Immediately after Duke’s 92-90 overtime win against North Carolina less than three weeks ago, Blue Devils players and coaches talked about how the game might have exceeded expectations.
While the excitement guaranteed there was little chance the details would fade from memory, the quick turnaround between the teams’ first and second meetings means that memories are still fresh about what the third-ranked Blue Devils (27-3, 14-3) can do to improve as they prepare for the rematch against No. 19 North Carolina (21-9, 11-6) Saturday night at the Smith Center (ESPN, 9 p.m.).
“If everything went well, it wouldn’t change at all,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said about his team’s preparations. “But everything didn’t go well. We’ll make changes based on that and see what works.”
When watching film of the first game, Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor said coaches have accentuated at least two points.
The first is how effective the Tar Heels were in transition, especially in the second half when they built a 10-point lead heading into the game’s final 3:51. The second point is how effective UNC was on the offensive glass, grabbing 19 rebounds that led to 21 second-chance points.
For the most part, Duke’s players skimped on details Friday of how they were preparing to mitigate the Tar Heels’ advantage in those areas, instead offering somewhat prosaic analysis along the lines of boxing out and getting back on defense.
However, senior Quinn Cook said the more important factor might be for the Blue Devils to ensure that their intensity does not wane at any point.
“I think we started off the game tremendously with a lot of passion,” Cook said of a first half in which Duke built a 13-point lead at Cameron Indoor. “I felt we got a lead and we let up a little bit. Those guys got going, and we were down. We had to will our way back to a victory.”
Historically, Duke and North Carolina usually had at least eight games in between their regular-season matchups, but with the expansion of the ACC and ESPN considerations, that has changed in recent years – Duke had only three games in between its matchups with the Tar Heels last season and four this year.
While the Blue Devils’ players said the spacing doesn’t really change their preparation, there will be subtle a difference in the team’s approach independent of what has shown up in the film room.
Sophomore Matt Jones has started every game since the Blue Devils’ win over the Tar Heels, while junior forward Amile Jefferson has seen his playing time curtailed.
It’s now March, which means that Krzyzewski will look to continue to tweak his strategies with the postseason in mind.
“We … in these last few games have tried some different things not only for an opponent, but that we might be using in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “We could look at a thing or two for that, too, so we get, in a big-game environment, a chance to see if we can execute something defensively.
“And offensively, if we want to beat them, we have to make some changes. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a chance against them.”