Rivalry picks: North Carolina hosts Duke
Posted March 7, 2013
Updated March 8, 2013
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Saturday's contest at the Dean Smith Center marks the 236th meeting between in-state rivals North Carolina and Duke.
The Tar Heels hold a 132-103 advantage in the series. This is the second meeting between the two teams this season. The two teams last met at Cameron Indoor on Feb. 13 2013, where Duke rallied to win 73-68 after trailing by as many as ten points.
The No. 3 Blue Devils are 26-4 (13-4 ACC) on the season and North Carolina is 22-8 (12-5 ACC). Unlike their first match-up this season, both teams are healthy heading into the game.
As in any rivalry, it is not about the record; it is about the pride and bragging rights that go along with beating the combatant with whom you share nothing more than bad blood.
The WRAL sports staff weighs in on Saturday's rivalry game offering their keys to the game and tell you who they think will win.
The first meeting was highlighted by North Carolina’s change in the starting line-up, going with PJ Hairston. That move has paid HUGE dividends for the Tar Heels. Not only are they 6-1 since the move, Hairston has brought a “tude” to the Tar Heels. They have played with confidence, a bit of a swagger and they are definitely a tougher group taking a cue from Hairston.
The reason Roy Williams made that move to the smaller line-up against Duke was they felt the Devils only post threat on offense was Mason Plumlee. That’s not the case now with Ryan Kelly’s return. Carolina defended Duke extremely well in the first half of the first meeting but Duke started raining threes in the second to pull away. With Kelly back in the line-up, the Tar Heels will have to cover more ground defensively because he creates a lot of space with his perimeter shooting.
Home teams have won about 70% of the time this year but the Duke/Carolina series has been an oddity in the past. In the last 16 games, the home team has won 7 times, including Duke’s win at Cameron on February 13. I’m taking the Tar Heels in the rematch because they are at home and playing so well. In the loss to Duke, the Tar Heels have won 6 straight by an average of 12.6 points. This game is not for the ACC regular season title but you don’t necessarily need that as incentive in a rivalry game like this.
Pick: UNC 84 Duke 79
It’s rare when you see both of these teams trending up at the same time. Normally, one of these teams – Duke or Carolina – peaked earlier in the season. But with Carolina’s smaller lineup clicking, and Duke revitalized by the return of Ryan Kelly, this game has a chance to be another Duke-Carolina epic.
Of course, that makes picking a winner even more difficult… But, I’ve been thinking Carolina would win this game ever since the first meeting between these two teams in Durham – so it’s no time to change course now.
I’m expecting a wide-open, free-wheeling game that really could go either way – but I’m picking the Tar Heels.
Pick: UNC 83 Duke 78
I have really taken a lot of time to think about this pick. In the end I have to go with North Carolina. So much of winning in March has to do with momentum and this Tar Heel team has that right now. They are playing with swagger and almost a chip on the shoulder. The win at Maryland went a long way to convince me to take the Tar Heels. Maryland has some post presence, so I thought they may be a challenge, but they proved not to be. I am really looking forward to this game because I think it’s going to be the best ACC game of the year. UNC is playing its best ball and Duke is now at full strength. I really could see this one going either way, but I am giving the edge to the Heels.
Pick: UNC 75 Duke 72
Suffice to say, these are two different teams than the first go-round inside Cameron Indoor. Last month's matchup saw the debut of Carolina's smaller lineup and nearly resulted in a Tar Heel victory before Duke surged in the second half. Since then, UNC's been perfect, winning and winning handily with P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock, and James Michael McAdoo taking charge. On the flip side, the re-emergence of Ryan Kelly has transformed the Blue Devils into true Final Four contenders. Kelly hosting his own "revenge" tour seemingly swings the momentum in Duke's favor, however, being the gambling man that I am, I'm riding the guys on a heater. UNC's had the hot hand with six straight wins and what a fun ACC Tournament it would be in Greensboro next week if they provide this shakeup.
Pick: UNC 80 Duke 79
99.9 The Fan ESPN Radio/620 The Buzz
In a way, this game is going to be like looking in the mirror for the Duke Blue Devils. For years, Duke has been a team that relied heavily on the 3-point shot and a smaller, active aggressive defense to guard bigger opponents. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s exactly what North Carolina has done since Roy Williams trotted out their smaller, quicker line up the first time these two teams met in Durham.
Two main differences will be evident Saturday night. The Tar Heels are significantly better and more comfortable with this rotation that utilizes their best players – regardless of position – as opposed to those that fit Roy Williams’ normal way of doing things. Carolina is much better defensively and they’re so much more cohesive on the offensive end of the floor, as you might expect with seven games under their collective belt with this group. On the other bench, Duke welcomed Ryan Kelly back into the line up and the senior sharpshooter started making up for lost time – 13 games worth – in a hurry. 54 points in two games, making nine of his 16 3-point shots, was certainly an explosive return. Kelly will need to be very good because without his offense the Devils became a lot easier to guard.
PJ Hairston has arguably been the best player in the conference over the last three weeks and with added responsibility he’s blossomed into one of the most dynamic players in the entire league. To me, the sophomore from Greensboro will be the difference in a season-ending win for the Tar Heels.
Pick: UNC 77 Duke 75
Roy Williams broke out the much ballyhooed guard heavy lineup for the first time when North Carolina visited Duke. While the Blue Devils won an ugly contest, the Tar Heels left everyone intrigued. How would they respond going forward?
A few weeks and six wins later, North Carolina is now playing with the poise and sense of urgency Williams wanted months ago. Nobody should be faulted for picking the Heels to win, especially at home.
