About last night … a look back at Duke vs UNC

Duke won its 22nd game of the season by defeating their arch rival North Carolina 73-68 last evening and while it wasn't the prettiest of games compared to classics past, it was still the kind of affair that was hard-fought and victory earned.

In the first half, UNC knocked Duke back a bit with a departure from their normal strategy by going small and the Tar Heels took a four point lead into the locker room. Their play allowed them to take the Cameron crowd out of the equation but for whatever reason, I never felt the Blue Devils were in major trouble. The team may have seen it differently in that during post game locker room interviews, they were drained.

Mason Plumlee spoke in a raspy low voice, perhaps horse from yelling, Cook looked as if he was about to fall out. There was exuberance but all seem just happy to have come out on the winning team. Emotions. They can take a toll in this kind of game and you add the intangibles of it being another late start, still a bit of jet lag and simply the demands of school can tire even the youngest of men.

Many felt North Carolina gave it their best shot and many felt it would b a blowout loss going in, but history teaches up, almost anything can happen in these games. This has been a rather disjointed version of the Tar H eels this season where chemistry issues abound but they showed a lot of fight and heart last evening but by games in, so did Duke and that enabled them to remain in the regular season hunt in the ACC.

The Blue Devils struggled from the three-point stripe in th first half, hitting just one, but they knocked down five in the second half. Of the six made three pointers, none were bigger than any from Tyler Thornton. Oh, that's right, he had half of them. Thornton hit the Blue Devils first three pointer and up until that point they were pushing, so seeing that one drop helped their psyches. Thornton was praised in the post game press conference by Kryzyzewski.

"Tyler is just a winner; he is a really tough kid. I like him because he can get angry. I think anger is an emotion that can get you past being tired and gets you past a lot of things."

Thornton had been a bit quiet in previous games but he picked a grand stage to help lift what Krzyzewski and I alluded to earlier, that this was a tired team. And the Tar Heels are also a deeper team than Duke, especially in Ryan Kellys' absence. Before I go on, this is where I say that Krzyzewski reiterated that there was no time-table for Kellys' return and he even made reference to "if," he returns.

While again, it was not the prettiest of wins on the court, the victory for Duke keeps them at or near the top of standings and rankings They now ride a six game winning streak and have adjusted to life after Kelly, but it is clear that they will need a bit more consistency from their cast to continue th roll with perhaps their last ever trip to Maryland coming up.

The victory over North Carolina allowed Krzyzewski to tie Adolph Rupp for the third most victories at one school and that made me think back on a lot of classic games past. While last evening may not be at the top of my memories list during his 76th birthday bash, wins over your arch rival are always tantalizingly sweet. And if you missed it, last night was Coach K's 66th birthday and he can never not like the gift of beating Carolina.

The cool thing for Duke fans is that he shared that gift with all of us.

This and That Department

- I watched the replay from the ACC Network which is a fresh alternative to ESPN on occasion and enjoyed the broadcast. Speaking of ESPN, Dick Vitale once again came down to chat it up with the Cameron Crazies but no ride through the crowd this go round.

- National media turned out last and I sat behind Dick "Hoops" Weis or at least until half time where he bailed, perhaps due to the over exuberant Cameron Crazies which sit directly behind, er ... on us. Jeff Goodman, Pat Forde and several others were there as well in what is almost a social atmosphere for the rivalry.

- The Cameron Crazies were good, understandably excited and nobody put words in their collective mouths last evening. Sorry, I could not resist. This comment of course is in reference to the accusations of so many who were not at the recent Duke vs NCSU game. To this day, not one single media member attending that game, objective as they are have come forward saying they heard, "the chant."

- After trailing 38-31, Duke went on a 16-5 run. The Blue Devils went on another 11-4 run featured three Duke three pointers and or half their total of six made attempts.

- Quinn Cook turned the ball over more than usual in the first half but his four steals helped make up for it. Cook has now earned 22 consecutive starts. Cook also teamed with Curry to grab 11 boards from the guard spot.

- Rasheed Sulaimon drew a key charge during the Blue Devils comeback and he nor ranks second on the team with nine total taken on the season. Hairston leads the team and for what it's worth, the injure Ryan Kelly is often at the top of this category when healthy.

