Duke's basketball plate is full, but UNC is still UNC
For many college basketball teams, simply surviving the busy week that includes four ACC games in eight days would be enough of an accomplishment.
Halfway through an unprecedented gauntlet, Duke has shown it strives for much more.
The No. 5 Blue Devils edged Maryland 69-67 at Cameron Indoor Stadium last Saturday and dominated Georgia Tech 68-51 in Atlanta on Tuesday night.
Next up are the biggest challenges. Because of the postponement of last week’s North Carolina game due to a winter storm, Duke has a rescheduled game at UNC tonight (9:10 p.m., ESPN/WRAL) and a rematch with No. 1 Syracuse at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN).
Concerns about overlooking Maryland and Georgia Tech with the two showdowns looming proved unfounded. The Blue Devils (21-5, 10-3 in ACC), with nine wins in their last 10 games, have proven sharply focused on the big picture.
“We are getting better, that’s the biggest thing,” Duke sophomore forward Rodney Hood said. “We are running our own race. There are a lot of different teams that are doing different things around the country. We just have to get better. That’s been our mission. Try to get better by March because March is coming fast.”
The next three days will feel a lot like March for Duke. The stretch is a Thursday-Saturday turnaround of games against talented teams that rivals an NCAA Tournament weekend.
North Carolina has shaken off the poor start in ACC play that saw it lose its first three league games and stand 1-4 a month ago. Since then, the Tar Heels (18-7, 8-4 in ACC) have reeled off seven consecutive wins, including victories over Pittsburgh last Saturday and at Florida State on Monday.
Before falling to Boston College in overtime Wednesday night 62-59, Syracuse had yet to lose to anyone. The Orange (25-1, 12-1) lead the ACC and had been one of two unbeaten teams remaining in college basketball. No. 3 Wichita State (27-0) was the other.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski admits the rescheduling of the game puts the Blue Devils, as well as the Tar Heels, in difficult spots. UNC is also playing four games in eight days and will play Wake Forest on Saturday less than 48 hours after facing Duke.
“Would you rather not be in that game, even if you played the night before?” Krzyzewski said. “Of course you would rather be in the game and the game on Saturday. No excuses. Let’s play. We should be really excited. We’ll be ready to play. Hopefully we’ll play well because North Carolina is playing great.”
After traveling home from Atlanta and arriving on campus around 3 a.m. Wednesday, Duke held a light practice some 12 hours later.
Because they are already familiar with the game plan for UNC from last week’s work, it’s not like the Blue Devils are starting game preparation from scratch.
“We just need to refresh ourselves,” Duke freshman Jabari Parker said.
Hood and Parker have yet to experience a UNC-Duke game. But Hood said the way the Tar Heels are playing makes it easy to focus on them even with a rematch with Syracuse less than 46 hours later.
“Carolina is a good team,” Hood said. “They have won six or seven straight. We are looking forward to Syracuse and what’s going to happen in that game but we have to take care of business on Thursday.”
Duke point guard Quinn Cook said the only thing close to what’s ahead this week is last season’s stretch in which Duke lost at Virginia on a Thursday night before rebounding to beat Miami on a Saturday night.
But the hype for that one wasn’t nearly as intense because it wasn’t UNC and the nation’s No. 1 team.
“It’s good that I don’t have a TV,” Cook said. “It’s real good that I don’t have a TV so I can stay off ESPN as much as I can. We don’t want to look past Carolina. Syracuse is a great team and we know we have those guys on Saturday. But North Carolina is playing out of their minds right now. I think they’ve won eight straight or whatever the number is (actually seven). We’ll be ready on Thursday.”
Krzyzewski demands that and, with the wins over Maryland and Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils have shown they are managing this challenge while even improving their play.
“We haven’t even talked about these two games so there is no buildup for us,” Krzyzewski said. “We said we were going to try to play one game and then another game and then the next one. We won’t look at it as we are playing North Carolina and Syracuse. We have to look at it now that we’re playing North Carolina. Whatever the result of that is then get ready for Syracuse because if you don’t, you won’t give each game what it’s supposed to be given. For each game you should have a physical and an emotional investment in the game. You can’t do that if you are looking ahead to something. You’ll have the physical investment and then you won’t be worthy of winning.”
