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Heel Tough Blog: Duke Preview

The Daily Preview

For the first time since 1961, North Carolina and Duke will meet without either Dean Smith, Coach K, or Roy Williams on the sidelines, as the greatest rivalry in sports ushers in a new era tonight in Durham. Many people have tried to downplay the importance of the rivalry given that there isn’t a polarizing figure on the sidelines, combined with the fact that both teams enter tonight’s game unranked. However, this game still matters, and will always matter.

Carolina is seeking to bounce back after losing at home on Wednesday to Pittsburgh 65-64, as they were swept in the regular season by the surprising Panthers. The loss dropped Carolina to 15-7 on the season, and 7-4 in the ACC, a far cry from where everybody thought they would be back in the preseason. According to the latest NCAA Tournament projections, Joe Lunardi currently has UNC slotted as a #9 seed, so while they are still firmly in the field, a win tonight over their arch-rival would strengthen their postseason resume.

As you can imagine, Duke has experienced their fair share of growing pains, under first-year head Jon Scheyer. A lot like UNC last season, Duke has been extremely good at home, where they are undefeated while struggling on the road, where they’ve lost to Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and Clemson to name a few. Health hasn’t been on their side, as two of their freshmen, Dereck Lively, and Dariq Whitehead have both battled injuries. The same goes for the most important player on the Duke roster, Jeremy Roach, who missed almost a month with a toe injury. With all the absences, Kyle Filipowski has established himself as the focal point of the Duke attack, as he leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game and rebounding at 9.5 points per game.

Yesterday when Hubert Davis met with the media, he made it known that Puff Johnson will be available to play today, and that’s big news for the Tar Heels, as they’ve missed the reserve forward. Puff brings energy and effort on defense, but his greatest asset is the defensive flexibility he offers Hubert Davis, if he wants to go small, or if he wants to big. His return will be welcomed tonight, as Carolina seeks a much-needed road win.

Even with an underwhelming record so far, you haven’t seen any signs of panic from the Tar Heels, as they know they are playing for the long haul, and that there’s still time to put it all altogether. A win tonight would keep them in the running to win a regular season ACC championship, while a loss would put them in a tricky situation when they go to Wake Forest next Tuesday. Here’s how Carolina can emerge from Cameron Indoor Stadium, victorious:

  1. Win The Interior: Tonight will probably feature the best battle of big men in the ACC, as Armando Bacot and Kyle Filipowski meet for the first time. Bacot is having the type of season that might earn him ACC Player of the Year honors, meanwhile, Filipowski is the clear favorite to be the ACC Freshman of the Year. As good as Filipowski has been, he hasn’t seen a big as dominant as Bacot, since taking on Purdue’s Zach Edey all the way back in November. Duke games are always legacy-defining games, and Bacot has made it known he wants to leave a legacy in Chapel Hill when his career comes to an end. A dominant performance in a UNC win would make Bacot 3-1 in Cameron, and that’s a good legacy to leave. The Tar Heels need to run their offense through Bacot, and then allow the guards to make their presence felt on that end of the floor.

  2. Limit Fouls/Turnovers: Both have been issues for Carolina as of late, as on Wednesday they committed 17 fouls, in a physical contest against Pittsburgh. Turnovers have been a problem away from home, and if they are tonight, it’s going to lead to a lot of easy buckets for Duke in transition. The return of Puff Johnson does expand the rotation for Hubert Davis, so he has more options if someone were to get into foul trouble. Given that Carolina starts two juniors, a senior, and two fifth-year seniors, their experience and maturity need to be on display tonight, when it comes to valuing the basketball, and not getting into costly foul trouble.

  3. Shot Selection: This ties in with winning the battle of the interior, as Carolina needs to stay away from settling for perimeter jump shots. This team is currently on pace to be the third-worst three-point shooting team in program history. It’s not that Carolina has bad shooters, it’s more about they haven’t had the same space to operate on the perimeter, to generate more quality looks from the outside. On Wednesday, Carolina was 5-27 from behind the three-point line, and that more than played a role in the ultimate result of the defeat to Pittsburgh. Carolina is going to have to make perimeter shots to win the game, but they need to take the shots that are in the rhythm of the offense, as opposed to forcing them from deep.

Series History: Carolina is 143-115 all-time against Duke, including winning the last two contests, and four out of the last five. In Durham, Carolina is 50-55 all-time, and they are 39-46 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The 39 wins inside the historic venue are the most by any opponent.


North Carolina - 35th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.9 (29th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 98.2 (51st)

Duke - 28th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.9 (34th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 96.4 (35th)


North Carolina - 43rd.

Duke - 23rd.

TV Info: Tonight’s game will tip off at 6:30 PM on ESPN.

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