The eighth-ranked Blue Devils are second in the country in 3-point field goal percentage (41.6) and rank sixth in made 3-pointers per game (9.5). By comparison, UNC ranks 254th in 3-point field goal percentage (32.0) and 342nd in made 3-pointers per contest (3.9).
That’s roughly an 18-point differential in terms of the magnitude the 3-ball could potentially play on Wednesday night.
Duke has been even better of late. In ACC play, the Blue Devils are shooting 42.0 percent from long range while knocking down 10.2 per game.
UNC counters with best 3-point field goal percentage defense in ACC play – 30.7 percent – at least according to the statistics.
Roy Williams was quick to point out why that stat may be deceiving.
“We’ve played some games where the other teams have missed some open shots, that’s part of it,” the 11th-year UNC head coach said. “Let’s be honest. We’ve given a few teams some open shots that they missed and I hope they keep doing that.
“We are trying to emphasize guarding the ball period. If we guard the ball better, it gets less penetration and then we have to help less and then you’re closer to the 3-point shooter.”
Williams later highlighted the significant disparity in the rivals’ ability to capitalize on the 3-ball.
“We don’t have anybody on our team shooting 43 percent,” he said. “They have five guys shooting a better percentage from three than anybody on our team, so that’s a really important factor.”
Marcus Paige is UNC’s top 3-point threat, shooting 36.8 percent on 28-of-76 attempts in ACC play. Duke counters with the following spectacle from deep: Rasheed Sulaimon (53.8 percent), Tyler Thornton (51.9), Rodney Hood (47.2), and Andre Dawkins (43.8).
That strength can also be a weakness. In Duke’s five losses this season, it’s shot 38.0 percent from 3-point range and made eight or fewer treys in three of those contests.
UNC has done a better job of late limiting dribble penetration, which is a critical component is containing Duke’s perimeter shooting. The Tar Heel players knew well ahead of receiving their opponent scouting report where the emphasis would be.
“They space out the floor great and they drive in to kick the ball out,” senior guard Leslie McDonald said. “I think they do a good job at that, so our main focus is to control the dribble. Being able to guard our men on our own and not having to need help so that we can be able to get out on those shooters.”
Williams told reporters that his staff has stressed guarding the ball with this team more than probably with any other team he’s ever coached. Paige suggested the key to success may be in staying home on the shooters and not helping on the drive as much, thereby preventing spot-up shooters like Dawkins and Thornton to get their feet set.
That strategy has been effective recently in this rivalry. UNC has held Duke to 32.7 percent shooting (17-of-52) from 3-point range over the last three meetings.