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UNC vs. Duke Preview

The most storied rivalry in college basketball tips off for the first time this season at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday (8pm/ESPN).

North Carolina (21-4, 9-2 ACC) vs. Duke (18-5, 6-4 ACC)
Durham, N.C. – Cameron Indoor Stadium
Thursday, 8 p.m.
ESPN (Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas)
ACC Network (Tim Brando, Mike Gminski)


“I think Jeff Capel did a nice job with them while Mike was out and that was not easy for Jeff. They played a tough schedule and some road games. Big win the other night at Notre Dame, for example. Early in the year they didn’t really have all their personnel, now they’ve got all their personnel back… During the course of the season we lost Joel (Berry) for a couple games, Tony (Bradley) for a couple games, Theo (Pinson) for a couple games. You have to be able to handle it. Their depth has enabled them to handle it and play at a high level." – UNC head coach Roy Williams on Duke’s performances without head coach Mike Krzyzewski

“Luke (Kennard) is a fantastic kid, a big-time player, and is having a great, great year. Before he got hurt Amile Jefferson was playing as well as any big man in the league. Jayson Tatum is back healthy now and has really played well the last three or four weeks… Harry (Giles) is finally getting a little more playing time and playing healthy again… All of those guys we liked them so much that we recruited them, too.” – Williams on Duke’s rotation


Heels’ Home Away from Home: UNC was forced to play a “home” game at the Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday due to a water crisis in Chapel Hill, but were still able to top Notre Dame, 83-76. The Tar Heels, who lead the NCAA in rebounding margin, continued their dominance on the glass, outrebounding the Irish, 44-25. It turned out to be a group effort for UNC, with all five starters scoring in double figures. With Kennedy Meeks in foul trouble throughout the game, Tony Bradley was given a chance to shine, and the freshman did just that, recording 12 points, five rebounds and three blocks in 17 minutes. The win kept Roy Williams’s team atop the ACC standings with seven conference games to play.

Duke Spotlight: The Blue Devils, the nation’s preseason No. 1 team, got off to a hot start to the 2016-17 season, winning 12 of their first 13 games. It was the beginning of ACC play, though, when Duke’s rotational inconsistency resulted in losses. The Blue Devils lost four of their first seven ACC matchups, but appear to be back on track, winning their last three games and slowly climbing in the ACC standings. While faltering in several defensive categories, Krzyzewski’s team has excelled on the offensive front during conference play. Duke is third in the ACC in field goal percentage (48%), fourth in 3-point percentage (38.4%), and second in points per game (81.2). Five Blue Devils are averaging double digits in the scoring column.

Kennard Continues to Shine: Luke Kennard was an afterthought to many entering the season, but he’s been the MVP of Duke’s season to date. The 6-foot-6 sophomore guard has gone from a streaky southpaw shooter as a freshman to one of the best playmakers in college basketball. His stats back up every bit of praise thrown at him as well – he’s averaging 19.8 points per game and has scored over 30 points in three games this season. He’s proven to be efficient anywhere on the court, shooting 45.8 percent from three and 58.4 percent from inside the arc. When Kennard isn’t coming off a screen on the perimeter, he’s driving at his defender and creating space through penetration. His play thus far earned him a spot on the midseason Wooden Award watch list.

Allen Heating Up: AP preseason All-American Grayson Allen has been the key factor in the Blue Devils’ current three-game winning streak. The 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 20.3 points during that stretch and has led Duke in scoring in two of the victories. His 3-point shooting has seen a spike during the span, as he’s shooting 44.6 percent from deep. The junior seems to be hitting his stride after struggling to find consistent form following his return from a one-game suspension after tripping an opponent for the third time in his career.

Coach K’s Back: Krzyzewski returned to the sideline on Saturday for Duke’s 72-64 win over Pittsburgh. He had missed seven games due to a midseason back surgery.

Matchup to Watch: UNC senior forward Isaiah Hicks has pulled off a streak of impressive performances for the Tar Heels recently, but will face arguably his biggest test of the season against Duke freshman forward Jayson Tatum. In 15 games this season, Tatum has displayed why many consider him to be a one-and-done prospect. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 15.8 points and 6.9 boards per game, and is an effective weapon from anywhere on the court. The key to the Hicks/Tatum matchup will be how often Tatum opts for the perimeter. The stretch four is averaging 3.4 3-point attempts per game, converting on 31.4 percent of his attempts. Hicks has been tasked with defending more on the perimeter due to Theo Pinson’s injuries this season, and told reporters on Tuesday he had grown more comfortable in defending away from the post. If Hicks can capitalize on the offensive end while mitigating Tatum’s effectiveness on the other end, UNC’s chances for a road victory will be greatly enhanced.

Last Meeting: UNC defeated Duke, 76-72, at Cameron Indoor on March 5, 2016. Brice Johnson led the Tar Heels with 18 points and 21 rebounds. All five UNC starters scored in double digits. The Tar Heels dominated the boards, outrebounding the Blue Devils, 64-29, and never trailed in the game.

Series Record: The Tar Heels lead the all-time series, 134-108. The Blue Devils have won 11 of the last 15 meetings.

Projected UNC Starters:
2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 14.9 ppg, 4.0 apg
3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) - 12.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg
4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) - 12.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg
44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 18.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg
24 Kenny Williams (6-4, 180, So.) - 6.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg

Top Reserves:
5 Tony Bradley (6-11, 240, Fr.) – 7.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg
0 Nate Britt (6-1, 175, Sr.) – 4.9 ppg, 2.7 apg
1 Theo Pinson (6-6, 211, Jr.) – 6.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg -- QUESTIONABLE (Ankle)

Projected Duke Starters:
0 Jayson Tatum (6-8, 205, Fr.) – 15.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg
3 Grayson Allen (6-5, 202, Jr.) – 15.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg
5 Luke Kennard (6-6, 202, So.) – 19.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg
15 Frank Jackson (6-3, 205, Fr.) – 10.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg
21 Amile Jefferson (6-9, 224, Sr.) – 12.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg

Top Reserves:
13 Matt Jones (6-5, 204, Sr.) – 8.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg
1 Harry Giles (6-10, 240, Fr.) – 5.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg

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