There’s a twist to the Duke-UNC basketball rivalry this season

UNC's Roy Williams on Duke: 'Those two big guys are a load.'

North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams talks about the reversal of fortunes in which Duke has the dominant big men heading into a Duke-Carolina rivalry game.
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North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams talks about the reversal of fortunes in which Duke has the dominant big men heading into a Duke-Carolina rivalry game.

It was probably the first time Roy Williams has ever been confused for Mike Krzyzewski.

In a verbal hiccup by a longtime UNC writer near the end of Williams’ lively, and often jovial, 20-minute press conference on Tuesday, Williams was called “Mike.”

Hair color and personalities aside, if you’ve watched North Carolina and Duke play this season, the confusion is understandable.

Williams’ UNC team, with its guard-heavy lineup and reliance on the 3-point shot, is playing more like Krzyzewski’s recent Duke teams. And the Blue Devils, with their size and rebounding dominance, look like one of Williams’ national title teams.

No one will intentionally confuse Williams and Krzyzewski but either could be forgiven for going to the wrong bench when the two teams meet on Thursday night at the Smith Center.

“They do try to get the ball inside more and here I am shooting 3s, so I get that part of it,” Williams said. “It is different for sure. I hadn’t considered that we had swapped places. I don’t know how comfortable Mike is but I’m not very comfortable at all, I can tell you that.”

A closer look at the team-personality switcharoo:

Duke goes big

After 38 seasons, it’s fair to say Krzyzewski hasn’t quite had a team like this before at Duke. The hall-of-fame coach has never had a team rebound like this.

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Krzyzewski has had plenty of talented forwards (Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer, Shelden Williams to name a few) but usually only one at a time. In freshman forwards Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley III, Krzyzewski has two uniquely gifted post options on the same team.

Carter, at 6-10 and 259 pounds, is more of a traditional “5” while Bagley, a wiry 6-11 and 234 pounds, has the scoring versatility of the modern NBA power forward.

Bagley leads the Devils in scoring (an ACC-best 21.4 points per game) and rebounding (an ACC-best 11.4 per game) while Carter averages 14.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.

There are better ways to measure a team’s rebounding strength than the raw numbers but consider this: none of Krzyzewski’s Duke teams averaged more than 40 rebounds per game (Brand’s ’99 team, which finished with 39.4, is the high-water mark).

This Duke team averages 42.7 rebounds per game, second in the country only to … UNC (43.4). Ten of Williams’ first 14 UNC teams have hit the 40-rebound mark.

Both teams enter this game in the top 5 in the country in rebounding margin. Rebounding has been one of the key stats when Duke and Carolina get together. Duke has won 13 of the last 20 games from UNC, including all six when it has outrebounded the Tar Heels.

Watch University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams' comments about having to play rivals Duke and NC State in the same week of the regular season.

UNC embraces the 3

Williams likes to tell the anecdote about the time he played golf this past summer with some of his friends in the NBA. They all asked him to keep playing the way he plays, with two bigs and going inside-out.

When forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks graduated from last year’s national title team, and with Tony Bradley off to the NBA after one year, Williams wasn’t left with many post options for this team.

Even junior forward Luke Maye, UNC’s top rebounder (10.3), is a more of a faceup, stretch “4” than the back-to-the-basket forwards Williams usually features.

North Carolina’s Luke Maye (32) shoots over Boston College’s Ky Bowman (0) on January 9, 2018 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Actually, Maye is closer in prototype to Duke’s long line of stretch “4s” from Danny Ferry to Ryan Kelly than Williams’ usual big men at UNC.

So Williams has gone to a four-guard lineup with Maye as the lone pivot. The result? UNC has attempted more 3-pointers per game (22.3) than any of Williams’ other UNC teams. The percentage of 2-point shots (64.2) is also the lowest of Williams’ tenure.

Maye leads the team in 3-point percentage (48.7) and is third in attempts (76) and makes (37). Senior guard Joel Berry leads the team with 61 made 3s and his 168 attempts are the second-most in the ACC.

UNC has averaged more 3-point attempts per game than Duke (21.8) but the Devils are shooting at a higher percentage (38.9 to 37.2) and are making more (8.5 to 8.2) per game.

UNC’s new-found 3-point reliance could add a new wrinkle to the rivalry this season. The teams have met 30 times since Williams returned to Chapel Hill in 2003 and Duke has outscored them from the 3-point line in 29 of those games.

In Carolina’s 12 wins over Duke under Williams, it has been outscored 285-147 from the 3-point line while it has been outscored 477-192 in the 18 losses.

“You’ve heard me say a hundred times this year, I’m really concerned about defending around the rim,” Williams said.

“I’ve never said those things when we’re getting ready to play Duke, and that’s not a cut against Shelden Williams or anybody, it’s just that we’ve always been concerned about doing a good job on the 3-point shot.”

Times have changed and the roles have been switched, at least for one season.

"Dadgum" or "daggum"? No matter how you spell it, UNC coach Roy Williams possesses his own lexicon and perhaps should come with his own glossary. Call it Roynacular, Williams’ use of expressions and words like "dadgum," “Jimminy Christmas,” “blank

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

Duke at UNC

When: Thursday 8 p.m.

Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill


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