I apologize...I apologize. Obviously my critics will claim that I went into hiding until AFTER this game to see the outcome before getting back to the keyboard but I promise that is not the case. You should really blame my wife. She opened a new business and demands that I put my time in there as well...so you see? Not my fault.
(Honey, if you're reading this, I LOVE spending all that quality time with you...REALLY!)
Anyway, first I have to retroactively thumb my nose at Bob the Terp because of Duke's big win in College Park. Nyahh!
Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog.
Some of you might remember that I made the claim in December that Duke was the second best team in the conference. Well, I am the first to admit when I'm wrong, loath though I am to do so. Sigh....
Here I go.
(Drum roll please...brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr)
I made a mistake. Duke is not the second best team in the ACC.
They are in fact, without question, the best team in the ACC.
If you don't believe me check out the standings. And for those of you who are going to whine about Lawson being the difference maker I'll simply counter with the fact that Ginyard and Thomas combined for 26 points (unusually productive offensively and a testament to teammates "stepping up" when needed).
Lawson didn't play. So what? Duke would have been happy to play against Carolina with Lawson in the game and it would have been a different game but Carolina still ran effectively (when they could) - they average 15 turnovers a game even with Lawson and they can't defend the perimeter even with Lawson so Duke's game plan would have been the same. Either way, if Lawson gets healthy he can end the debate by simply leading UNC to a victory in Durham on March 8.
Also, UNC had four players score in double figures. Most nights that would be enough on its own to get the ‘W.' Just not against a team that has six players that can score in double digits (and Nolan Smith and Taylor King have gone double this season as well).
And for those of you that insist Paulus is an overrated PG then I'll thank you to take a gander at this stat line for the game: 18 points, 3 assists, 3 TOs, 4 steals. Most importantly, 6-8 from 3pt land. Not too shabby for a game of this scale and importance in a VERY hostile environment.
So, to recap: for UNC I see it this way...
Mansbrough is an animal (but not in Michael Beasley's class so Mansbrough will lose out to another freshman for POY). His stat line was sick but UNC sure could've used some of those missed free throws at the end of the game, huh?
Ellington is a player with great promise who can't stay consistent and doesn't defend well enough to justify staying in the game when he is missing like he has been (think Taylor King - 37 seconds, two straight misses - thanks for trying).
QT is a capable backup PG with no ability to handle constant pressure - but his one on one skills make him an asset in the open court.
Danny Green is an enigma - his Jekyll/Hyde personality helps or hurts UNC depending on the output at the end of the night.
Marcus Ginyard can score - this may have been what he needed to step up and become a legitimate fourth scorer for the ‘Heels.
Deon Thompson/Alex Stephenson are both big guys with low-post skills and good shot-blocking ability - but where were they when the game was getting tight? Contributors don't disappear in the late stages of a game like this.
For Duke it goes like this:
Greg Paulus CAN lead a team at PG - especially one built around the fast break, man pressure and perimeter offense. 20-1 is not a fluke.
Gerald Henderson is a legitimate All-ACC caliber player with explosive leaping and a nice mid-range game. He plays solid defense as well. Duke's best all-around player.
Kyle Singler is a legitimate star who put up more than respectable numbers against one of the top 3 big men in the country.
Demarcus Nelson doesn't have to have a great offensive night to be seen and felt in the game - just ask Wayne Ellington if he enjoyed being hounded by Nelson - and that was with four fouls for most of the second half.
Jon Scheyer is the best sixth man in the conference - maybe the country. He's also the toughest skinny guy on the court, no matter who Duke is playing.
Nolan Smith is the best backup PG in the conference - other than UNC and MD, who already boast great PGs, what team wouldn't want Nolan Smith running its point?
Lance Thomas can play in the post - his 10 points were critical in giving Duke a semblance of post presence. He picked the right night show up - you can't ask more from your undersized big man.
Duke has shown without a doubt that it is a legitimate contender for the ACC crown and possibly the NCAA title. Both UNC and MD (and Clemson for that matter) all pounded the ball inside to exploit Duke's "weakness" and all came away with losses by nine points or more.
To beat Duke (this season) you must keep the game in the sixties or seventies otherwise you are falling prey to Duke's three-point shooting and fast break, spread offense.
Slow the game down and force them to penetrate then take away the kick out and you have something.
But for now, UNC is the team that has to walk into its own building knowing that Duke is King of the Hill.