The final weekend of the regular season is here, which it’s time for UNC to renew their rivalry with Duke, this time in Chapel Hill. Usually the final matchup between these two storied program, means they are battling for an ACC regular season title, or a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Instead both are trying to win their way into March Madness. For Carolina, they have margin for error, as they currently sit at 15-9, including 9-6 in the ACC. Per his latest projections, Joe Lunardi from ESPN currently has the Tar Heels as a 10 seed. A loss to Duke doesn’t move Carolina out of the field, but it puts more pressure to perform at next week’s ACC Tournament.
As for Duke, they are currently on the outside looking in, as they are only 11-10 overall, with a pedestrian 9-8 record in conference play. Joe Lunardi currently has them as one of his First Four Out, meaning there is a pathway for this team to win their way into the field of 68, starting on Saturday. After winning 4 straight games to get themselves into NCAA Tournament discussion, Duke has lost back to back games to Louisville and Georgia Tech respectively. The youth of Blue Devils has been on display in both those losses, and teams have limited Matthew Hurt, like Carolina did back in February. Nonetheless, Coach K will have guys ready to play at a high level, as he did in the first matchup of the season.
In February there was all the talk about how both teams weren’t ranked, and how with their being no fans the rivalry wouldn’t be the same. Then when the ball was tossed in the air, it felt like any other Duke-Carolina matchup. As we get ready for Saturday’s rematch, again neither team is ranked, and neither is a sure thing to play in the NCAA Tournament, but this is the greatest rivalry in sports, and remember it always delivers.
A lot has been said about UNC’s inconsistent play this season, which is true, they haven’t put it all together like we expected them to at this point in this season. What has been missed in that, is that Roy Williams has been able to get this team to respond after disappointing defeats. UNC is coming off a frustrating loss at Syracuse on Monday night, less than 48 hours after taking down #11 Florida State in Chapel Hill. Carolina lost at Clemson before taking down Duke a couple of weeks ago, here’s how the Tar Heels can earn a regular season sweep of the Blue Devils:
Consistent Backcourt Play: A lot of the inconsistent play, stems from the youth in the backcourt. Carolina is starting an all freshman backcourt for the first time since 2007-08, and their first two options off the bench are both freshmen as well. In the game at Cameron though, you wouldn’t have thought that Caleb Love and Kerwin Walton were first timers in this rivalry. Love was the best player on the floor that night for either team, scoring 25 points and handing out 7 assists. Walton meanwhile, went 4-4 from behind the three point line. While it’s hard to ask those 2 guys to produce like that once again, the winner of this game will be determined by which backcourt plays the best. In all of Carolina’s big wins this season, their freshmen rose to the occasion, they’ll need to do that again on Saturday.
Turnovers: In their last 3 games, Carolina has committed 60 turnovers. That’s not a recipe for success for any team, let alone one that struggles to shoot the basketball like this one does. To go along with committing turnovers, Carolina’s defense isn’t forcing any to balance out the ones they commit. In the first meeting, while Carolina committed 16 turnovers, they forced 15 Duke turnovers, and were able to convert them into easy baskets in transition. This team is going to turn the ball over, there’s no way of getting around that, but they’ll need to replicate the success from the first matchup to even things out.
Limit Matthew Hurt: In their first matchup, Carolina did a fantastic job of limiting arguably the best post player in the ACC. Hurt scored only 7 points before eventually fouling out in the final stages of the second half. At the time, UNC was rolling with Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks and Day’Ron Sharpe. Now Walker Kessler has joined the fold, and is better suited to play on the perimeter, where Hurt can step out and shoot it. If UNC limits the damage he does, like they did in Durham, there’s no reason they can’t win this game.
Play Off the Crowd: In the comeback over Florida State, the limited crowd allowed in the Smith Center played a larger part than anyone expected going into the game. Duke hasn’t played in front of a crowd like they’ll see on Saturday. Having fans inside the Dean Dome will allow there to be some pageantry that makes this rivalry what it is, but it gives the Tar Heels a home court advantage, which we’ve seen already pay off this season.
Series History: UNC leads the all time series 140-114, including having gone 64-37 in Chapel Hill. This is the first time the two teams have met consecutively and neither team was ranked, since 1955. Under Roy Williams, Carolina is 17-22 against the Blue Devils.
UNC - 33rd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 109.4 (64th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 91.1 (21st)
Duke - 38th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 115.2 (14th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.8 (101st)
UNC - 44th
Duke - 58th
TV Info: Saturday’s rematch will once again be televised on ESPN starting at 6 pm. In addition to ESPN’s coverage, there will be an alternate viewing option on ACC Network, also starting at 6 pm.
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