North Carolina’s reputation as a ferocious rebounding team precedes the Tar Heels’ invasion of Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday night.
“I’m breaking out in a rash when you talk about rebounding,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Wednesday.
When Krzyzewski’s No. 18-ranked Blue Devils play the No. 8 Tar Heels in the rivalry’s next chapter, rebounding will be a key factor in who emerges victorious.
North Carolina (21-4, 9-2 ACC) leads the country in rebounds per game (44.7) and mainly because the team is so effective on offensive rebounding. UNC averages 16.36 offensive rebounds per game, second nationally only to Kent State’s 16.54.
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According to kenpom.com, UNC is No. 1 in the country because it has corralled 42 percent of the rebounds available on its it offensive end.
Hence Krzyzewski’s concerns.
While UNC has 6-10 senior forward Kennedy Meeks, 6-9 senior forward Isaiah Hicks, 6-8junior forward/guard Justin Jackson and 6-10 freshman forward Tony Bradley leading the push inside, the Blue Devils (18-5, 6-4) have a rebounding weapon or two of their own.
Forward Amile Jefferson has only lost one game to UNC that he’s participated in. When the 6-9 grad student has led Duke in rebounding, the Blue Devils are 10-1 this season and 35-3 in his career.
“There is no more important player for what we are doing than Amile,” Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewski was talking about all phases of the game, but rebounding is of particular importance. So is Jefferson’s leadership and he is impressing upon his teammates how to attack this game.
“We have to fight,” Jefferson said. “We have to be tough. We have to rebound collectively. We have to put bodies on guys. They are an excellent rebounding team. It’s something they do really well. So we all have to be rebounders. We all have to out well. We all have to be ready to do that for 40 minutes.”
Jefferson, of course, will need help.
The 6-10 freshmen Harry Giles, a forward, and Marques Bolden, a center, have the talent to match up with UNC’s stout big men. But Giles and Bolden but preseason injuries have kept them from producing at their talent levels.
Giles has produced five or more rebounds in seven of the 12 games he’s played. But he only played a combined 16 minutes over Duke’s last two games, an 84-74 win at Notre Dame on Jan. 30 and a 72-64 home win against Pittsburgh on Feb. 4.
After having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in October, Giles is averaging 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Duke’s coaches have admitted that Giles, who tore ACLs in both knees during high school, probably won’t progress to his top level this season.
“I’m pleased where he’s coming along,” Krzyzewski said. “Obviously I wish he was further along. But he isn’t.
Having produced a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds in an ACC win over Georgia Tech last month, Giles could help against UNC and the other top teams Duke has remaining on its regular-season schedule.
Bolden was playing like a starter in preseason, Krzyzewski said, until a foot injury in early November sidelined him for five weeks. He’s never fully recovered and has averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds while playing just 8.2 minutes per game.
When Bolden got hurt, Duke shifted its attack to a smaller, quicker lineup with Jefferson as the lone interior player with 6-8 swing man freshman forward Jayson Tatum as the small forward. The Blue Devils remain most comfortable with three guards joining Tatum and Jefferson.
“Small is better for us because those are the guys who have accomplished and have done it game in and game out,” Krzyzewski said.
Still, Giles and Bolden are working in practice with hopes to still be major contributors. Jefferson said the main thing is they want to be good and are striving for improvement.
“You see that they are coming along,” Jefferson said. “You see it in Marques. You see it in Harry. For them it’s just about keep going and keep doing it. They are going to be good for us. They are going to be vital keys in us winning games.”
Thursday night, from a Duke perspective, would be a good place to start.
UNC at Duke
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham