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Tar Heels Aiming to Limit Grayson Allen's Penetration

No. 5 North Carolina's defense will be tested by No. 20 Duke's attacking style on Wednesday.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Tony Bennett thought Grayson Allen traveled prior to his game-winning bank shot at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday. Mike Krzyzewski thought Marial Shayok fouled Allen on the way up before the ball was released on the way down.

It was a matter of perspective, depending on which side of the court you prefer your bias. What’s not subjective, however, is a growing hatred of Allen due to a blend of questionable antics, such as his tripping of Louisville’s Raymond Spalding, and his improving game during ACC play. 

Allen’s strength lies in his ability to attack the basket, just as he did for his game-winning shot against Virginia this weekend to move Duke back into the Top-25 and into a tie for fifth place in the ACC at 8-4. Dribble penetration has been a concern for No. 5 North Carolina all season long, and it’s been a liability in the heated rivalry with the Blue Devils for much longer.

Allen, who is averaging 20.3 points on 51.3 percent shooting in league play, will likely serve as the primary instigator in Duke’s efforts to find creases in UNC’s defense and create havoc within the paint.

“He has a neat and very unique combination of talents because he can put the ball on the floor, he’s a good ball handler, he jumps way up in the air but he’s so strong driving the ball and he’s so strong finishing the ball,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said on Monday. “So it’s something that very few college players have. It is a big challenge for you. It’s hard to do. You’ve got to get people back in his driving lanes, and when you do that, he’s able to pitch the ball out and there are some very good shooters that can finish the play there as well.”

On Friday, sophomore wing Theo Pinson detailed UNC’s primary defensive concerns, highlighting a difficulty in staying in front of the ball as well as a troubling tendency to foul at the wrong moments, such as late in the shot clock after 20 seconds of solid guarding.

The NCAA’s offseason emphasis on officials calling tighter games to alleviate the physicality involved and allow for more of a finesse product may have helped the Tar Heels offensively while casting a brighter spotlight on their dribble penetration woes.

“We’re deep enough in the season that we know we can’t use our hands,” Pinson said. “It’s definitely still tough. I’m going to be honest, it is tough because last year you could use your hands like that, but you’ve just got to adjust to the refs. Some refs don’t call it as much, and that’s when it’s fun, but you’ve just got to adjust to the game.”

Consistency in officiating is the key, and according to Pinson, it’s possible to determine how a certain group of referees will call a game before the first media timeout by listening for the whistle on drives to the basket that create contact or involve hand checks.

Even so, UNC has been productive at limiting its opponents’ trips to the free throw line. The Tar Heels rank 39th nationally (5th ACC) in defensive free throw rate (29.5), according to kenpom.com.

Continuing that trend on Wednesday will depend on UNC’s ability to limit Allen’s penetration by a combination of solid on-ball defense and timely help underneath.


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