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We're already into February yet this is the first time these storied schools have played each other this season. They'll meet again in the final game of the regular season. With Syracuse still undefeated, it's a long shot for either of these schools to win the ACC, although Duke isn't entirely out of the picture at 8-3 if everything goes their way.
After a couple early conference road losses, the Blue Devils have looked like a top 10 team over the past month. Outside of an overtime loss at Syracuse, they have won six straight games by double digits. If Duke can win this game, it could set up a monumental battle when the Orange come to town in a week and a half.
As for the Tar Heels, they have also begun to make a run winning five straight games by double digits since losing at Virginia by 15. It's not like these wins are against scrubs either, beating teams like Clemson and NC State. Now with two home games against Duke and Pittsburgh, it's time for North Carolina to make a name for itself in the conference.
The question for UNC will be whether it can contain one of the best offenses in the country. While the Tar Heels are no slouches on the offensive end either, they don't have the consistency of the Blue Devils.
It starts with stud freshman Jabari Parker, who may be coming back to his early season form as of late. Parker is 20-of-27 from the field for 50 points over the last two games to go with 24 rebounds. His ability to shoot along with his strength down low is a problem for almost anyone. His likely matchup will be James Michael McAdoo (15 PPG, 6.8 RPG), who has the height to deal with Parker, but maybe not the strength. While it's unlikely McAdoo can keep Parker in check, it'll be important for McAdoo to work Parker as much as possible on the defensive end.
The interesting position to watch in this game will be the guard spot for Duke, who has mixed up its guards throughout the season. Rasheed Sulaimon and Tyler Thornton have gotten the start in two straight games with Quinn Cook and Andre Dawkins coming off the bench. Cook went for 21 points last game, so it wouldn't be surprising for him to be back in the starting lineup for this one.
Nevertheless, UNC will have its hands full. They don't have as deep of backcourt, but Marcus Paige (17 PPG) and Leslie McDonald (10.9 PPG) can also cause problems for the Duke defense. The two of them have 76 of UNC's 88 three-pointers this season.
Still, this game may be won or lost for the Tar Heels down low. Outside of McAdoo at forward, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson will be big factors going against the Duke big men. Whereas Parker receives a lot of attention, you can't forget about Rodney Hood (16.5 PPG) for the Blue Devils. Even Amile Jefferson isn't someone you can take lightly.
It's going to fall on North Carolina's leading scorers Paige and McAdoo to keep up here because not only are Parker and Hood a tad more consistent, Duke has a much more potent full roster. Cook, Sulaimon and even Dawkins can go off. The same can't be said about the rest of the Tar Heels.
If North Carolina wants a halfway decent seeding come March, this would be a nice win on its résumé.
Predicted Score - Duke 81 North Carolina 73
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