This trend is best wrapped up in recent lore of the historic Tobacco Road rivalry.
In recent memory, Duke fans might remember the team’s best games like the Austin Rivers’ 3-point shot buzzer beater in 2012, or the Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler performance in 2010, when the three players combined for 15 points more than UNC did.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, have had dominant performances from big men lately, like from Brice Johnson in 2015, when he pounded it inside for 29 points and 19 rebounds in a loss at home, or the streak of beating Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium all four years Tyler Hansbrough played for the Tar Heels, from 2006 to 2009.
But this year, the conventional goes out the window. As the two teams gear up to face one another on Thursday night in Chapel Hill, the roles will be reversed.
This year, it will be Duke exploiting its size down low, while North Carolina will live or die by the 3-pointer.
The Blue Devils will enter the Smith Center a big-man-heavy team that scores in the paint as often as it does anywhere else. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will likely rely on his two star forwards, Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., who have combined for 40 percent of the team’s scoring this year.
Bagley, an expected lottery pick in this year's NBA Draft, averages 21.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this season, the best in the ACC in both categories. Carter, not far behind, is averaging 14.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
"This is a totally different team since I have been here," Theo Pinson said. "They try to throw it inside and get it to their bigs so it is going to be a different challenge for us. We basically swapped sides a little bit. We are going to do everything to slow them down."
The two first-year’s dominant play has transformed the team into something they weren’t a year ago.
Last season, Duke, with plenty of sharp shooters, attempted 821 3-pointers for just over 38 percent of all shots taken on the year. The last several years, this kind of shooting has driven the team toward its success. But through 23 games in 2017-18, while the attempts per game have been virtually the same, the team's attempts from three makes up five percent less of its total shots.
That’s not to say that the team can’t make shots from beyond the arc, though.
Over the last five games, guard Gary Trent Jr. has made 19 3-pointers and has 15 games with multiple 3-pointers through the team’s first 23 games. It just means in the latest evolution of the team, the 3-pointer is no longer as important to its success.
With a small lineup on the other side of the court in the Tar Heels, the offense that’s working for Duke now is unlikely to change for the rivalry game. Head coach, Roy Williams, has been known for regularly starting two big men in years past, but this season the small lineup of Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams, Pinson, Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye is anything but that.
When the team’s match up tomorrow, it will be Maye, the team’s workhorse and tallest starter at 6-foot-8, who will guard either of two players much taller than he is. Maye said he is up for the challenge.
"We are obviously going to have to defend them inside a little bit better and box them out a little bit harder, but besides that I think we are going to play our game and the way we like to play, stretch the floor," he said.
Berry noticed the size differences between the two teams as well, but said he isn't worried about it being a factor.
"I think their size can be something that's a disadvantage because we have speed and we can get the ball out fast and get the ball down the court," Berry said. "So while they do have size, I don't think that necessarily plays a role."
Whatever the final score, the Tobacco Road Rivalry will be different for two teams who, for at least one year, adopted the traditional style of the rival school.
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