Preview: Duke (19-6) v. N Carolina (21-4)

The Blue Devils and Tar Heels will renew college basketball's top rivalry on Wednesday night in Chapel Hill.

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

21-4 Overall, 10-2 Conference 

PROJECTED STARTERS

F- 44 Justin Jackson (12.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg
)F- 11 Brice Johnson (16.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg)
C- 03 Kennedy Meeks (10.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
G- 05 Marcus Paige (13.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
G- 02 Joel Berry II (12.2 ppg, 4.2 apg)

LINKS: ROSTER | SCHEDULE | STATISTICS 

STAR WATCH

Marcus Paige has been appearing on preseason award lists for the last couple of seasons, but North Carolina’s most productive player this year has been power forward Brice Johnson.   The 6-foot-10, 230 pound senior is averaging a double-double for the year, as well as in conference play.  He’s gathered at least 10 points and 10 boards in 14 of the team’s 25 games this season after doing it just 10 times in his first three seasons in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels have also gotten a lift in the backcourt in the form of sophomore Joel Berry.  The 6-foot, 190 pound guard ranks third in the league when measuring increased scoring from a season ago, averaging more than additional points per game from his freshman season.  In addition he’s averaging 4.2 assists per contest, up from 1.5 a season ago.  

THE STORYLINES

RECENT HISTORY

Duke has really taken control of the rivalry in recent seasons, winning five of the last six match-ups and seven of the last 10.  Last season Duke rallied to win in Cameron and then poured in 53 second half points to give the Blue Devils the season sweep.

The two programs met again on the recruiting trail last year in a much publicized battle for the services of Brandon Ingram.  The Kinston, NC ultimately picked the Blue Devils over North Carolina and will face the (likely) hostile crowd in the Dean E. Smith Center for the first time on Wednesday.    

CONTRASTING STYLES

North Carolina likes to play with two posts who rebound and operate near the basket.  Meanwhile, Duke prefers a four out and one in approach with the power forward (Ingram) free to move all over the court to create mismatches.  Both approaches are successful.  Both teams average around 84 points per game and allow just over 70.  Each team shoots around 48 percent from the floor, but North Carolina hits only 31 percent of its perimeter shots while Duke hits 39 percent from the outside.  The Heels are the slightly better free throw shooting team (73 percent vs. 72), and pull in around three more rebounds per game.   North Carolina also takes are of the basketball, as you’d expect from a veteran backcourt.  The Tar Heels rank third in the country in assist to turnover ratio - a number that’s the best in over 35 years.

Notebook:

- Duke leads the NCAA with an .829 (204-42) winning percentage since the start of the 2009-10 season. Since the start of the 1996-97 season, Duke is 111-50 (.689) in ACC road games.

- Duke employs one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks, ranking 13th in the NCAA in scoring offense (83.4) and second the country in adjusted offensive efficiency (121.9).

- Duke ranks 12th nationally in turnover average (10.2) and ninth in offensive turnover percentage (14.7). Grayson Allen and Matt Jones have a combined 2.09 assist-to-turnover ratio on the year. 

- Grayson Allen is on pace to become just the ninth player to lead Duke in both scoring and assists in a season. Duke is unbeaten in his team-high 11 games this season with 20-plus points and 11-1 this season when he leads the team in scoring.

- Among ACC freshmen in all games this season, Ingram leads in scoring (17.2), three-point percentage (.409), rebounding (6.7) and double- doubles (6), and ranks second in blocks (1.5).

They Said It:

“The easy thing is to put Brice on him and say you’ve got to get out there and guard him, but he’s got to guard you, too, on the low post. But we had discussions about it this morning in a staff meeting and we’ll probably have some more. I’ll check the moon and the stars tonight and see how they line up and make a decision.”

- Roy Williams on defending Ingram

The Prediction

North Carolina has a lot going for them.  The Heels are playing at home in a game they are favored to win and in front of a crowd hungry for win over an arch-rival that has clearly had the upper hand for several seasons, and will likely return to that position next season.  Rivalry context aside, North Carolina has more depth, more size, and is the more talented and proven team from top to bottom.  Duke has built some momentum, but it’s hard to see the Blue Devils keeping the Tar Heels out of the paint and off the glass enough to win.  Duke could certainly get hot from the perimeter and Ingram could once again prove to be unguardable for most of the night, but for now it’s hard to see the upset happening on the road. 

Duke - 71
North Carolina - 78


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