- Duke distributed fliers pushing Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon for season honors. Plumlee is being pushed as an ACC Player of the Year candidate and All American candidate as is Curry. Cook and his stats are being offered up for the All ACC team and Sulaimon as a freshman All American candidate.

- Prospects Theo Pinson and Harry Giles watched the game from behind the Duke bench last evening.

Duke/Carolina: Anything can happen, right?

The date was February 28, 1981. First year coach Mike Krzyzewski led his unranked Duke team against a North Carolina team that would go on to play for the national championship. It was Coach K's first home game in The Rivalry, the last home game for senior captain Gene Banks and wildman Kenny Dennard. Before the game, Banks loped from the locker room dressed in a tuxedo and tossed roses into the crowd.

North Carolina, #11 in the AP poll, came into Cameron without the services of injured star forward James Worthy. Pumped by the energy of the fabled Cameron crowd, Duke came out strong and battled the more talented UNC team. Gene Banks threw roses to the crowd during his last game against Carolina in Cameron At halftime Carolina clung to a one point lead, and the second half was back and forth all the way through. A UNC bucket With two seconds to play put the Tar Heels ahead 58 to 56.

Duke inbounded from beneath its own basket. The Cameron scoreboard clock, which did not yet track tenths of seconds, ticked down to 0:01 left. Duke called a timeout and Dennard readied to inbound from midcourt. Coach K drew up the play. Junior Vince Taylor set a screen to spring sophomore Tom Emma, but Carolina slipped through it. Sharpshooter Chip Engelland, who despite taking most of his shots from the perimeter hit 55.7% of his attempts that season, set up in the corner, but too many Tar Heels intervened for Dennard to get the ball there safely. Banks saw the broken play and curled to the free throw line. Dennard floated the pass to Banks, who caught and spun. All American forward Sam Perkins hurried forward and extended his unnaturally long arms. Banks released. Perkins's fingers grazed the ball but didn't alter its trajectory and the shot descended through the hoop as the buzzer sounded, sending the crowd into a frenzy and the game into overtime. Four minutes and 41 seconds into the five minute overtime period, Banks rebounded a missed Taylor shot and laid it in for a 66-65 Duke win. Billy Packer was flabbergasted.

This was Duke/Carolina. The best rivalry in sports, where you throw out the record book and rankings don't matter. Anything can happen.

That's the narrative, anyway. But is it true? Can we really throw the rankings out the window when unranked North Carolina and top five Duke square off this coming Wednesday?

Well, no, not really.

During Coach K's tenure in Durham, including the classic  "Gene Banks game" his first season, the historic rivals have met 23 times when one of them is ranked and the other unranked. The ranked team has won 19 of those 23 games, or 82.6% of the time. When Duke or UNC is ranked in the top five and the other is unranked, the top team has won 12 of 13 (92.3%).

"So?" you might say, "at least the underdog won a few of them. That means something, right?"

Maybe. But comparing those results to Duke's games against two randomly selected ACC opponents, it doesn't look that way. During the Coach K years, Duke has faced Wake Forest 46 times when one is ranked and the other unranked. The ranked team won 39 of those games for a winning percentage of 84.8%. We've had 43 such games

The last time a top five Duke team faced an unranked Carolina

against Clemson during that span and the ranked team has won 37 (86.0%). Pretty similar to the 82.6% in the Duke/UNC rivalry. Also in Duke/Clemson, one team has been in the top five while the other is unranked 28 times and the ranked team has won all 28. At least in Duke/UNC, the unranked team won once (UNC back in 1990, if you're curious). Well, if you want to hang your hat on one game, go ahead. But in the Duke/Wake series during Coach K's tenure, the top five team has only won 22 out of 29 of the games (75.9%). WAY less predictable than Duke/UNC. But the announcers don't tell you to throw out the record book when Wake comes to town, do they?

Believe it or not, Duke/UNC looks even less unpredictable if you expand it to include games when both teams have been ranked. In such games during Coach K's time, the higher ranked team has won 30 and lost 22, thus winning 57.7% of the time. In Duke/Wake it's been 9 to 9 (50%) and in Duke/Clemson 6 to 5 (54.5%), so the team you'd expect to win has done so more often in the Duke/UNC rivalry than in the others.