THE FOLLOWING GAME NOTES COME COURTESY DUKE UNIVERSITY SPORTS INFORMATION
Duke vs. North Carolina
February 20, 2014 • 9:00 p.m.
Chapel Hill, N.C. • Dean E. Smith Center
ESPN • WRAL • Blue Devil IMG Sports Network
The Opening Tip
• Duke is in the midst of a stretch that includes four games in eight days. Three of those games are on the road, including Thursday’s matchup against North Carolina at the Dean E. Smith Center at 9 p.m. The game will air on ESPN and the ACC Network, as well as the Blue Devil IMG Sports Network.
• Duke is ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll and No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. The Blue Devils are 75-24 all-time when ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll.
• The Blue Devils are 20-2 against unranked opponents this season with their losses coming on the road against ACC foes Notre Dame (77-79) and Clemson (59-72).
• Duke has won four of its past five road games. The only loss during that stretch came at No. 2 Syracuse, 91-89, in overtime. Duke has played on the road in five of its past seven games.
• Duke is 3-1 this season when having one or fewer days between games.
The Last Time Out
• Jabari Parker logged his ACC-leading ninth double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds to lead Duke past Georgia Tech, 68-51, Tuesday at McCamish Pavilion. Parker hit 6-of-12 field goals while adding three blocks and a steal in the rout.
• Duke shot .556 (10-of-18) from three-point range for the team’s highest three-point percentage since shooting .619 (13-of-21) in the season opener against Davidson. Rodney Hood hit 4-of-6 three-pointers against the Yellow Jackets, while Tyler Thornton went 2-of-2 and Andre Dawkins connected on 2-of-3.
• Thornton dished out five assists and did not commit a single turnover as Duke gave the ball away just five times. The five turnovers were Duke’s second fewest in a game this season and fewest since giving it away just four times in the season opener against Davidson.
• Duke held Georgia Tech to just 3-of-9 shooting from three-point range.
By The Numbers
• Duke has won nine of its past 10 games with the lone loss during that stretch coming at the hands of now-No. 1 Syracuse, 91-89, in overtime. Duke has beaten seven of those 10 opponents by 15 points or more.
• Over its past 10 games, Duke is shooting .427 (103-of-241) from three-point range while averaging 10.3 made three-pointers per game. Tyler Thornton (.522, 12-of-33), Rasheed Sulaimon (.514, 18-of-35) and Andre Dawkins (.510, 26-of-51) are all shooting better than 50.0 percent from three-point range during that span.
• Duke ranks fifth in the nation and leads the ACC with a 1.61:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Blue Devils have amassed 244 assists to just 79 turnovers and have committed less than 10 turnovers 14 times this season. Tyler Thornton leads Duke with a 4.00:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and owns a 21:1 mark over his past five games.
• Rasheed Sulaimon has scored in double figures in nine of 13 ACC games and averages 11.1 points and 3.3 assists per game in conference play. He leads Duke with 29 assists over his past seven games and owns a 2.63:1 assist-to-turnover ratio during that span.
• Jabari Parker is currently averaging team highs of 19.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He is attempting to become the first Duke freshman to lead the team in both scoring and rebounding. Only two freshmen have led Duke in scoring, and only six have led the team in rebounding. Parker leads the ACC in rebounding and ranks second in scoring.
• Parker was named ACC Rookie of the Week for the league-leading eighth time Monday. He is just two ACC Freshman of the Week awards shy of tying the league record of 10, held by Georgia Tech’s Kenny Anderson (1989-90) and North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough (2005-06).
• Rodney Hood is the only player in the ACC to rank among the league’s top 10 in scoring (8th, 16.2 ppg.), field goal percentage (5th, .478 – 140-of-293), free throw percentage (5th, .837 – 87-of-104), three-point percentage (2nd, .455 – 55-of-121) and made three-pointers per game (6th, 2.1 3pg.).
• Andre Dawkins is 18 points shy of becoming the 63rd Duke player to reach 1,000 points in a career. Dawkins has 982 points in his career and averages a career-high 9.2 per game this season.