2 April 2022
It’s here. It’s happening. We’ve made it. Duke-Carolina, in the national semifinal, the first-ever meeting between the blue bloods and Tobacco Road rivals in the NCAA Tournament. Oh, and if UNC wins, it’ll be Mike Krzyzewski’s final game. And it’s in the Final Four. It’s enough to make you want to run screaming maniacally around the room.
But maybe we should just break down the matchups with GIFs, shall we?
NO. 8 NORTH CAROLINA (28-9) VS. NO. 2 DUKE (32-6)
Time: 8:49 p.m.
If you sort Bart Torvik’s tempo-free stats by date and start on March 1, the No. 1 team in the country is not Gonzaga or Duke or Kansas. It’s North Carolina. Kansas isn’t far behind, and neither is Villanova, but Duke is all the way down at No. 20. Now, if you sort it after March 20? Duke is all the way up at No. 6. UNC is still No. 2 if you sort it that way, by the way. The point is that these two are playing their best basketball right now. And both of the two previous meetings between these teams feel like they mean little except that you can’t possibly know what to expect.
To win, though? One of the two teams is going to have to defend. And if that team isn’t North Carolina, this game is going to go a lot like the first meeting did where Carolina lost by 20 at home. If that team isn’t Duke, it’s likely to go the way the second game did. And so both teams need to buckle down on that end, rebound at high level, and do just enough defensively.
Psychologically, though? That’s where it gets fascinating. None of us listened enough to our collective gut that told us Duke might be under too much pressure in K’s final home game at Cameron. Does that pressure return now? It could, certainly. But Duke did not get here because it felt and responded to pressure. Duke got here because it decided it was going to fight to avoid losing and going home and was going to live with the outcome. It will have to do that again.
And does North Carolina continue to play with house money? It’s been a weird week as UNC got to fly under the radar before the second Carolina-Duke game and avoid the hype machine, but they’re in said hype machine now. Will Kansas or Villanova play the role UNC did on Monday night, no matter who gets there? Could be. But we’ve got to get past this game first.
NAMES TO KNOW
Brady Manek. The Oklahoma transfer has gone from intriguing piece with a funny beard to an indispensable part of this team. And the 20-point loss to Duke appears to have been a bit of a turning point for him. It was his second 20-point game in a row, but he was just 1 of 6 from inside the arc and 6 of 10 form outside it. since, he’s made at least two 2-pointers in every game and has made it a bigger part of his offense, and the Tar Heels are better for it and for his versatility. He wasn’t as dominant as he was against Baylor last weekend, but he didn’t need to be. In the second meeting with Duke, he had 21 points and didn’t pick up a single foul as he just tried to get in the way enough of Paolo Banchero. Now, he’ll have to do all of that again without foul trouble. If he gets into foul trouble and is limited, North Carolina will be in big trouble.
A.J. Griffin. Yes, I know I said that the first two meetings don’t matter much. But since January 22, Duke has lost three times. In all three of those losses, Griffin was a non-factor. Duke has won games when Griffin is a non-factor, of course. He had just seven points in the win over Michigan State (some important ones, but still) and then had 29 in two games last weekend, all of which were important. Duke beats good teams when Griffin is on. He had 27 in the win at UNC and was dominant. But with Leaky Black on him at Cameron, he had 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting. Duke can win if he’s a non-factor. But they’re so much more dangerous when he is.
North Carolina Win:
North Carolina Loss:
Duke, 79-70. I don’t know. I really do not know. It just feels like the right thing? But I have no clue. I’ve been wrong every time I’ve picked this game this year.