This Game has little meaning in a national sense. Both Duke and North Carolina are likely headed to a two- or three-seed for the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens here. This result may change the overall ACC standings, but both teams are already close to being set for a double-bye. This Game is simply for pride in the battle along Tobacco Road.
The Tar Heels won the first meeting at the beginning of February, although the Blue Devils led for almost the entire first half. UNC got the win by crashing the glass (20 offensive boards), not turning it over (two turnovers) and keeping every Duke player in check, namely Grayson Allen, who finished 2-of-8 from long range.
In addition to this Game being in Durham, Duke has played much better defense since that loss to UNC. The Blue Devils have held their last five opponents to 64 points or less and that includes Monday’s loss at Virginia Tech. Their zone has shredded defenses as they’re playing with more intensity led by Allen at the top. The bad thing for the Heels is that they aren’t a great shooting team. The good thing is that they should continue to rack up offensive boards because that’s the main problem when rolling with a zone as it’s hard to box guys out when you’re not specifically marking them.
North Carolina didn’t shoot well in that first Game yet still reached 82 points due to offensive boards and Kenny Williams catching fire with six threes. But while UNC is playing well, this is a tough spot against a team that has more talent at almost every position. Guys like Joel Berry, Cameron Johnson and Theo Pinson give experience for the Heels, but sometimes that’s not enough, especially if the shots aren’t falling. If Berry struggles from deep again, which is more than possible with Allen at the top of the zone, there will be issues for this offense. LUke Maye didn’t do much in that first Game, but he’s a guy that could operate at the top of the key.
As for the Blue Devils, their only loss at home this season came to Virginia and UNC doesn’t pose that same defensive threat. In fact, UNC doesn’t rate well in many defensive categories outside of rebounding. Even if Duke shoots like it did last Game (9-of-25 from 3), it will still have a chance to put 80 points on the board. The Heels simply don’t have the size to deal with the combo of Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter down low. Bagley was good in that first Game with 15 points, 16 boards and Four assists, but he wasn’t dominant. The interesting thing is that the offense isn’t clicking as much with Bagley on the floor and that was seen in the loss to Virginia Tech. When Bagley takes over, Allen and Carter kind of take a backseat offensively. Two more freshmen Gary Trent and Trevon Duval will have the task of matching what Berry does for UNC.
Both teams are playing well and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Tar Heels stole another win, but the Blue Devils have more talent all around. Throw in this Game being at Cameron Indoor and it’ll be hard to go against the home team. Winning by double digits is another question, but it’ll be more than possible if UNC struggles to connect from deep.
Our Pick – North Carolina +7