the 2nd half as he lead his team to victory. Berry was under control, attacked the rim, facilitated ball movement. He earned every bit of his game-high 21 points. And as North Carolina heads into March they’re going to need every bit of Berry’s fearless attitude. If the Tar Heels play like they did Thursday, I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a deep run in the NCAA tournament and if they do, Joel Berry will be the one to lead them there.
Part II of Duke vs UNC will be held March 3rd at Cameron Indoor.