Duke and North Carolina Never Disappoint: Four Takeaways From Wednesday Night

Posted by EMann on February 15th, 2013

Ethan Mann is a writer for the ACC Microsite. He is a senior at Duke University who just attended his last home game as an undergraduate against North Carolina and re-watched the game on TV for further analysis.

As the saying goes — throw all the numbers out for Duke/North Carolina. Rankings, records and all the rest are immaterial. UNC had rarely been competitive against good competition this season until Wednesday night, and the last time an unranked North Carolina team came into Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Tar Heels were thrashed 82-50. This game was much different, as evidenced by the final score of 73-68.

Rasheed Sulaimon was a second-half catalyst in Duke's victory against North Carolina. (AP)

Rasheed Sulaimon was a second-half catalyst in Duke’s victory against North Carolina. (AP)

Here are four takeaways from the game:

  1. Why did North Carolina not use this lineup much earlier in the season? Roy Williams finally decided to start PJ Hairston (second on the team in offensive efficiency) alongside Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo, and Hairston rewarded this choice by scoring 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds (seven of which were on the offensive end). Instead of starting offensive black hole Desmond Hubert, the head coach finally turned to a lineup with more offensive firepower so that his team did not fall into a massive early deficit like they did against Virginia Tech, NC State, and Miami, to name just a few. If North Carolina is going to make the NCAA Tournament and maximize its chances of winning there, Hairston must play starter’s minutes.
  2. James Michael McAdoo might be the most frustrating player in college basketball. McAdoo was preseason first-team all-ACC and some people might still vote him there because of his stats (he is averaging 14.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game). However, this is a case where the stats do not match reality. McAdoo is an incredibly talented and athletic basketball player, but in reality he was mostly ineffective Wednesday night. He had a couple of highlight plays (including a nasty reverse dunk that gave UNC a 38-31 lead early in the second half), but following that play, he increasingly settled for mid-range jumpers, which he did not convert. And worse, the 57% FT shooter went just 1-of-5 from the line, including several crucial misses in crunch time. Why McAdoo settled for jump shots instead of going aggressively at the foul-prone Mason Plumlee was a bit of an enigma. He finished with nine points and eight rebounds on only 4-of-12 shooting, which is unacceptable for a player with his talents.
  3. Tyler Thornton was Duke’s MVP. Coach K said it himself, “I like him [Thornton] because he can get angry. I don’t think players get angry like they used to. That comes easy for me.” Duke’s utility guard and defensive specialist hit three crucial three pointers, including two in Duke’s decisive second half run. But in addition to his nine points, Thornton had several crucial tap-outs (he was officially credited with two offensive rebounds, but it seemed like more), and his assist to Quinn Cook on a beautiful transition pass gave Duke a 44-43 lead that it would not relinquish. Thornton also spent much of the game (particularly when Duke was in a four-guard lineup) checking the likes of PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock and generally holding his own.
  4. Duke is adapting, but is probably still limited without Ryan Kelly. Ryan Kelly is targeting an early March return (possibly for the rematch with Miami) according to Jeff Goodman’s column. (Goodman also thinks that Duke is the national favorite assuming Kelly returns). Duke has done a fine job adapting its personnel to Kelly’s absence since the 90-63 drubbing against Miami, but it still looks as though a team whose ceiling is limited without him. Duke used several strange lineups last night, including a four-guard lineup with Josh Hairston (as Plumlee sat with foul trouble), who incidentally was on the court during Duke’s run that gave them the lead. With Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry generally safe bets to get a double-double and around 15 points, respectively, Duke will go as Quinn Cook, and to a slightly lesser extent, Rasheed Sulaimon, take them. Cook and Sulaimon both played really well against UNC and NC State, but were subpar in Duke’s survival test against BC. However, if Kelly is able to return before the postseason and can be properly reintegrated into the lineup, Duke should be a legitimate contender to cut down the nets in early April.
EMann (30 Posts)

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