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North Carolina

at

Duke

College Basketball Pick

2/9/17

This may not be the top-five matchup that some people projected ahead of the season, but this game still has plenty of relevance. Coach K is back for Duke and there's no better way for this team to put its footprint back on the national scene than in this game. Sure, the Blue Devils are still talked about plenty, but this has been far from one of the best teams in the nation over the past month. As for North Carolina, this is the type of win that would give it a shot at a 1-seed come tournament time. In addition, the Tar Heels sit alone atop the ACC standings and would better their chances with a road win here.

But there are plenty of questions for both sides. For the road team, UNC hasn't played good in a couple weeks. The Tar Heels lost comfortably at Miami and then had trouble disposing Pitt and Notre Dame in their last two wins. Their best road wins this season include Clemson and Wake Forest, with losses at Georgia Tech and Miami filtering in. On the other end, it isn't much different. The Blue Devils have won three straight, but still have four losses in conference play and haven't dominated anyone since the Georgia Tech game a month ago. Their recent wins have been nice, at Wake and Notre Dame, but they also struggled at home against Pitt. Everyone will point to Coach K being the turning point, but it can't be forgotten that this team lost by 14 at Virginia Tech with K on the bench.

The biggest difference in this game is the size of North Carolina. The Heels are the best in the ACC at rebounding, while Duke is mediocre at best. Finding a way to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley will be Duke's toughest test in this game. The Blue Devils may have to go big with Amile Jefferson and Harry Giles both getting minutes at the same time and Marques Bolden may even see the court. That would lead to Jayson Tatum getting time at the three-spot a little more so he can deal with similarly sized Justin Jackson. If the Blue Devils have trouble on the glass, they'll likely turn to that lineup, but that's not a guarantee as Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard are all still big for guards.

That's where Duke's advantage comes in as Joel Berry, Nate Britt and Kenny Williams are by no means elite defenders, which means Allen and Kennard can have success. Jackson may even have to defend Kennard at one point, which would be a tough matchup for him, even if he has the length to give Kennard problems. Duke will likely play some zone defense in this game because UNC has struggled to shoot the ball all year. That would give them the opportunity to double team any of UNC's bigs down low. On the outside, only Berry and Jackson have been consistent shooters for the Heels. An important piece could end up being Theo Pinson, who has missed the last few games to an ankle injury. He's not an absolute difference maker, but he would be a huge help in trying to deal with someone like Kennard or Allen.

These teams battled it out in two games last year with UNC winning in Durham and Duke winning in Chapel Hill. With the Blue Devils still trying to find themselves, that could easily be the case again.

Our Pick - North Carolina +2.5

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