College Hoops Wednesday: Your Commentary

February 9th, 2011
Unlike last season's two regular season meetings there's more than pride on the line in tonight's matchup between North Carolina (17-5, 7-1) and bitter rival Duke (21-2, 8-1). The Tar Heels, who have played their best basketball of the season over the last three weeks, may have lost Larry Drew II last week but they didn't miss a beat in their beating of Florida State on Super Sunday. Freshman Kendall Marshall, who didn't move into the starting lineup until his defense reached an acceptable level for head coach Roy Williams, racked up a school-record 16 assists in the win but will have his hands full in a matchup with the seasoned Nolan Smith. Marshall is the quintessential table-setter, understanding that his true value comes in setting up teammates (5.0 apg) as opposed to hunting for his shot. And given some of the talent that surrounds him in Chapel Hill he doesn't need to score on the level of Smith (21.0 ppg).

Inside Carolina has the tandem of John Henson (11.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Tyler Zeller (14.1 ppg, 6.9 rgp), both of whom shoot better than 52% from the field and can get out on running opportunities and finish. Henson's also been an improved force on the defensive end, blocking 2.9 shots per game. The matchup between these two and Plumlee brothers Mason (7.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and Miles (5.0 rpg, 4.3 rpg) will have a lot to do with the outcome, as well as the contributions of a Justin Knox (UNC) or Ryan Kelly (Duke). Carolina is a plus-6.0 in rebounding margin, and while they can struggle with more muscular teams (Minnesota) due to the slender build of a Henson or Zeller they won't encounter such an issue in Duke's front line. Duke out-rebounds opponents by an average of 3.8 rebounds per game, but opposing teams have an offensive rebounding percentage of 31.7%. The Blue Devils will need to keep UNC off of the offensive glass in order to fully enjoy their advantage in regards to offensive efficiency (117.5 to 107.7).

Duke's offense is initiated by Smith, who shoots 47.5% from the field on the season. He can hurt you in a variety of ways, with either the perimeter jumper of driving to the basket with the help of ball screens. The key for the UNC big men in defending this is to make a true effort to hedge; attempting to do so in a lazy fashion will likely result in a blowout (see: NC State's "effort" in defending this). In regards to passing out of this play Smith can either get it to a big man or kick out to the many capable shooters on Mike Krzyzewski's roster. Seth Curry (8.2 ppg, 41.7% 3PT) and Andre Dawkins (10.0 ppg, 43.9% 3PT) are the perimeter marksmen while the versatile Kyle Singler (18.0, 6.2 rpg) can either knock down the three or drive to the basket on his own. Singler may in fact prove to be the toughest matchup for the Tar Heels tonight, as he could likely match up with freshman Harrison Barnes.

Barnes has played with more comfort offensively in recent weeks, scoring 25+ in consecutive games before posting 17 in the win over Florida State. The hype surrounding the Ames, Iowa native was plentiful in the preseason, and while some felt the need to quickly jump off the bandwagon when he struggled he's playing with more confidence. Freshmen go through that phase in regards to figuring out what their role is and how to go about executing within the framework of the system. But playing Duke (at Cameron) is another animal, which could mean a disjointed start for some of Coach Williams' less experienced players. Reggie Bullock is a player who could have an impact off the bench in terms of quick scoring tonight as well as the remainder of the season, possessing the build to go penetrate and finish in addition to knocking down perimeter shots.

North Carolina has the talent to win at Cameron but their poise will ultimately determine whether or not they leave Durham in first place. The job of keeping guys calm and focused falls upon the shoulders of the point guard and the veterans on the roster, meaning that Marshall will need to be the guy to make the crucial plays either via pass or by shot. He's done well to this point but tonight may provide the best early piece of evidence in terms of whether or not he'll be ready to do so in March.

Also on tap is the rivalry that defined the early years of the Big East, and with Georgetown and Syracuse both in the Top 15 things haven't changed a whole lot. The perimeter triumvirate of Jason Clark, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright does a great deal of the playmaking for John Thompson III's team, but for Georgetown to make things happen later in the season they'll need a Hollis Thompson or Julian Vaughn to make their presence known. Syracuse has won two straight following a four-game losing streak and in senior Rick Jackson they have one of the best power forwards in the nation. Jackson's posted 17 double-doubles this season, and while he's been a constant the play of Scoop Jardine at the point will be just as important. Florida (South Carolina) and Texas A&M (Colorado) have tough road games to contend with as does Utah State, who takes on an Idaho squad that's struggled following a hot start to WAC play.

Top 25
9:00 PM (3) Texas at Oklahoma (ESPN2)
9:00 PM (21) North Carolina at (5) Duke (ESPN)
7:00 PM (15) Louisville at (7) Notre Dame (ESPNU)
10:00 PM (8) Brigham Young at Air Force (The Mtn.)
8:00 PM (10) Villanova at Rutgers (ESPN3)
7:00 PM (11) Georgetown at (13) Syracuse (ESPN)
8:30 PM (14) Wisconsin at Iowa (BTN)
11:00 PM (17) Utah State at Idaho (ESPN2)
8:00 PM (19) Florida at South Carolina (ESPN3)
9:00 PM (22) Texas A&M at Colorado (ESPNU)

NCAA Division I Games
6:30 PM Northwestern at Michigan (BTN)
7:00 PM Richmond at George Washington
7:00 PM Virginia Commonwealth at Delaware
7:00 PM Marquette at USF (ESPN2)
7:00 PM Army at Holy Cross
7:00 PM Towson at Northeastern
7:00 PM Wagner at Mount St. Mary's
7:00 PM Miami (FL) at Wake Forest
7:00 PM Stony Brook at New Hampshire
7:00 PM Ball State at Bowling Green
7:00 PM Northern Illinois at Miami (OH)
7:00 PM Toledo at Ohio
7:00 PM Fordham at Temple
7:00 PM Dayton at Rhode Island
7:00 PM UAB at Marshall
7:00 PM American at Bucknell
7:00 PM Bryant at Central Connecticut State
7:00 PM Memphis at UCF (CBS College)
7:00 PM Lafayette at Colgate
7:00 PM James Madison at Drexel
7:00 PM Charleston at Elon
7:00 PM Hofstra at Georgia State
7:00 PM Eastern Michigan at Kent State
7:00 PM St. Francis (NY) at Long Island
7:00 PM Vermont at UMBC
7:00 PM Lehigh at Navy
7:00 PM Sacred Heart at Quinnipiac
7:00 PM St. Francis (PA) at Robert Morris
7:00 PM Old Dominion at William & Mary
7:00 PM Davidson at Wofford
7:30 PM Western Michigan at Akron (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Stephen F. Austin at Nicholls State
7:45 PM Fairleigh Dickinson at Monmouth
8:00 PM Longwood at Maryland
8:00 PM Wyoming at New Mexico (The Mtn.)
8:00 PM Nebraska at Baylor (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Sam Houston State at Texas-Arlington
8:00 PM Arkansas at Mississippi State (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Texas State at Central Arkansas
8:00 PM Lamar at Northwestern State
8:00 PM Texas-San Antonio at Southeastern Louisiana
8:00 PM Tulane at Southern Methodist
8:00 PM UNLV at TCU
8:05 PM Indiana State at Illinois State
8:05 PM Bradley at Missouri State
9:00 PM La Salle at Saint Louis (CBS College)
9:00 PM LSU at Mississippi (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Houston Baptist at Texas-Pan American
10:10 PM Utah Valley at Seattle