Devils In Detail - February 2015
Duke Comeback Stuns UNC, 81-80
North Carolina -- Sunday, March 1, 2015 @ 3:00 PM EST (Cameron Indoor Stadium, ESPN2)
2014 Snapshot: 27-10, 10-6 ACC, NCAA Elite Eight
Last Meeting: 3/8/2014: Duke Takes Down UNC in OT, 74-67
Current Records: Duke 19-9, 10-5 ACC, UNC 12-6, 10-5 ACC
Current Rankings: Duke #16 AP/#17 Coaches; UNC #15 AP/#11 Coaches
Significant Losses: The biggest Tar Heel loss was star frosh Diamond DeShields, who transferred to Tennessee after averaging 18 ppg and 5 rpg. A high ball-usage player, DeShields saved UNC on a number of occasions and also shot them out of some games. The Heels benefited greatly from her ability to create her own shot at any time. Also gone is Xylina McDaniel, who suffered a probable season-ending injury after putting up 11 ppg and 7 rpg in the early going.
Returning & New Players: The Heels have everyone else back, which has allowed them to absorb their injury and defection problems. The star perimeter player is Allisha Gray, who was steady as a frosh and is outstanding as a soph. She's averaging 17 ppg, 8 rpg and 2 apg. In the post, Stephanie Mavunga does all the dirty work, putting up 14 ppg, 9 rpg and 2 bpg despite being just 6-2. Stepping in for McDaniel is senior forward Danielle Butts, a gritty but undersized player contributing 6 ppg and 5 rpg. At point guard, Latifah Coleman has been solid, averaging 6 ppg, 3 rpg and 3 apg. At the other guard slot is bomber Brittany Rountree, putting up 7 ppg, 2 rpg and 2 apg. UNC has tremendous depth at guard, with frosh Jamie Cherry subbing in at point and using her quickness to average 7 ppg and 2 apg. Former point guard Jessica Washington has been moved to off-guard, and is putting up 7 ppg and shooting 36% from distance. Wing N'Dea Bryant (2 ppg), post Hillary Fuller (2 ppg) and post Hillary Summers (1 ppg) are all receiving additional playing time as a result of the injury.
The Skinny: The Heels are an unusually battle-tested bunch this year, having beaten UCLA, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Rutgers and having lost to Notre Dame and Oregon State. They're still trying to deal with the loss of McDaniel, something that's had an impact on their rebounding. Indeed, they're only a bit over +1 on the year in that statistic. This is a classic UNC team: they love to run, attack the basket and pop threes. When they're clicking on offense and sharing the ball, they are tough to stop. When reduced to one-on-one play, they greatly miss the swagger that DeShields brought to every game. Sometimes that swagger hurt the team, but when she was on and started nailing tough 17' jumpers, UNC had a huge advantage over their opponents.
The team has replaced swagger with teamwork, quickness and solid inside-outside play. The defense is excellent, holding opponents to 37% from the field and 28% from three. Mavunga is a great shot-blocker despite her size, and the Heels have plenty of bodies to throw at opponents even after the transfer and the injury. UNC forces 20 turnovers a game, and they'll look to really ramp that up against Duke's thin guard rotation. Duke will look to use its size to dominate the boards and force the Heels to jack up long-range shots. What Duke doesn't want to do is let the Heels get into a rhythm where multiple passes are made in order to find the best look, nor do they want the Heels to score easily in the lane. Duke will clog up the lane, protect the rim with a couple of defenders and then extend their defense out to jam shooters. UNC's shooters are streaky, and if they start chucking instead of running the offense, chances are there will be rebounds available for Duke to corral. They'll have to make sure to run down every long rebound, because they can't afford to have UNC gain extra possessions by way of offensive rebounds. That's because the Heels will almost certainly force more turnovers than they commit.
The Blue Devil key, once again, will be the synergy between Elizabeth Williams and Azura' Stevens. Those two need to continue to work in tandem, each freeing the other one up near the basket. I expect UNC will start the game off by double-teaming Williams, so she will need to be patient and move the ball out quickly to the guards and Stevens. The Heels will also use a full court press at different times, and Duke must survive that onslaught by making scoring plays. Duke has not played well on the road this year, but the local contingent of fans who will make the trip over might help a bit. If Duke can control Mavunga (and even better, get her in foul trouble), force quick contested jumpers and patiently work the ball inside, then they'll win. If they have more than 25 turnovers, take too many jump shots and fail to get the ball to Williams and Stevens, then they'll lose. After dropping a game they should have won against Boston College, Duke will need to find a way to get more from its role players against a Heel team that struggled against but ultimately put away NC State.
What's Changed and What's At Stake: In the first game, UNC did not press Duke very much, and they also didn't double-team Elizabeth Williams all that much. The result was Liz going wild and Duke doing just enough to come up with a big comeback victory. The Heels also abandoned trying to attack the basket and put up a score of ill-advised jump shots. Another problem for UNC was refusing to go zone and force Duke to shoot. Duke got a lot of help from Oderah Chidom off the bench, a player no longer available to them. This puts the onus of production on Kendall Cooper (who showed signs of life against Georgia Tech) and Amber Henson (who has not played well as of late). The Heels have had their own struggles, losing to Syracuse and Louisville and barely holding on to beat Miami and Virginia. UNC did knock off FSU, which was easily their best conference win.
At stake for Duke is the #4 seed in the ACC tournament and the double-bye. It's all very simple: if Duke wins, they go to 11-5 in the ACC and tie with Syracuse. Because Duke defeated the Orange earlier in the year, they would win the tiebreaker. If UNC beats Duke, they'll get the #5 seed and Duke would drop to #6 -- which would be Duke's worst finish since 1994. This game will ultimately come down to how two teams not known for their shooting wind up shooting, and if UNC makes any adjustments in their game plan.
Devils In Detail - February 2015
Duke Comeback Stuns UNC, 81-80