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Heel Tough Blog: Duke Preview

The Game Nashville

Tonight, the greatest rivalry in sports is ready to write its latest chapter, as North Carolina hosts Duke in another top 10 showdown. Carolina is 17-4 (9-1) and is coming off their first loss in ACC play after losing at Georgia Tech earlier in the week. It was UNC's first loss in 41 days, as they went on the longest winning streak in over six years. 

Duke entered the season with the same expectations Carolina was burdened with last year, as they were the overwhelming favorite in the preseason to win the ACC, make a Final Four, and win a national championship. At 16-4 (7-2), all those goals are still attainable, but after losing three games to unranked competition, it was fair to question this team’s ability to compete with the best in college basketball. Kyle Filipowski leads Duke in scoring and rebounding, as he’s become the focal point again. He has help though, as four other Duke players average double figures scoring, giving Jon Scheyer a well-balanced offensive attack. As you can imagine, Duke is a quality perimeter shooting team, as they shoot 39% from deep, among the best marks in the country. 

Hubert Davis may have coached Carolina to arguably the two biggest wins in the history of the rivalry, but he has lost both games home games against Duke. As Roy Williams struggled with early on, Davis doesn’t want to get the reputation of not being able to beat its biggest rival at home. 

For the first time in over a month, the Tar Heels are tasked with bouncing back after a defeat, and not letting Tuesday’s loss turn into two. After the team got back from Atlanta, they held nearly a two-hour meeting to help get them ready for this game. Here; 's how they bounce back in a big way against their arch-rival on the biggest stage in the regular season: 

  1. Davis, Bacot & Ingram Play Well: There’s that old saying that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and that means that Carolina needs their best players, R.J. Davis, Armando Bacot, and Harrison Ingram to perform at a high level. Davis and Bacot know what to expect, and won’t be taken aback by the energy and emotion in the building later tonight. There’s also pressure for Davis and Bacot to go out with a win, as a loss would make Bacot 1-4 at home against Duke, and Davis would be 1-3. Ingram’s matchup with Mark Mithcell feels like the difference-maker in this game, and he needs to play better offensively than he has in recent games. It’s fair to expect Ingram to produce on the glass like he has all season long, to capitalize on opportunities at the rim, and convert on foul shots. As great as R.J. Davis is, he can’t win this game on his own and needs Bacot to be a threat on the post, and Ingram to do all the things that make him the player that he is. This game is all about legacy, if they play at a high level, it’ll change their legacies forever. 

  2. Limit First-Half Turnovers: Turnovers have been a problem for Carolina away from home in recent games, and hopefully, that doesn’t carry over into this game. There will be the nerves that always exist in a game like this, but Carolina needs to play under control until those nerves go away. They can’t afford another double-digit turnover first half if they want to be in the game at the half. 

  3. Defend Perimeter: As mentioned above, Duke is a quality perimeter shooting team, shooting 39% from deep as a team. Five players in Duke’s rotation shoot 38% or better from deep, and there will be four capable perimeter shooters on the floor at a given time. Jon Scheyer will run some 5-out offense throughout the game, meaning that Carolina’s rotations need to be as sharp as they’ve been in any game all season long and be prepared to contest perimeter shots without fouling. After allowing Georgia Tech to shoot 9-20 from deep on Tuesday night, Carolina will be anxious to respond in that department tonight. 

  4. Rebounding: Under Roy Williams, Carolina would always put itself in a position to win the game, by dominating the glass. It’s not likely that Carolina will overwhelm Duke on the backboards, but they are the better rebounding team, and if that carries over onto the court, it will increase Carolina’s chances of winning. After a couple of below average performances, expect Armando Bacot to deliver a vintage effort, in hopes of leading Carolina to victory. 

Series History: 

  • This is the 49th time that Duke and UNC have met as top-10 teams, the most top-10 meetings in the history of college basketball, with them splitting the previous 28 contests. UNC is 143-117 all-time against Duke and is 65-39 in Chapel Hill, but just 20-18 in the Smith Center, having lost back-to-back games. 


  • North Carolina - 7th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 118.0 (19th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 92.7 (4th)

  • Duke - 12th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 120.1 (9th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.5 (30th)


  • North Carolina - 9th. 

  • Duke - 17th.

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

The Four Corners Podcast: 


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