I remember the moments most of you probably do, but what I enjoy the most is the feeling I get just before the game starts, the intoxication of knowing I'm at the center of the sporting universe in that moment. Knowing how fortunate I am to be court side for an event that many spend their lives dreaming of attending. Anyway - now that you good Wolfpack people have ground your teeth to a nub, let's move on.
There are 2 main factors in my mind that'll largely determine this game:
1. Carolina brutalized Duke on the glass in their most recent meeting, out-rebounding the Devils at Cameron last March to the tune of 64-29. It was unfair. Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks looked like a couple of over-sized, overage kids in a youth league game gone awry. Johnson and his relentless jumping jack attack has obviously moved on to the NBA, but it sure feels like this is where the game will be won again. Carolina is the top rebounding margin team in the country, and it isn't even close. They grab 14 more boards per game than their opponents and on an average night launch an assault on the offensive glass that grabs them 16 second chances per game.
MORE: Awaiting UNC, has Duke finally turned the corner?
Duke had no one but an over matched Marshall Plumlee to handle the onslaught last year. He's gone, but with the likes of Amile Jefferson, Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum in there now, I wouldn't expect such a mismatch this time. Marques Bolden has struggled to find his form this year, but that big frame of his could come in very handy. That said, Roy's experienced crew should still enjoy an advantage. Meeks and Hicks with a dollop of Bradley, Maye and an occasional Pinson pitch-in is hard to match.
2. How will Duke's freshmen handle themselves? Whether through injury or inexperience or both, this year's Duke team has not been the baby-faced buzzsaw we expected. Giles is getting better, Tatum is figuring things out and Frank Jackson is a solid contributor off the bench. Bolden has had the least impact, but as I stated above, I could see him playing a more outsized role Thursday night. All of the freshmen came to Duke to play bigtime basketball in bigtime environments. A high intensity prep course for the NBA. Eyes are always on Duke, but on this night, EVERYONE is watching and the young guys know it. Will they try to take over, or will they shy away? Maybe neither? On the subject, Joel Berry had an interesting take in the preseason:
Joel Berry knows that Duke has all the incoming hype, but isn't worried -- fun answer here pic.twitter.com/OkKwl4o3SA— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) October 12, 2016
Outside of those two story lines, it's nothing fancy. Whose best players will play best? Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen vs Justin Jackson and Joel Berry. Kennard and Jackson have raised their games to new levels this year. Allen and Berry are proven killers. We know one thing only - it's gonna be a show.
My prediction: Duke 83-79
MORE: Duke's Allen, UNC's Berry share long friendship