Here we go again! The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels will face off for the third time, in the past two months. Right now the season series is split at 1-1, with each team winning their home contest. In the last 14 years either Duke or UNC has been in this championship game, and they walked away with the title in 13 of them. Today marks the first time in a decade that these two bitter rivals will face off for the Championship game, and I’d expect it to be a game that lives up to its billing.
I know that it’s easy to give the nod to North Carolina considering they dominated Duke just a week ago, and in the first meeting were in control for the majority of the game. That being said this Duke team is a dangerous, that has a lot of talent and is capable of big runs to overcome any deficit. Although these are the last two NCAA Champions, Duke has the distinct edge in terms of experience. In the end though I do think North Carolina will win this game, but its not a given. Here are their keys to the game:
1. Play your game and don’t let the setting psyche you out:
More of Duke’s team was here last year and in the NCAA Championship as well, as opposed to the UNC players from two years ago. North Carolina does rely a lot on their young talent so they need to ensure that they don’t get overwhelmed. The Tar Heels need to establish their game and tempo, forcing Duke on the defensive. When the Heels have done that this season, they are basically unstoppable, and it showed in the second Duke game. If North Carolina can comeout and do the same things early on then I see them having the lead throughout this game.
2. Let the big men play:
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This game very well could end up, having the matchup in the middle deciding who wins. Both teams have two quality bigs, but I think UNC is in the better position here. Tyler Zeller and John Henson offer better size and length than their Duke counter parts, as well as superior athleticism. Zeller is a 7-footer with a surprisingly good offensive game. John Henson, despite not being the strongest player on the court very well could be the best rebounder. He has developed extremely well this season, and should be a force this afternoon. The Tar Heels are a little thin inside, so they will need to watch getting into foul trouble, but overall I like the chances of the UNC bigs over the Duke bigs.
3. Let Harrison Barnes Run Free:
Duke’s biggest question is who will stop Barnes, with the easy answer of nobody. No single player on Duke can guard Barnes one-on-one, which means UNC needs to exploit this matchup as much as possible. Barnes is showing why he is one of the best freshmen in the game, and is coming off a 40 point performance against Clemson. If Duke decides to focus too much attention on Barnes, then I really think that will open things up for the rest of the team. While Barnes is capable of scoring anywhere, I’d bring him inside some and get him driving to the hoop early. First that sets the tone, and secondly it should force a couple of extra fouls from the Blue Devils big men, which could keep them on the bench for longer. The Heels have to keep feeding Barnes, and just let his natural athletic ability take over.
Conclusion and Prediction:
I know that Duke is favored and they are no doubt a talented team, but I think the Tar Heels come away with this one. I like their front court and think they have a huge advantage there across the board. Barnes is a guy who can be a real X-factor, unless Duke finds a way to stop him, they have no shot.
North Carolina wins 81-77