Ryan Kelly's return just adds a little more sizzle to the proceedings, but he'll actually be guarded by a capable defender in P.J. Hairston.
Pick: UNC 81 Duke 75
It's crazy to think that both these teams are better now than they were when they last played three weeks ago. But they are. Now that Carolina has inserted Hairston in the lineup and have gotten used to it, they are plying they're best of the season. Duke got Ryan Kelly back and now they're stronger than ever. (Apparently we now know who has the better hospital. Kelly comes back from injury and is now a superhero.) Right now, Duke is the better team. They are going to win because Kelly provides a match up problem that they cannot stop.
Pick: Duke 75 UNC 68
The Heels have been playing their best basketball of the season heading into round two of the Battle of Blues and the best ball of anyone in the ACC. Carolina has won six straight, Reggie Bullock has been playing like a POY candidate and the revamped lineup has given Roy Williams team another gear. With a smaller five on the floor, UNC provides some match-up problems for Duke, a quicker line-up that can get up and down the floor in the transition game has given the Blue Devils some fits, but it is hard to run a Coach K team off the floor. Carolina needs to knock down the outside shots early something PJ Hairston has taken care of and give James Michael McAdoo some space to take Mason Plumlee one on one.
The Dean Dome doesn’t provide the home court advantage that Cameron does, Duke won there last year on Austin Rivers last second three. More good news for Duke, they are undefeated with Ryan Kelly in the line-up and the Devils took out the Heels without him in Cameron. 73-68. Kelly gives the Blue Devils another scorer and is a hard guard because at 6’10’ he can step out and shoot or post up. The match-up where this game will be won is at the point and while Marcus Paige has improved, he was outplayed by Quinn Cook in the previous match-up and Cook should get the better of play again in this one.
Should be close, but Duke will find a way in this one.
Pick: Duke 78 UNC 71
A game that just one month ago figured to be little more than an inconsequential pairing of rivals, has suddenly returned to its traditionally heavyweight status.
UNC has won six in a row. Duke has not lost a game all year with Ryan Kelly in the lineup. Each team is in the top 15 in the nation in scoring.
A Kelly-less Duke held court earlier in the season with a narrow five-point win. That was early in the small lineup experiment for UNC as Strickland, Bullock, Hairston and Paige all played 30-plus minutes and McDonald led bench players with 20 minutes. That rotation let Mason Plumlee get his double-double, but the Tar Heels still grabbed 18 offensive rebounds and were within one of the Blue Devils on overall boards for the game.
In Chapel Hill, and having gained confidence in the smaller set, I think the Heels will more than cover the five-points they gave in the first meeting. The question then becomes ‘is Kelly enough to make up for the improved UNC team?’ I think he is not and the Tar Heels get the win and the No. 3 seed in Greensboro.
Pick: UNC 82 Duke 78
North Carolina is riding a six game win streak, they are healthy, they are playing the best basketball of their season and they're at home for Senior Night. Not to mention it's the last game of the regular season and they lost a tough one to Duke at Duke early this year. The Heels want this game. But of course so does Duke. Duke is finally healthy, they are coming off two huge wins with Ryan Kelly back in the lineup and they are ready to roll into the postseason with a No.1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
So which way will the scoreboard lean at the end of the game? North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo has proven he can battle underneath and he fared well against Mason Plumlee in their last match-up, but McAdoo can score from more areas of the court than Plumlee so the advantage goes to the Heels there. PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock are proving to be quite the offensive threat as the small lineup experiment has proven successful, finding offense production shouldn't be the Tar Heels problem. For them to secure the win they will have to lock down on defense. With Ryan Kelly back in the lineup the Heels will have to work on shutting both him and Seth Curry down.
The Heels will continue to click and this one will go to the home team Saturday.
Pick: UNC 77 Duke 70
It's funny how much can change in three weeks. On Feb. 13, when North Carolina visited Cameron Indoor Stadium with a new lineup, the Tar Heels were 5-5 in league play and needed some serious adjustments to become an NCAA Tournament team. Six wins later, as UNC continues to get comfortable playing smaller, the Heels have secured a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament and are improving their seeding with each victory.
Duke, too, has undergone a change or two since winning the first meeting 73-68. Ryan Kelly is back, and the Blue Devils have remained undefeated with him in the lineup (DID YOU KNOW THAT?). With no team in the top five (save Gonzaga) able to win the games it should, the Blue Devils appear to be in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a second win over the Heels. With the way things have gone in recent days, a close loss may not be enough to bump Duke from the top line.
As was the case three weeks ago, Saturday's rematch between UNC and Duke will be all about matchups. There are several worth watching, but the two worth noting are Ryan Kelly (on a couple fronts) and the point guard battle. Marcus Paige has played inspired ball as of late, averaging 10.6 points and 5.3 assists in UNC's six-game win streak. He's only turned the ball over 17 times during that stretch, eight of which came in Wednesday's 79-68 win over Maryland. If the Tar Heels hope to beat Duke, Paige will need to play more like he has in the last six than he did against Duke in Durham, when he scored just four points and tallied only one assist.
The other matchup(s) is generated by a player nobody has mentioned much in the last week: Ryan Kelly.
While how UNC defends Kelly certainly matters to the outcome of the game, it's how – and who – Kelly defends that could end up being the difference. I'd bet the Blue Devils put Kelly on Reggie Bullock, making the senior's final game in the Dean Dome one everyone will remember, for better or worse. Considering Bullock's play in the last four games (18 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists per game), I personally like his chances of winning the individual battle.
Pick: UNC 79, Duke 75