November 13, 2009.
In basketball terms, it feels like an eternity ago.
Duke was still stinging from a demoralizing loss to Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2009 NCAA Tournament, and to make matters worse, their arch-nemesis from eight miles down the road were celebrating a fresh National Championship. It was a particularly difficult ending to the season and Duke fans were feeling antsy. Fortunately, help was on the way. Duke was widely perceived to be the leader for the services of the nation’s #1-ranked recruit, Harrison Barnes. On November 13th, he called for a press conference to announce his college decision. Blue Devils fans eagerly tuned in, hoping this young man would be the missing piece to help lead Duke back to the promised land.
Within moments, those hopes came crashing down. Harrison Barnes began to initiate a Skype chat session to inform the lucky coach of his decision. The collective heart of Duke fans around the world sank; there was no way Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was going to be on the receiving end of a Skype-filled spectacle. To make matters worse, Roy Williams was. Fresh off the 2009 National Championship, the UNC Tar Heels were also reeling in the most coveted recruit in the nation. Difficult days were undoubtedly ahead for the Blue Devils.
After Harrison Barnes left Duke at the altar, the jilted Blue Devils rebounded (pun intended) their way to the 2010 NCAA National Championship. Conversely, UNC struggled mightily throughout the season, ultimately missing the NCAA tournament. This season, Duke fans were sarcastically asking “Harrison Who?” and many continued to rejoice as “The Black Falcon” — unjustly hyped by the media as a first team All-America selection before he ever bounced a ball in college — struggled with his confidence on the court to start 2010-11. With Barnes struggling, UNC fell out of the Top 25 for the second consecutive year. For the Duke faithful, life was good.
Then, a strange series of events unfolded: The mighty Blue Devils suffered a drastic blow when all-everything point guard Kyrie Irving injured his big toe, sidelining him indefinitely. The once formidable Blue Devils offense began to exhibit signs of struggle without its dynamic leader. Soon after, Duke lost to a particularly charged Florida State team in Tallahassee. Shortly thereafter, Duke was on the wrong end of a very lopsided game against St. Johns on a nationally televised stage in Madison Square Garden. Eight miles away, the formerly overlooked Tar Heels were stringing together a series of ACC victories. The once-mocked Harrison Barnes began to find an offensive rhythm, including several clutch performances in crunch time. Even the transfer of formerly starting point guard Larry Drew II seemed to have strengthened the play of the Tar Heels, as his new replacement, freshman Kendall Marshall, exceeded expectations by posting 16 assists in a rout over Florida State – yes, that same Florida State team that recently beat Duke.
The recency effect is a peculiar phenomenon. Put simply, humans have a strong cognitive bias to place additional emphasis and meaning upon more recent events. Entering this season, many Duke fans were drooling over the opportunity to once again take UNC out to the proverbial woodshed. However, given recent events, there is now a sense of trepidation in the air. And in truth, this is Duke-Carolina — it just doesn’t feel right any other way!
Having said all that, Duke is still Duke. They are still led by Mike Krzyzewski, and the game is still being played in Cameron. The Cameron Crazies have still been sleeping outside for a month to get into this game and the atmosphere will still be off the charts. Even without Kyrie Irving, the Blue Devils are still fielding the more talented team. Mason Plumlee has been playing well lately, and both Kyle and Nolan are still their All-American selves. Tyler Thorton’s insertion into the starting lineup looks to have improved the Duke offense, while simultaneously tightening up the defense. UNC has been playing better too, but they are still a very young team, and Duke will certainly have the psychological advantage by playing this game in Cameron.
From a strategy standpoint, it is imperative that Duke apply solid on ball pressure to rattle new starter Kendall Marshall in order to disrupt the Carolina offense. In the paint, it is crucial that the Duke big men stay out of foul trouble by playing solid defense and focus on boxing out to limit Carolina to one possession. In a game where anything can happen, Duke stands the best chance of winning by sticking to their game plan. BDN predicts that Duke will successfully exert their will to force their desired game tempo and emerge with a workman-like victory, 80-72.
This is it. Get ready for Wednesday night!
And chant it with me: “Go to Hell, Carolina, Go to Hell! Go to Hell, Carolina, Go to Hell!”