Thursday, December 13, 2007

Carolina has the Talent, but Duke has the Chemistry


Patrick Kendall (

I’m happy.

You want to know why?

Because this year the rivalry between these two great and historic programs can be assessed on more than the enmity that exists between the campus bodies. That was not the case last year where the Heels had a decided advantage at every position and also had more depth so they could finish as strong as they started.

However, with all that talent, UNC still had issues with chemistry. At points during the season (and especially against Georgetown) they really didn’t know who to turn to when the game counted (Roy Boy has to take a hit for this as well) and sometimes the lineups just didn’t gel.

This season Ty Lawson has settled down (not slowed down, just settled down) and that shouldn’t be a problem – provided he stays healthy. Make no mistake though, UNC is NOT the same team with Frasor or ‘Q’ running the show. They’re still good, but they aren’t SCARY good without Lawson.

That said, just like last year, I do believe that they have the right lineup to win it all in April but like last year, chemistry will make or break this team.

Duke on the other hand has no chemistry issues at this point whatsoever. They go ten deep and are an interchangeable unit that notices almost zero loss when substitutions are made. I can’t tell if this will be a good thing all year or not but if Coach K can continue to get these guys shots and pile up ‘W’s then good things will continue to happen.

The chemistry between this VERY young team is amazing. They lock down on defense like the best Duke teams (though they don’t always do it for forty minutes – yet) and are equipped with enough athletes and shooters to go for 100 every night.

Also, with ten players dressing and playing every night (so far) they’ve obviously addressed the depth issue (and then some) by putting together the deepest perimeter-capable team in the country – by far. No other program can boast SEVEN different players already hitting MULTIPLE three pointers especially this early in the season.

Best of all, this depth will ensure that Duke can also finish at the same pace that they start a game – and if you factor in that Duke is historically a second half team then you could argue that they are playing harder and faster at the end of games right now. Of course it’s a long season and they play a LOT of games at home – though the match up with Pitt next week at Pitt should be a great gauge for where this team really is early on.

Duke is looking so good right now that Bob the Terp at work has pledged his loyalty to the Blue Devils and jettisoned his misguided allegiance to the University of Garyland (I’m still suspicious – I think he has a fiendish plan to somehow “Tonya Harding” Coach K when Duke arrives in College Park. I’ll have security ratcheted up obviously).

So, what can we expect when the Devils meet the Heels this year? Best guess, at a minimum, we can expect more equality in terms of talent (though Mansbrough is having a great year and continues to dominate in the post – not sure what Duke can do about him -- whacking him across the nose last year just made him mad – that dude is scary!)

By position here’s how I see it:

Point Guard – UNC gets the edge in starting guard here but overall I like Duke because they have a more capable back up in Nolan Smith. He can score and defend better than Frasor or ‘Q’ so in a pinch, Paulus and Co. is my choice.

Small Forward – Push. Gerald Henderson is not the shooter that Wayne Ellington is but he is a better slasher/scorer. On a team with less scoring on the wing Henderson would easily match Ellington’s production. Long and short of it, you can’t go wrong with either.

Power Forward – Duke. Stephenson is a strong body and better post obstruction on defense but how can you not pick Kyle Singler as your choice here. He’s not a true power forward but at 6’8 he has the height and he plays hard all around the basket. In a lot of ways he reminds me of Mansbrough Lite. And he can score from anywhere.

Shooting guard – Duke has it all over UNC here because all of their players can hit from downtown. Jon Scheyer is a proven entity and DeMarcus Nelson is a linebacker in a basketball uniform who can force his way to the basket almost at will.

Center – Mansbrough – hands down. He is the X factor in this matchup. If he can get to the line 12 to 15 times and create foul problems for Zoubek and Co. then I see it being a tough night for Duke.

If Duke can dictate tempo and negate the half-court dominance of Mansbrough then I like Duke.

I’m taking the coward’s way out at the moment and calling for a split in the matchups – each team holds serve at home. I am however predicting that Duke wins the ACC regular season and tournament again.

They’ll also be a very tough out in the big tourney in March.

Both teams make it to the Elite Eight; Carolina advances to the Final Four and cuts down the nets giving Roy Boy his second title.

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