How about when one of the teams is in the top five and the other is outside the top ten? Duke and Carolina have played 18 such games during Coach K's time here, with the top five team winning 13, for a 72.2% success rate. Pretty unpredictable, wouldn't you say? Alas, that number's not much different than similar games against Wake, where the top five team has won 5 of 7 (71.4%) or against Clemson, where the top five team has won 4 of 5 (80%). So no luck there.

Just to be thorough, let's look at when both Duke and UNC are in the top ten. In that case, the higher ranked team has won 16 and lost 17 (48.5%), which seems to support the "anything can happen" meme until you consider that in such situations during the Duke/Wake series, the higher ranked top ten team has only won 3 and lost 6 (33.3%). This has only happened three times in Duke/Clemson since 1980-81, with the higher ranked team winning 2 and losing 1 (66.7%). When both teams are in the top five, the tally for Duke/UNC is 5 to 5, for Duke/Wake is 1 to 0, and for Clemson hasn't happened during the Coach K years.

Bottom line, in the Duke/UNC rivalry the team you expect to win usually does. About the same, or even more so, than in Duke's series with other ACC teams.

So is ESPN just making it up? Is The Rivalry not what we thought it was? I'm going to say "no" again. It's real and it's wonderful, as anybody who's had the good fortune to attend a Duke/UNC game can attest.

For one thing, unlike the Wake and Clemson series, whether the Duke/UNC underdog wins has little to do with venue. The upset winners in Duke/Wake and Duke/Clemson are almost always playing at home (77% of the unranked winners and 79% of the lower ranked winners when both are ranked). While it's true in the Duke/UNC rivalry that 3 of the 4 unranked winners (75%) played at home, that's a very small sample. When both teams are ranked, the lower ranked winners only played at home in 36% of the upsets (8 of 22).

But even putting that aside, the real magic of the Duke/UNC rivalry is not that "anything can happen." No, what makes it the stuff of legend is how amazingly good both teams are, year in and year out. Since Gene Banks put his mark on Duke history in 1981, Duke and Carolina have met 75 times. And from 1982 to 2012, either Duke or UNC has been ranked in the top ten in 73 of those 75 games (the only exceptions coming in 1997 when #12 Duke beat #19 UNC, and in 1996, when #19 UNC beat unranked Duke). Both Duke and UNC have been ranked in the top ten 33 times in Coach K's 32 seasons here (not counting this one since they haven't played yet). Ten times they've both been in the top five.

I haven't researched my next statement, but I doubt any other series can match that standard of excellence on both sides of the rivalry. And because both teams are almost always so good, especially when you add in the close proximity of the schools and the genuine enmity the fanbases have for each other, the Duke/UNC rivalry truly is special. The players, the fans, and the coaching staffs bring a passion to the rivalry game unmatched in college sports.

So, relax, Duke/Carolina is still Duke/Carolina. And while I wouldn't want to offend the weauxf gods, considering that this week Duke is in the top five and UNC is unranked, you might also want to take at least a little bit of comfort in that 12 and 1 history, too.

Gameday Preview — Duke at Boston College

It's tempting to suggest the elements will be a bigger hurdle to Duke winning its game Sunday night at Boston College than the opponent. The snow is supposed to be measured in feet but the Eagles are tied for last in the ACC (2-7, 10-12 overall), have lost six of their last seven games, and don't have any RPI top 100 wins (though according to Pomeroy they have two such wins, both at home, against #61 Providence and #100 Clemson). So on paper this game is a mismatch.

It probably will be in real life, as well, assuming the game happens. There have been conflicting reports as to whether the Duke team has already left for Boston or not, but if they haven't, they'll probably try to fly up there Sunday morning and who knows if the airport will be open? It's possible this could end up a "trap game" if Duke looks forward to the UNC game next week, but it's more possible that BC simply isn't good enough to beat Duke whether Duke is looking forward or not. That said, Kansas lost to TCU this week, so hopefully Duke will be ready to go. The Eagles played tough in home losses to Miami (1 point), Wake Forest (3 points), and a road loss at Maryland (5 points).

