The Aftermath: How North Carolina Beat Duke
Last night was a clash of two diametrically opposed teams.
Duke is the fifth-best three-point shooting team in the nation, while the University of North Carolina is ranked 350th. Duke has a great offense – they boast an ORtg (points scored per 100 possessions) of 120.8, second-best mark in the nation. Meanwhile, UNC has had a mediocre offense, ranked 139th, but they've been playing great defense, with a DRtg (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 95.7, good for 36th nationally.
And let’s not even get into the free throw shooting disparity between the two teams.
Since both teams are good in their respective areas (and frankly, can be pretty bad in others), you would expect a collision of different styles as they try to exploit each other. UNC would try to pound the ball inside, while Duke would jack up a bunch of threes. The winner would be the team that could force their will and style on the other team more.
Once the game started, all that went away. In the first half, Duke dominated inside, with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood repeatedly driving around UNC defenders for easy layups. Carolina couldn’t get any post traction and relied on senior guard Leslie McDonald to hit jumpers just to keep it close.
Why did this happen? How did the teams adjust? Let’s take a look at the numbers and see.
How It Happened
As discussed above, Duke’s offensive identity revolves around their ability to hit threes. They average over nine per game on 24 shots, which is a good 40% average. Last night? They went 5-22 for a 22.7% average. Only Quinn Cook and Rodney Hood were able to connect from long range, while Rasheed Sulaimon, Jabari Parker, and Andre Dawkins went a combined 0-8. UNC wasn’t much better, only shooting 2-9 on the game, but had a very timely one from Marcus Paige late in the game.
Despite the narrative that Duke has an elite offense and UNC's is stagnant, especially with only one shot creator in Paige, the numbers in this game are quite drastic. The difference in their ORtg, 107.2 versus 95.7, speaks volumes about how efficient UNC was offensively coming down the stretch. Sure, no one will ever claim they are an elite outside shooting team, but they're pretty darn effective at what they do, as last night showed.
So what happened to Duke? Well, 12 turnovers didn't exactly help their cause, but UNC had 13 and gave up a bunch of points off of those, too. The most telling statistic in the table above is the number in Duke's assist column. Five.
In 40 minutes of play and 66 points scored, Duke only managed five total assists last night. In the second half especially, Duke turned into an isolation team that tried to play the Heels defenders one-on-one. Unfortunately for them, they just didn't win those matchups consistently.
Part of the reason why Duke went the isolation, hero-ball route was the defensive adjustments by UNC head coach Roy Williams. He went to a rarely used 1-3-1 zone halfway through the second half, and it was obvious that Duke had never faced anything like it before - they were very confused at how to attack it. The UNC player at the top (the first 1 in 1-3-1), JP Tokoto, was an absolute menace on the perimeter and didn't allow a single Duke open three. That's what they've thrived on all season. When Duke finally tried to make adjustments, UNC switched back to man-to-man. When they adjusted to that? You can probably guess how it went from there.
Duke's Achilles' heel this year is their lack of frontcourt depth. Although Carolina big men Brice Johnson and James Michael McAdoo battled foul trouble the whole game, they still had a bunch of big bodies to run at Duke, which included some inspired play by bottom-of-the-rotation guy Desmond Hubert. Duke, however, was forced to play Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood at power forward when Amile Jefferson got in foul trouble, and had to bring in the 76th consecutive Plumlee brother to attend Duke, Marshall. While Hood and Parker have a lot of size for their usual wing spots, they were dominated much of the second half on the boards by the continual rotation of UNC big men.
Big Dance Implications
Although in Durham and Chapel Hill, these two games mean everything to the fans, we have to remember that last night wasn't the National Championship. There are still many games left to go, with what will be an exciting new-look ACC tournament. And then, of course, the NCAA tourney.
So how did last night change the outlook for these two teams?
For Duke, it actually didn't change anything. Here at numberFire, our metrics put Duke as a number 3 seed in the tourney before last night's game, and we still have them in the same spot today. A rivalry loss in Chapel Hill to a team that's now won eight games in a row isn't a bad loss by any means.
UNC had quite a big bump, however. Before last night, we had them as an 8 seed. Now, our metrics have them all the way up to a 6 seed. A game that affects your seeding by two whole numbers? That's a huge win.
The good news is that at times, both teams looked elite last night. When Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are attacking the rim and kicking out to shooters, Duke's offense is borderline unstoppable. When Carolina extends their athletic wings (JP Tokoto might be the most athletic one in the country) and clamps down defensively, they're equally amazing.
While both fan bases are used to number one seeds in the tourney, the teams probably won't get there (Duke, maybe). However, that doesn't mean they aren't playing like top seeds. Teams that may be a top seed - Witchita State, for example - should rightfully be terrified if they draw either of these programs in their side of the bracket.
It was another brilliant match in a brilliant rivalry between two brilliant programs. The best news? We only have 15 days until UNC versus Duke, Part Two.