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Heel Tough Blog: Duke Preview

Tonight, in historic Cameron Indoor Stadium, Carolina closes out the 2021-22 regular season, at Duke, as they attempt to ruin Coach K’s home finale. The Tar Heels are coming off a dramatic 88-79 overtime win on Monday against Syracuse, as they wrapped up a double-bye in the ACC Tournament, which will take place next week. At 22-8 (14-5), Carolina is currently in the NCAA Tournament field, but they still have to win their way in to feel safe come Selection Sunday.

Duke wrapped up the regular season ACC title with a win at Pittsburgh earlier this week, and at 26-4, they are playing to earn themselves a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils have lost once since the first meeting, as they fell at home to UVA, the Monday after winning in Chapel Hill. Paolo Banchero leads the team in scoring and rebounding, for a team that averages over 80 points per game, as all 5 starters average double figures scoring. They also shoot over 37% from behind the arc as a team, as they have improved their shooting as the season has progressed. Defensively, Duke is among the better teams in the ACC, as they only allow the second-fewest attempted and made free throws in all of college basketball.

The first matchup wasn’t even as close as the 87-67 final score indicated, as Duke jumped out to a 33-8 lead and never looked back. AJ Griffin dominated the game, scoring 27 points, as UNC had no answer for the freshman wing. Armando Bacot started the game out on Paolo Banchero and proceeded to pick up two quick fouls, and the Heels never recovered. Simply stated, in what’s going to be an emotional, and hostile Cameron, Carolina can’t afford to start the game down 25 if they have any hopes of winning.

There’s always hype and anticipation around any Duke game, but this one is going to be at a different level. ESPN had made sure to go out of their way to promote his final home game as Duke’s head coach, and it’s going to be a list of stars in the building to see the spectacle. Hubert Davis has downplayed all week long all the outside noise going into the game, but his players know what is at stake. Armando Bacot said that a win over Duke would be the ultimate bragging rights in the rivalry, and he’s not wrong. Here’s how Carolina can spoil the party tonight:

  1. Fast Start: Building a double-digit lead is asking for a lot, but Carolina is going to need to settle into the game as early as possible. The first few minutes are usually an up and down affair, as both teams try to work out the nerves, and you can imagine it’ll be a different level tonight. Back in January, Carolina wasn’t able to win away from Chapel Hill, and usually got blown out in the process. Fast forward now, and they have won four straight away from the Smith Center, all in different ways. They’ll need to draw on that experience tonight, as this will be the toughest road game maybe in the history of college basketball.

  2. Banchero/Griffin: You’d have to imagine that Carolina won’t put Bacot on Banchero, after what happened in the first matchup, but that doesn’t solve all their problems. No matter who UNC puts on either Banchero or Griffin, they don’t have a natural matchup to stop the other. It’s going to take a total team effort to not let Duke’s stud rookies completely dominate the game, which they are capable of. Puff Johnson’s length makes him a likely candidate to get significant minutes off the bench, to help Carolina defensively.

  3. Caleb Love: It isn’t fair to put the pressure on one player, but with UNC it’s pretty obvious they are a different team when Love plays at a high level, and when he struggles to put the ball in the basket. Love grew up a Duke fan, and long dreamed of playing for Coach K, before committing to Roy Williams at the time. In his first trip to Cameron last season, Love scored 25 points and handed out 7 assists. That was in an empty gym though. Tonight will be the best environment Love will ever play in at the college level, and maybe even professionally. He’ll need to be ready to play, from the opening tip to give Carolina a chance.

Series History: UNC holds a 141-115 margin in the best rivalry in sports, and they are 49-55 in Durham, including 38-46 in Cameron. Against Coach K, Carolina is 48-50, having won 19 times on the court that bears his name. Carolina won last season in Durham, 91-87.


UNC - 37th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.8 (25th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 99.0 (86th)

Duke - 5th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 1201. (5th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 93.4 (19th)


UNC - 38th.

Duke - 6th.

TV Info: Tonight’s game will start at 6 PM on ESPN.

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