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Heel Tough Blog: NCAA Tournament Final Four - Duke Preview

Tonight the greatest rivalry in all of sports, writes a new chapter in its long storied history, as North Carolina meets Duke in the second national semifinal, as the Final Four in New Orleans. This is the first time the two storied programs have met in the NCAA Tournament, but this isn’t the first time, they’ve met in the postseason, as they met back in the 1971 NIT, an event later won by the Tar Heels.

By now you know the Duke coach is in his final season on the bench, with his sights set on a sixth national championship. Their run to the Final Four wasn’t improbable but after losing at home to Carolina in the regular-season finale, and then in the ACC Tournament final, it didn’t seem likely that the Blue Devils would come out of the West Region, and be playing for a national title. They got to New Orleans after taking down Texas Tech, and Arkansas last weekend in San Fransisco, and have looked the form of a national champion level team. Duke is led in scoring by sensational freshman Paolo Banchero, as he is one of the 5 players on the team that averages doubles figures scoring. The Blue Devils are 8th in the country in scoring offense per game and boast the #1 offense according to KenPom. Defensively, they limit opponents to only 11.7 free throw attempts, which is 2nd fewest in the NCAA.

The Tar Heels may be an 8 seed, but their run to the Final Four, shouldn’t qualify them as a Cinderella team. Dating back to the beginning of February, they’ve only lost 3 times, and have beaten the likes of Duke, Baylor, and UCLA on their way to turning their season around, and making it to New Orleans. Hubert Davis has said all season long, that he wanted the players to have moments as he had as a player at UNC, and given this NCAA Tournament run, it’s safe to say they have achieved just that.

In their four wins so far during the NCAA Tournament, Carolina has had four different leading scorers, the first time that has happened in the history of the program. That offensive balance is a big reason why they are still playing and has proven to be a difficult matchup for all of their opponents so far. Tonight’s opponent is a familiar one, as this is the third time they’ve met Duke this season, but one thing remains the same, the Tar Heels will have to play their best to advance to the national title game on Monday night:

  1. Stay Out of Foul Trouble: We’ve seen how important the “Iron 5” as the starters are known, going back to the game against Baylor, where Carolina lost Brady Manek to ejection, and Caleb Love to fouling out. Hubert Davis is going to have to rely heavily on his starters tonight if they hope to win, so that means that the starters will have to play defense without fouling. After the first matchup, you could say that Carolina learned their lesson, and won’t put Armando Bacot on Banchero tonight. That means that Carolina’s guards, along with Leaky Black, will have to defend at a high level, and not foul in the process.

  2. Make Perimeter Shots: Before the game against Saint Peter’s, Carolina had made double-digit three-pointers, in the three games prior. UNC was able to get past the Cinderella Peacocks, without shooting well from the outside, but that won’t be the case tonight. This will be the first time any player on Carolina’s roster has played in a dome, so there will be an adjustment from the depth perception standpoint, but that will only be an excuse as Carolina will need to make anywhere from 8-10 triples, to give themselves a chance to win tonight.

  3. Rebounding: Duke may only rank 48th in rebounding, but their size and length will pose a problem for Carolina tonight. We all know that Armando Bacot will get his fair share of rebounds, but everyone else will need to pitch in. If Carolina can dominate the glass, they can dictate the pace of the game, which was a big reason they won in Cameron Indoor Stadium back in March.

UNC in the Final Four: This marks the 21st Final Four for Carolina, which is the most all time. Hubert Davis becomes the first since Bill Guthridge to make the Final Four in his first season. This is also the third time, UNC has made the Final Four when it has been hosted in New Orleans. The two other times, UNC cut down the nets in 1982 and 1993.

Series History: Carolina owns a 142-115 mark against Duke all-time. In neutral-site venues, UNC is 27-22, with a 3-3 record in neutral-site games outside of the state of North Carolina. Carolina is 49-50 against Coach K led teams.


UNC - 16th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.4 (18th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.7 (39th)

Duke - 8th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 121.0 (1st) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 95.6 (45th)

TV Info: Tonight’s game is scheduled to tip-off at 8:49 PM on TBS.

The Four Corners Podcast:

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