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Heel Tough Blog: Duke Preview

COVID has taken away a lot from sports fans in the last year or so, but it’s not going to take away college basketball’s greatest rivalry, as UNC will make the 8 mile trip to Durham to take on the Blue Devils. One thing COVID will take away is the atmosphere and the pageantry that makes the rivalry as special as it is, as there won’t be any fans inside Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night. This will be the first time since 1960 that the two Tobacco Road schools will meet, and neither one of them is ranked, snapping a streak of 153 straight games where either Duke or UNC were ranked.

Carolina is coming off a very disappointing, and frustrating loss at Clemson on Tuesday night. It was the first time that the Tar Heels had played in a week, and they looked like a team that was out of rhythm. Clemson’s defensive pressure was just too much for an inexperienced backcourt to overcome. Another thing that came out of the loss to Clemson, was that Armando Bacot, UNC’s leading scorer only attempted one shot, and scored just 1 point. Expect a more assertive effort to give Bacot the basketball.

Carolina Blitz

Like Carolina, Duke is coming off a disappointing loss at Miami on Monday. The loss to the Hurricanes snapped a 2 game winning streak for the Blue Devils, who everyone thought was starting to put it together. Duke’s record is the worst it has been entering the first matchup with UNC, since the 1994-95 season, where Coach K took a leave of absence due to a back injury. Their 7-6 mark, (5-4 in the ACC), means that they aren’t a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, which will be held in Indianapolis next month. A COVID pause back in December is a big reason as to why they haven’t progressed like they were expected to when the season began. Matthew Hurt has had a breakout sophomore season so far, leading the Blue Devils (18.8 ppg), and rebounding (7.5 rpg) as he made the right decision to come back to Durham for another season. Hurt is one of three Duke players to average double figures scoring, as he’s joined by D.J. Steward (13.5), and Jalen Johnson (12.1), are the others that have had success scoring the basketball. Duke’s roster doesn’t lack talent, but with the average experience of the roster just at 0.9 years, it’s no wonder why they’ve struggled this season.

When you commit to play for Roy Williams and North Carolina, you’re signing up to play in these types of high profile matchups. Make no mistake, despite neither team being ranked, this is as big a game in this rivalry in recent memory. Here’s what it’s going to take for Carolina to earn a road win in Durham on Saturday:

  1. Experience: Neither team has an abundance of experience, but Carolina does have more guys that have played in this rivalry than Duke has. Andrew Platek, Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot have all experienced the nerves and emotions that go into a Duke game. Meanwhile for the Blue Devils, only Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore and Jordan Goldwire have been in this position before. Usually in this game, an unsung hero makes a play or two, to swing the result one way or another. We’ve seen games this year where Black and Platek have lifted Carolina to victory. Don’t be surprised if one of the aforementioned Tar Heels, who have played in this setting before, propel UNC to a win in Cameron.

  2. Rebounding/Second Chance Points: Carolina only registered 7 offensive rebounds, which they turned into only 6 second chance points in the loss at Clemson on Tuesday. As much emphasis as Roy Williams puts on that area of the game, expect Carolina to play with more urgency in that department. Duke doesn’t have the size or the depth to compete with the Tar Heels in the post area, so UNC should be able to exploit that weakness of the Blue Devils.

  3. Guard Play: One of things about this rivalry, is that it reveals how to win games on the big stage, a prelude to the NCAA Tournament. As much as UNC needs to play through Armando Bacot, and his front-court mates, guard play will go a long way to determining who wins this game. At Clemson, Caleb Love and R.J. Davis was overmatched by the Tigers physicality on the perimeter. That won’t be the case when facing off against D.J. Steward, Jeremy Roach, and company. We’ve seen freshmen have big games for UNC in Durham, don’t be surprised to see another this time around too.

Series History: Carolina leads the all-time series against Duke 139-114, with both teams having split the last 10 meetings. The last time Carolina won in Durham was in 2019, as #8 UNC took down then #1 Duke with President Obama in attendance. Roy Williams is just 17-27 against Coach K, since returning to Chapel Hill. Carolina will seek to avoid a 4 game losing streak in the rivalry since 2013-2015.


UNC - 44th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 108.7 (64th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 92.1 (29th)

Duke - 30th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 112.6 (27th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.3 (48th)


UNC - 55th.

Duke - 66th.

TV Info: With this being the sport’s premier rivalry, ESPN will have the broadcast with a tip time scheduled for 6 pm.

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