After winning six straight Games, North Carolina has lost three of its last Four and now gets to travel to a surging Duke squad that has won five straight. The Blue Devils look primed for a No. 1 seed for March Madness.
Duke’s Schedule sets up quite nicely for the remainder of the regular season. North Carolina is the last ranked team they have to face (twice) and only two of those Games are on the road. Considering how Virginia has looked without Justin Andersen so far, the 1-seed in the ACC Tournament is still a possibility.
As for the Tar Heels, while their Schedule isn’t that much more difficult, they aren’t playing as well as Duke right now. If they can beat Duke at least once, a 4-seed or even a 3-seed will be possible, as long as they don’t slip up in their other Four Games.
UNC is coming off a road loss in which they allowed 89 points to a Pittsburgh team that only averages 69 per Game. That’s not a great result, and they’ll need to do much better than that against one of the best offenses in the country. While the Heels have a big team, stopping Jahlil Okafor will be their first priority. Okafor is the best freshman and probably big man in the country. He has an array of offensive moves and the size to deal with anyone on the boards. He’s coming off a 23-point, 13-rebound Game at Syracuse.
The Heels will probably use the bigger Kennedy Meeks on him, but Okafor’s quickness could give him an issue. It wouldn’t be a surprise for UNC to double team him often, something that Virginia had success with. In addition to Meeks, they have a number of big guys that can try to defend Okafor straight up.
Marcus Paige is the biggest factor for the Tar Heels in this Game as he leads the team in scoring. He finished with just eight points at Pittsburgh on Saturday. They will need to Scoreplenty again in this Game and Paige is one of the only ways that can happen. He’s just 2-of-12 shooting from distance in the last two Games. Meeks and Johnson will also need solid Games on the offensive end. It wouldn’t be surprising to see UNC go down low early in an effort to get Okafor some early fouls. Meeks has the bigger body and could move Okafor around, although that’s not something to count on. Okafor is smart and has yet to foul out all year.
OUtside of the big freshman, Duke has plenty of other guys that can fill it up. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have formed a great combo in the backcOurt. Cook is an excellent shooter and Jones’ ability to drive and kick only enhances that. Jones is averaging almost 8 assists per Game over his last Four and it doesn’t hurt that he is also a solid shooter. Throw in another freshman in forward Justise Winslow, and this team can score from all spots on the floor.
The Blue Devils will score, there’s no doubt about that, it’s whether the Tar Heels can keep up with them or not. With how UNC is playing, the answer to that is no, and it doesn’t help that this is their third straight road Game in a row.
Our Prediction – Duke by 4