Duke (11-10, 9-8) vs. North Carolina (15-9, 9-6)
Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Saturday, 6 p.m. EST
BOTTOM LINE: Duke seeks revenge on North Carolina after dropping the first matchup in Durham. The teams last went at it on Feb. 6, when Duke made only four foul shots on seven attempts while the Tar Heels went 13 for 22 en route to the 91-87 victory.
SQUAD LEADERS: Matthew Hurt is averaging 18.9 points and 6.2 rebounds to lead the way for the Blue Devils. DJ Steward is also a key contributor, putting up 12.9 points per game. The Tar Heels have been led by Armando Bacot, who is averaging 11.5 points and 7.7 rebounds.MIGHTY MATTHEW: Hurt has connected on 45.9 percent of the 109 3-pointers he’s attempted and has made 13 of 25 over his last five games. He’s also converted 71 percent of his foul shots this season.
THREAT FROM DEEP: Duke’s Steward has attempted 110 3-pointers and connected on 33.6 percent of them, and is 6 for 22 over his last three games.
ASSIST-TO-FG RATIO: The Blue Devils have recently used assists to create buckets more often than the Heels. North Carolina has an assist on 40 of 74 field goals (54.1 percent) across its past three matchups while Duke has assists on 63 of 90 field goals (70 percent) during its past three games.
DID YOU KNOW: North Carolina is ranked first among Division I teams with an offensive rebound percentage of 40.9 percent. The Tar Heels have averaged 15.7 offensive boards per game and 18.4 per game over their last five games.
UNC is also looking to sweep the regular season series between the two teams for the second time in three years, doing so in 2018-19. Duke swept the regular season last year, winning in comeback fashion in Chapel Hill and then in the season finale.
The Tar Heels won the first meeting this season back in Durham, leading from the start before holding off a late Duke push. But since then, Duke has played better and is doing so without Jalen Johnson and instead with the rise of Matthew Hurt. The Blue Devils are also seeing Mark Williams give them valuable minutes in the post as a solid defender, which could impact Saturday’s game.
Key to Victory for UNC
Have to shoot better. The Tar Heels have had their fair share of struggles shooting the basketball this season and if that happens on Saturday, it could be another loss. UNC came out hot against Syracuse but then hit a slow point in the game where they struggled to score. Against Florida State, they started real slow before turning it on in the second half.
I’d love to see the Tar Heels come out and play a consistent game from start to finish including shooting it well. Guards Kerwin Walton and Caleb Love have been slumping lately, so getting them going would be a good start….
Something to Watch
In the last meeting UNC dominated in the paint and did so with Day’Ron Sharpe, Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot. But lately it’s been freshman Walker Kessler who has been the one playing the best in the paint. Kessler is coming off a week in which he was named the ACC Freshman of the Year and has given the Tar Heels a boost.
But on the other side, freshman Mark Williams has provided a boost for the Blue Devils and a legit threat in the paint. Williams wasn’t a big factor in the last meeting but this time around it could be different.
A Desperate Duke Squad
Duke’s latest loss on Tuesday, an 81-77 OT defeat to Georgia Tech has put even more pressure on them to beat North Carolina. Another loss at the hands of the Tar Heels would mean the Blue Devils will likely be sitting out March Madness this season, unless they win next week’s ACC Tournament.
Wendell Moore Jr. and Mark Williams led the way with 20 points each in a losing effort versus the Yellow Jackets, while leading scorer Matthew Hurt finished with just 12 points after fouling out with 6:14 left in regulation. Hurt was also a non-factor in Duke’s first meeting with UNC this year, a 91-87 defeat, fouling out after racking up only 7 points.
After a four-game winning streak that had everyone convinced they were tournament bound, the Blue Devils have now lost back-to-back outings, and continue to be plagued by a bad defense. They yielded a 45.3% field goal percentage to Georgia Tech shooters, and were beaten again on the glass. Duke ranks 12th in the conference in opponent points per game and 11th in defensive rebounding.
Which Tar Heels Team Will Show Up?
UNC meanwhile, is coming off a 2-point loss to Syracuse last time out, after knocking off #11 Florida State in their previous contest. The Tar Heels have alternated wins and losses over their last four outings, also beating Louisville by 45, but losing to a bad Marquette team by 13.
Armando Bacot led the way against the Orange with 18 points and 15 rebounds, while Garrison Brooks splashed 11, and Caleb Love added 10. North Carolina was plus 20 in the rebounding department, but a 38.2% field-goal percentage, including 4-of-20 from beyond the arc, and 20 turnovers were too much to overcome.
Strong rebounding numbers are nothing new to the Tar Heels, as they lead the entire nation in offensive boards. They feature one of the most talented group of bigs in college basketball, with Bacot, Brooks and Day’Ron Sharpe all averaging double-digit points and at least 7 rebounds per game.
The trio combined for 39 points and 21 boards in their first meeting with Duke, helping the Tar Heels gobble up 14 offensive rebounds that led to multiple second chance buckets.
Roll With UNC
This is perhaps the first ever bubble showdown between these two storied rivals, and while Duke teased us for a brief period of time after Jalen Johnson left the team, they’re back to being underachievers. Nothing would be more fitting than their biggest rival virtually knocking them out of tournament contention, and it’s hard to envision a scenario that ends differently.
The Blue Devils simply don’t have an answer for UNC’s size down low, and even if they somehow manage to contain the bigs, Love already proved he can shoulder the offensive load. The Freshman poured in 25 points in their first meeting, helping the Tar Heels shoot 53.1% from the field, and 10-of-15 (66.7%) from beyond the arc.