Steve Donohue's third edition at BC is not as young as last year's version, but it's still pretty green. Boston College starts two freshman and three sophomores, and its top two reserves are also sophomores. The only upperclassmen who get any run are the eighth and ninth men, 6'10" grad student Andrew Van Nest (12.7 mpg) and 6'6 junior Danny Rubin (7.2 mpg). The Eagles aren't that deep, with their four top players getting minutes ranging from 32 to 35. Their fifth starter has been somewhat fluid, mostly split between three sophomores: 6'5" Patrick Heckman, 7'0" Dennis Clifford, and 6'7" Eddie Odio.

Odio got the starting nod in BC's last game, a 22 point drubbing at Miami, and won the raves of his coach for his hustle and smart play. He averages 15 minutes per game, with 3.0 points per game and 2.7 rebounds, and sounds like he might be a bit like former Duke player Dave McClure. Seven footer Clifford, who started 25 of 31 games a year ago, has been hampered with leg injuries and only played 5 minutes against Miami. He got a cortisone shot last week and should play against Duke but it's difficult to say how much. For the season, he's missed three games with his injuries and only averages 16.5 mpg after playing 26.7 mpg in 2011-12. He averages 3.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks, but if you look at the more advanced stats it's apparent he's a very solid rebounder (offensive rebounding percentage of 10.7% and defensive rebounding pct of 18.9%). Heckman, who has 13 starts this season, is a 6'5 guard averaging 23.0 mpg, with 7.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. His 108.7 offensive rating is 2nd on the team.

BC's four main players are perhaps more interesting. 6'8" sophomore Ryan Anderson plays 32.8 mpg and amasses 16.0 points and 8.8 rebounds. His rebounding percentages of 10.1% offensive and 22.6% defensive are comparable to Mason Plumlee's (10.5% offensive and 23.9% defensive). I'm not sure how often Anderson teams with Clifford out there, but when Clifford's sitting, Anderson vs. Mason should be an interesting matchup.

Other than Anderson and their roving 5th starter, the Eagles start three guards. 6'3" sophomore Lonnie Jackson plays 31.8 mpg with 10.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. His offensive rating of 110.5 leads the team, mostly due to his three point shooting. Jackson leads the ACC in three point attempts with 135 (over 6 per game) and his 39.3% long-distance percentage is 6th in the conference. The top two minute-getters on BC are both freshmen: 6'4" Olivier Hanlon and 6'2" Joe Rahon, who was last week's ACC rookie of the week. Hanlon plays 34.0 mpg, with 13.9 points, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and is a pretty good rebounder for a guard at 4.2 per game. Rahon leads BC with 3.6 assists per game, along with 10.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.0 steals. Still a freshman, he scored 26 against Clemson but put up a goose egg against Miami.

Boston College is ranked 150th by the RPI, 124th by Sagarin, and 127th by Pomeroy. They're not bad on offense, as according to Pomeroy they have the 60th most efficient offense in the country, but they're dreadful on D, ranked 223rd in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Eagles play at the fourth slowest tempo in the ACC (238th in the country) while Duke plays the fourth fastest (72nd in the country), so it may be interesting to see who wins the battle to set the pace.

Expect a ton of threes to fly through the air. BC is first in the ACC in launching from outer space, with 32.7% of their shot attempts coming from three-land, and Duke is 2nd in the conference, at 29.5%. A big difference there, however, is that Duke is first in the ACC in 3-point shooting percentage (7th in the nation), at 41.1%, while BC ranks 9th in the conference at only 34.0%. BC also gets to the line a lot (3rd in the ACC in free throw rate, while Duke is 6th), but their free throw percentage leaves something to be desired. In ACC play so far they've only hit 64% of their free throws (69.7% for the entire season). So, the two things they do best -- attempt threes and attempt free throws -- they don't finish very well.

The other area to watch is turnovers. Duke has the fewest pace-adjusted turnovers in the conference and is 1st in the league in assist/turnover ratio (6th in the nation), while BC is 8th in the conference in pace-adjusted turnovers. On the defensive end, Duke forces the third most turnovers in the conference while BC forces the fourth least. So if BC doesn't take care of the ball it could be a long night for them.

In sum, while anything could happen, Duke doesn't appear to need their "A" game to win this one. If we can get through the snow and bring anything close to our "B" game, it should be a nice stepping stone to the rivalry game on Wednesday.