“Shelden’s just having a special year,” Sean May said during Tuesday's press conference. “Our thing is let’s get him off the block and not let him get low. We’ve got to make him make some outside shots. From an offensive standpoint, we just need to attack, get him in foul trouble and make Coach K go to his bench.”
In a one-on-one situation, Shelden Williams might come out on top, especially given Cameron Indoor Stadium’s oppressive venue for Blue Devils’ opponents. But on Wednesday, he could feel the walls closing in on him in the form of May, Jawad Williams and Marvin Williams. And in what promises to be a blood bath in the paint, the pressure of his five-foul limit versus the 15 total available to the Carolina threesome may be too much to overcome.
There are other match-ups certain to be epic as well when second-ranked North Carolina (19-2, 8-1 ACC) puts its sole possession of the conference lead on the line at No. 7 Duke (17-2, 7-2).
J.J. Redick, apparently destined to be named all-conference once again, will be shadowed by Jackie Manuel to start, as well as Rashad McCants, David Noel and Melvin Scott. In his last two games, Manuel has held N.C. State’s Julius Hodge to 7-of-17 shooting and FSU’s Von Wafer to 5-of-12. Last season Redick was a combined 6-of-21 in the two games versus Carolina.
“Jackie has done a great job with [Redick], but he’s going to have his hands full,” Raymond Felton said. “J.J. is having a great season so far and he’s shooting the ball tremendously well. He’s doing a great job of driving, but the best part of his game is his outside shot and we want to take that away from him.”
Felton must be available nearly the whole game for UNC to be at its best and McCants will likely be counted on to step up his scoring in a big game such as this. But the Blue Devils have two high-scoring guards of their own in Redick and Daniel Ewing. Therefore, the sum of both teams’ backcourt parts may cancel each other out.
UNC’s depth advantage across the board – and more specifically up front, and how well either Duke adjusts to it or the Tar Heels are able exploit it, could make the difference in the final outcome.
“We just have to keep playing the way we’ve been playing – keep pushing he ball and try to get their big men tired and in foul trouble,” Felton said.
Carolina will look to gang up on Williams and Randolph, and in doing so, force 6-10 walk-on senior Patrick Johnson into action.
With all due respect to Wake’s Eric Williams, Georgia Tech’s Luke Schenscher and Clemson’s Sharrod Ford, the talent along the front line will be a virtual Who’s Who of the ACC’s best big men. But one can easily argue – especially among strong and athletic “6-9 types” – Shelden Williams, Sean May, Jawad Williams and Marvin Williams are among the league’s elite in the low post.
In his last seven games, Shelden Williams has averaged 18.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and four blocked shots, while shooting over 61 percent from the field in those contests. May is averaging a double-double in league games this year (14.3 ppg., 10.0 rpg.). Marvin Williams is hitting his stride just in time, having averaged 16.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in Carolina’s last two outings. And despite tallying just one point in 14 minutes against FSU, Jawad Williams has been the Tar Heels' most consistent scorer all season.
Anything can happen amidst the Cameron Crazies on Coach K Court, but the Tar Heels’ sheer number of bodies hope to make it a long night for Shelden Williams – or a short one, depending on how you look at it.
“We have so many weapons that it’s hard to guard all of us,” May said. “We want to wear them down. I want to try and bring Shelden away from the basket so we can get the ball to Rashad, Jawad and Melvin, and let our guards penetrate.”
Depth is what Carolina brings this year. In the recent past, roles were reversed.
“Last year we played David Noel as a big man and that’s hard for someone his size,” Roy Williams said. “This year we’ll have Marvin that should make things more difficult.”
Giving the rapidly-improving Noel more room to freelance can only mean good things in the Tar Heels' run-oriented scheme.
“It kind of frees me up to choose whether or not I want to go to the boards as much as I used to,” Noel said. “That really helps our break – getting two or three guys out in the lanes.”
But on Tuesday, Jawad Williams warned against trying to fit the match-ups into any type of mold, noting that when Duke and Carolina meet on the basketball court, anything goes.
“[The post-play] might play a big part in tomorrow night’s game,” he said. “One thing’s for sure, nobody’s going to want to get tired and come out of that game.”