It’s the final weekend of the regular season, and that means it’s time for Caroline to renew their historic rivalry with Duke. Earlier this week, the Tar Heels beat Wake Forest 93-83 to earn their third straight win, and send the seniors with a win on their home floor. After a brutal stretch of losses in February, including one to Duke, Carolina is feeling confident for the first time all season long.
When these two teams got together back in February, they played another instant classic that defines this rivalry. The Tar Heels at 10-12 played to their talent level, and controlled the game for the first 36 minutes. Then Tre Jones happened. The sophomore guard who got vastly outplayed by Coby White last year, scored 15 straight points to rally the Blue Devils from 13 down to force overtime. In overtime, Duke rallied once again and hit a layup at the buzzer to break the Tar Heels heart once more. The comeback was defined by Carolina missed 17 free throws, and turned it over 18 times.
Duke hasn’t played great as of late, but they are still a team more than worthy of cutting down the nets in April. They are led by the freshman big man Vernon Carey Jr. Vernon is averaging over 17 points per game, while shooting 57% from the floor. In Chapel Hill he scored 18 points, but fouled out well before the end of regulation. Not only is he their leading scorer, he’s also their leading rebounder at over 8 per game. Tre Jones leads them in assist, but his leadership is the most important part he brings to this team. Duke leads the ACC in scoring, but their defense has been suspect recently, as Coach K is once again trying to get his young team to buy in more defensively.
We thought that once this team won, we’d see a different team, and we have. This team is confident, and with no pressure on them to win they can play loose. We’ve seen they are more than capable of playing with Duke already, and with more confidence it’s not unlikely to think they can win in Cameron Indoor Stadium. To do so, here’s what they’ve got to do:
Convert on FT: If they would’ve done this in the first matchup, maybe the season would’ve turned around much quicker. In the last three wins, they’ve been better than their season average at the foul line. There will be the usual noise and distractions inside Cameron, but you’ve just got to be as focused as possible. Garrison Brooks didn’t make a single foul shot in the first matchup, if he gets to the line like he’s capable of, he’ll need to execute.
Limit the Turnovers: As aforementioned, Carolina committed 18 miscues in February. Duke converted that into 25 points, the most Carolina has allowed off their turnovers this season. If that happens in this game, Duke will run Carolina out of the gym this time. They’ve limited the turnovers during the winning streak, and that needs to continue. For that to happen they need to be strong with ball on the perimeter, and make smart crisp passes into the post.
High Level Offense: We’ve seen over the last week and a half, and they’ll need to bring it again. Carolina has scored 90 or more in back to back games, for the first time this season. They scored 58 in the second half on Tuesday. The only way they have a cutoff winning this game, is if they score at a premium level. It also would help if they can make a handful of three pointers, and make Duke respect their perimeter shooting.
Series History: Carolina leads the all time series 139-113. On the road the Tar Heels are 48-54, and in Cameron they are 37-45. This will be the 153 straight contest that at least one of the two teams are ranked. Roy Williams is 16-21 as the UNC head coach, having won in Durham 7 times.
UNC - 84th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 107.5 ( 76th ) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 98.0 ( 91st )
Duke - 6th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.9 ( 10th ) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 90.2 ( 8th )
TV Info: The game that always delivers will deliver once more at 6 pm, with ESPN carrying coverage. There won’t be any local coverage of the game.