Tonight the greatest rivalry in sports renews itself, as Duke makes one last trip to Chapel Hill under Coach K. The last time we saw the Tar Heels they gutted out a much-needed 90-83 overtime win over Louisville, in a hostile KFC Yum Center. The win was Carolina’s fourth straight, setting up tonight’s showdown with the Blue Devils, with first place on the line.
Duke brings with them an 18-3 record, and they are 8-2 in the ACC, sitting just .5 half-game up on Carolina. They are led by standout freshman, Paolo Banchero, who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. Outside of Banchero, Duke also receives contributions from Wendell Moore Jr, Mark Williams, and when Trevor Keels is healthy, they are a different team on both ends of the floor. Entering tonight, Duke leads the conference in field goal percentage defense, three-point field goal percentage, and is second in scoring defense. All while boasting an offense that averages over 80 points per game. Simply put, Duke will be the best team Carolina has seen so far this season and will challenge the Tar Heels in virtually every area of the game.
After Tuesday’s win at Louisville, the conversation around this Tar Heel team, has been had they finally turned the corner. Sitting at 16-6, and 8-3 in the conference, would lead you to believe they have, but tonight will be the ultimate test of that belief. The Tar Heels have yet to beat a team that qualifies as a Quad 1 win, which is why they are not safely in the NCAA Tournament field as of now. A win over their arch-rival, would validate their recent play, and set the team up for a nice stretch to close down the ACC season.
Start Fast: There’s always different energy in the building for the game against Duke, but with this being Coach K’s final time in the Smith Center, it’ll be extra special. This might be the best environment in the history of the building, and Carolina needs to use that to its advantage. Against NC State, they bottled up all the energy and emotion in the building and rode that to a blowout win over the Wolfpack. The Tar Heels need to make Duke play the game the way they want to, and that's only possible if they take control of the game after it tips off.
Defend Without Fouling: There isn’t a player on the Carolina roster that can adequately defend Duke’s Paolo Banchero, which is going to put pressure on Carolina to defend with fouling, especially considering that Hubert Davis is playing a tight rotation. You can expect that Carolina will throw multiple defenders at Banchero, to throw off his rhythm, and make it harder for him to get his offense. That means that whoever is matched up with Banchero, will need to defend him, without fouling, because Carolina isn’t deep enough to play their reserves heavy minutes.
Win Battle of the Boards: With all of Duke’s size and length, they are going to pose a problem for UNC on the backboards. In recent years, Carolina has controlled the game by dominating the glass, and tonight is no different. Like Carolina, Duke’s rebounding is spread across the roster, as 5 players average at least 3.5 rebounds per game. We know Armando Bacot is going to get his, but he’s going to need help from everyone tonight. Brady Manek has been more assertive since being inserted into the starting lineup, and he’ll need to continue that today. Also, Leaky Black and the guards will need to get the boards, as it’s going to take a team effort to win the battle of the boards.
Caleb Love: It isn’t fair to say the game comes down to just one player, but Carolina needs the best version of Caleb Love if they want to win tonight. The good news is he has a history of playing well against Duke, as he recorded 25 points and 7 assists in Durham, 18 points, and 7 seven assists in Chapel Hill last season. Love grew up a Duke fan, so this game means a lot to him on a personal level. Love has been a different player at home this season, he’ll need to be the catalyst tonight for the Tar Heels.
Series History: Don’t let the media try to persuade otherwise, this is still the best rivalry in all of sports. Carolina leads the all-time series 141-114 and is 65-37 in Chapel Hill while owning a 20-16 record in the Smith Center. The Tar Heels are 48-49 against Coach K Duke-led teams. Head coach, Hubert Davis was 6-5 in his career against the Blue Devils.
UNC - 38th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.3 (24th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.7 (79th)
Duke - 12th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 115.0 (16th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 90.3 (14)
UNC - 35th.
Duke - 11th.
TV Info: Tonight’s game will start at 6 PM on ESPN, with College GameDay live from the Dean Dome starting at 11 AM.
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