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Heel Tough Blog: Duke Preview

Tonight in the Smith Center, the greatest rivalry in sports renews itself, as Carolina host Duke in a game which major NCAA Tournament implications on the line for UNC. The Tar Heels enter the rematch with the Blue Devils, playing arguably their best basketball of the season, as they’ve won three straight, and sit at 19-11 overall, and 11-8 in the ACC. Even with the recent improved play, UNC still finds itself on the outside looking in for the Big Dance, according to virtually every known bracketologist. A win over Duke tonight, qualifying as a Quad 1 win, would go a long way to solidifying themselves as an NCAA Tournament team.

Just like Carolina, Duke enters tonight’s game, also playing their best basketball of the season, as they bring with them to Chapel Hill, a five-game winning streak, and a chance to secure the all-important, double bye in next week’s ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils only have two players currently averaging double figures, led by Kyle Filipowski, his 14.8 points, and his 9.0 rebounds per game. The other player that’s averaging double figures, is Jeremy Roach, who averages 13.2 points per contest. This Duke team relies on its grit and toughness defensively, as they average over 39 rebounds per game. Like most teams, Duke has found it hard to win away from home this season, as they are 3-6 away from Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Jon Scheyer made ACC history, becoming the first coach in the history of the conference, to not lose a single home game, in his first season.

When you go back to the first matchup, Duke was able to win in large part because of Dereck Lively, his 14 rebounds, and his record-setting 8 blocks. UNC was able to hold Duke to 39% shooting for the game, and 36% shooting from behind the arc, as their defense was good enough to win the game. It was Carolina’s offense that really hindered them from winning, as they shot just 34% from the field, and combined with turnovers, and bad shots, allowed Duke to score 20 points in transition. It’s not a coincidence that in Carolina’s winning streak, the biggest reason why is their shot selection has improved. That’ll need to continue tonight if they want to secure a victory against their hated rival.

Not only is there pressure to win as Carolina seeks to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but it is also Senior Night in Chapel Hill, as Carolina says goodbye to Leaky Black, Justin McKoy, and quite possibly Armando Bacot. Armando does have a Covid year he can use if he wants to return to Carolina for a fifth year, but he told the media on Thursday, he’s not sure if he will be back in Carolina next season or not. Here’s how Carolina can secure a win against Duke, and send out the seniors with one final win in the Smith Center:

  1. Come Ready to Play: The Duke game always brings out the best Carolina crowd of the season, although this season has been one filled with great atmospheres all season long in the Dean Dome. The players are aware of what is on the line tonight, as a win makes their path much more visible to the Big Dance, while a loss puts them in a situation, needing to win the ACC Tournament next, to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Last season, Carolina was overwhelmed by the moment, as Duke walked away with a blowout victory in Chapel Hill. The Heels need to feed off the injury that is going to be in the building and get off to a quality start as they have in their last two games, against Virginia, and Florida State.

  2. Ball Movement: In recent games, we’ve seen Carolina’s shooting improved dramatically, and the biggest reason why, is that Carolina is now giving up good shots, for great shots. That all starts and ends with better ball movement, as the ball is no longer sticking, instead it's creating energy within the offense. This is as good a Duke defensive team since they last won the national championship in 2015, so Carolina needs to make them work, and be willing to pass up good shots, for great shots.

  3. Rebounding: Carolina lost the rebounding margin 46-40 in the first matchup, and that was a reason why Duke emerged with the win. Dereck Lively led the way with 14 rebounds, as he controlled the painted area. Armando Bacot did register a double-double back in February, but his impact was overshadowed by Lively. This has to be a game where Bacot is the best frontcourt player to give UNC a chance. The Heels need to rebound the way they have been as of late, as they’ve entered the top 10 in total rebounds, and defensive rebounds. Given the old-school nature of this Duke team, Carolina needs to win the battle of the bounds, to control the pace and tempo of the game.

  4. Perimeter Shooting: One way Carolina can soften up Duke’s defense is by making some outside shots. It might be unfair to ask the team to make double-digit three-pointers, but it wouldn’t hurt. On Monday against Florida State, Carolina had four different players make three, three-pointers, largely because of the ball movement, as they passed up good shots, for great shots. In the first matchup, Duke funneled the perimeter shots in the hands of Leaky Black, but he was unable to convert. If that happens tonight, let’s hope Black, and others are tough enough to make the shots required to make if you want to win this game.

  5. Free Throws: In the first matchup, Carolina only attempted 3 free throws, the fewest in the history of the program, since becoming an inaugural member of the ACC in the 1950s. That led to a rant from Hubert Davis in the postgame about the officiating in the game. It wasn’t quite the same “double standard” message that Coach K tried to get across when he was building his program back in the 1980s, but his message did resonate with fans on both sides. Expect to see a much more aggressive Tar Heel team tonight, as it’ll be hard for them to win if they only attempt 3 foul shots.

Series History; Carolina is 143-116 all-time against Duke, having won the last six matchups. Carolina is 65-38 against the Blue Devils in Chapel Hill, but only 20-17 in the Smith Center. This is only the fourth time in the last 160 matchups, that neither team is ranked, although this game does have major implications for UNC.


North Carolina - 46th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 112.8 (58th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 98.0 (43rd)

Duke - 33rd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 112.7 (61st) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 96.4 (31st)


North Carolina - 44th.

Duke - 23rd.

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

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