Duke Basketball: Expectations For Rival North Carolina

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 13: Grayson Allen
DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 13: Grayson Allen /

Duke’s shocking loss to St. John’s raised the red flags even further for the young Blue Devils.

Duke’s defensive problems have been well documented. Turnovers and free throws have also been issues throughout the season. Coach K’s scathing comments after the game suggest the problems may go even deeper than inconsistent play. He said:

"“They were a very frustrating group to coach today because they didn’t respond to anything, until the last eight minutes. And that’s unacceptable. That is unacceptable. You have to respond while it’s going on — at halftime, at a timeout. You have got to respond, and when you don’t, you’re into your into your own stuff, for whatever reason that is. Maybe you’re not ready, you’re sick, you’re whatever. You’ve gotta give it up. We didn’t give it up.“And the team that was deserving of winning won, and it made the loss — because we came back — all the more frustrating. But the basketball gods understand, in most cases, who should win, so losing when you had a chance to win after not playing well, we got what we deserved. We got what we deserved.”"

Ouch. What exactly is the problem? Coach K seems to imply that Duke didn’t play hard (he’s right). Maybe even more concerning, Coach K also states that the players may have been into their own “stuff.” What does this mean?

The immediate conclusion is that the players are more focused on the NBA or individual accolades rather than winning this season. He also says they may have been sick. There’s been no confirmation of this to the extent of my knowledge.

Coming off its worst game of the year, Duke faces a road game against UNC. Will they respond to Coach K’s criticism? Will Grayson Allen play like a leader rather than just say he is a leader? Are they ready for the intensity of college basketball’s greatest rivalry game?

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Pulling from an eternal well of optimism, I think Duke does respond to Coach K and ups the intensity to new levels against UNC. In all likelihood, Coach K punished the team for their flaccid performance against St. Johns.  After a similar performance last season against NC State, he kicked the team out of the locker room. I expect something similar happened this week. Hopefully, Coach K can reach the players and pull the best out of them. Clearly, talent will not be enough for a National Title.

Grayson Allen’s slump is a harder question. He started the year off with his stunning performance against Michigan State. He has been well behaved all year. He’s saying all the right things about leadership and obviously trying hard to repair his image. But, frankly, he’s been poor to average since ACC play began and a shell of his former All-American self.

In 10 ACC games, Allen is averaging 11.8 points per game. In Duke’s 4 losses, he is averaging 8.5 points per game. For Duke to beat UNC, Allen will need to perform significantly better.

Fortunately, Allen has been very good against UNC. As noted by Ball Durham expert Kevin Connelly, Allen has averaged 21.8 points per game against UNC, excluding his freshman year when his minutes were sporadic at best. Allen needs to recapture that form and play like a leader rather than just talking like a leader. If Allen can play well in Chapel Hill, the freshman will follow.

With Duke starting four freshmen and Allen struggling, it begs the question – are the freshman ready for UNC? Duke-UNC games are notoriously intense. Bloody noses, big dunks, and close games are a staple on Tobacco Road. It’s impossible to predict which players will rise to the occasion and which will wilt under the pressure. Sure, the freshman has played in big games this year and for most of their lives but nothing matches a game in Chapel Hill.

Ultimately, I expect a positive performance from Duke on Thursday night. I expect Allen to play well. I expect the freshman will not be overwhelmed by the occasion. And, I expect the entire team will play harder than we’ve seen all year. With that being said, expecting anything in this rivalry is foolhardy.

Prediction: Duke wins 91 – 88.