It’s only February and yet the ACC is all but locked up. Surprisingly, the team in first (and second) is neither Duke nor North Carolina. The Tar Heels already have five Conference losses and are jammed into the standings while the Blue Devils are arguably the second-best team behind Virginia with three losses.
UNC was on a three-Game losing streak before beating lowly Pittsburgh on Saturday, but Duke may be in a more precarious position. The Blue Devils inexplicably lost a St. John’s over the weekend, a team that still doesn’t have a win in the Big East. They had won their previous three road Games, but were never in control against the Johnnies and couldn’t steal a win late.
Duke hasn’t been good on the road this season, but it’s also showed up against teams like Miami and Wake Forest and losing back-to-back Games isn’t a thing Coach K usually does. On the other end of that, Duke already has road losses to both Boston College and NC State. The Heels are at home, but they’ve already lost two in Chapel Hill, the first to Wofford and then more recently to NC State. This team has struggled against anyone with a good defense, although luckily for the Heels, that’s not what Duke is good at.
The Tar Heels don’t shoot it well from deep (34.9%), but that’s not why they have the second-most efficient offense in the ACC (behind Duke). They are once again one of the best in the country at getting offensive boards and that’s kind of it. On the other end of that, Duke struggles to rebound on the defensive end and doesn’t play good defense beyond the perimeter. Of course, the Blue Devils also have a huge advantage on the offensive end of the cOurt with a 56.3% effective field goal rate. UNC doesn’t do anything well defensively and often gives up huge shooting Games, which has resulted in numerous losses (NC State went 15-of-30 from 3 in the home loss).
The biggest problem for the Heels (and everyone that plays Duke) will be trying to stop Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. Those guys are as dominant as it comes in the paint and average a combined 35.8 points and 20.8 boards per Game. LUke Maye is going to have a major issue against them and the same goes for Cameron Johnson, who gives up even more size. The Heels may play a lot of zone so that will help in some aspects, but that doesn’t mean Maye and Johnson will suddenly stop an unstoppable force. That said, expect UNC to play bigs Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley a bit more than usual.
At the other positions, UNC has some pieces to thwart Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen and Gary Trent. The question is whom Theo Pinson will focus on because all of Duke’s guards can score. It may end up being Duval, who runs the show for the Blue Devils, although that will leave Trent or Allen with a size advantage on their respective defenders (Joel Berry and Kenny Williams).
At the end of the day, this Game will probably come down to what Joel Berry can do because he’s what makes the Heels run. When he struggles, the offense doesn’t really have anyone else that’s going to stand out in a Game like this. That goes for Maye because even with 18.3 points and 10.3 boards per Game, he tends to struggle against bigger, athletic players. Duke has the better talent, but that doesn’t make them a good defensive team. The Heels are at home and if they can get enough from Berry and Johnson, they’ll be in a decent position to give Duke another road loss.
Our Pick – Duke +2