The latest installment of the Duke – North Carolina rivalry will pit a familiar contrast of styles:
One team that lives and dies by the 3 versus another that runs primarily through the post.
Only this time, in a Tobacco Road aberration with a twist of role reversal, the team most reliant upon perimeter shooting won’t be the one with “Duke” embroidered across its chest. The team with the best big man on the floor will.
Of the two blue-blooded foes, the Tar Heels, not Blue Devils, have gambled the most from long-range this season, succumbing to the temptations of a 3-point arc that’s diluted the importance of old-school centers in the modern game.
Roy’s boys, traditionally disposed to working inside-out, have hoisted the second most 3-point shots (447) in the ACC. That’s 14 more than their bitter neighbors up the road notorious for winging and flinging.
Wednesday night will mark the first time North Carolina has averaged more 3-point attempts per game (19.4) than Duke (18.8) since the 2002-03 season, when the Heels launched a single-season program record 746. It will also mark the first time since the Landlord ruled Durham that the Blue Devils will own the best big man on the floor – national player of the year candidate Mason Plumlee.
Three of North Carolina’s top four scorers are averaging at least four 3-point shot attempts per game. Fellow swingmen P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock have launched 123 apiece on the season, representing the most trigger-happy duo in the league. Even Seth Curry and Duke don’t have an answer to that unremitting combination.
This isn’t your older brother’s Tar Heels. The 2012-13 squad lacks an enforcer down low a la Psycho T and a back-to-the-basket ace like Tyler Zeller. Carolina’s best players are all perimeter-oriented – wing players or face-up forwards (James McAdoo) with a preference for playing finesse basketball. As a result, when the shots aren’t falling, the Tar Heels are.
In the team’s seven losses this season, UNC has shot a combined 36-for-123 (29-percent) from behind the arc, an average of 12.4 missed 3s per game. The Heels stroked the 3-ball in five of those seven losses at worse than a 33-percent clip. Only once, in its first loss to Miami at home, did Carolina fare better from the 3-point line than its opponent.
An incomprehensible identity swap is seizing college basketball’s greatest rivalry. If North Carolina is to pull off the upset in Cameron, the Tar Heels will have to do it the Duke way. How is that for a wrinkle to a rivalry never short on storylines?