Rivalry picks: North Carolina hosts Duke
Posted February 11
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Wednesday's contest at the Dean Smith Center is the first this season for in-state rivals Duke and North Carolina.
The No. 8 Blue Devils are 19-5 (8-3 ACC) on the season and North Carolina is 16-7 (6-4 ACC).
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 Wednesday's rivalry game offering their keys to the game and tell you who they think will win.
Duke and North Carolina have needed some time to figure out player rotations and roles.
The Tar Heels had the biggest climb to make because of the loss of their best shooter and toughest player, PJ Hairston. Marcus Paige has played the point more with Leslie McDonald at the off-guard position. Kennedy Meeks is the best post player in the triangle.
Duke has backed off of the hockey line change but since they started that, Marshall Plumlee has found a role. It’s limited but it’s better than providing nothing to the Blue Devils. Jabari Parker has rebounded from his freshman funk and is playing like a player-of-the-year candidate.
Teams have had success forcing Carolina to play a slower pace and half-court offense but will Duke do that? I doubt it. Running with Carolina makes the Heels much more dangerous. I think this game will be a lot closer than what we expected in December but I give the edge to Duke to win in Chapel Hill.
Duke and Carolina present contrasting styles. The Heels prefer to take the ball inside, while Duke is more than happy to fire away from the perimeter. Three-point shooting stats jump off the page in this regard. Duke has connected on nearly as many threes as Carolina has attempted. Duke for the year is shooting 42% from behind the arc (232-552), while Carolina's perimeter woes have been well documented - they're shooting only 32% (88-276). When one team starts hitting threes, it often becomes enticing for the other team to match those threes, but Carolina can ill-afford to get into a three-point shooting contest with Duke.
Another area to watch is rebounding. Carolina averages 41 per game, with a margin of +5.8 on their opponents. Duke averages 35 per game, outrebounding opponents by a margin of +2.7. That's a bit surprising, considering the Devils' lack of interior depth, but rebounding has been a key to their success nonetheless. Still, Carolina's size presents a real challenge for Duke in the paint.
Finally, there's free throw shooting. Duke's an excellent free throw-shooting team, ranking second in the conference at 74%. Carolina... well, excellent is not the word to use for the Heels at the charity stripe. At 62%, the Tar Heels rank dead last in the ACC in this department. However, they don't have to be perfect - Carolina's 0-4 when hitting less than 50% at the line, 16-3 when above 50%. In other words, just hit a few free throws, and you have a chance to win.
In the end, Duke's shooting presents a severe problem for Carolina, one I don't expect the Tar Heels to overcome.
Pick: Duke 82 UNC 73
I am picking Duke for the simple reason that I don't see anyone on UNC's roster, or any roster really, who can match up with Jabari Parker. He is playing like a beast and could have his way with North Carolina. It's also pretty obvious to say Duke has better outside shooting than UNC. I think it's Duke in this one and I don't see it being close.
Both teams have seemed to escape that funk they were mired in early January. Carolina has won five straight, while Duke's beaten everyone not named Syracuse by 15-or-more over the course of the last month. The biggest difference between the two teams right now – success from beyond the arc. Duke, killing it from three-land lately, second in the nation in three-point-shooting at 42%. Carolina? About 250 spots lower on the D-I hierarchy. If long distance rings true for Andre Dawkins, Quinn Cook, Rodney Hood and company, there's no reason the Blue Devils shouldn't take this edition of the Battle of the Blues.
Pick: Duke 75 UNC 69
This should be a wonderfully up tempo game, giving Duke opportunities to flex its three point shooting muscle. Carolina’s thin backcourt – Marcus Paige, Leslie McDonald, and Nate Britt – will be tested trying to defend the Devils’ deadly three point shooters. J.P. Tokoto will also be needed on the defensive perimeter against the likes of Rodney Hood, Andre Dawkins, Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton, and even Jabari Parker.
Free throw shooting could also be a factor, as Duke hits 77% in ACC games (#1) while UNC hits 61% (#14). Having said this, the Tar Heels should have a very good offensive night (Paige and McAdoo especially) against a Duke team that ranks last in the ACC in field goal defense – opponents are shooting almost 47% in conference games.
UNC’s big men James Michael McAdoo, Kennedy Meeks, and Brice Johnson, with help from Tokoto, will challenge the Devils inside and on the backboard. Led by Price and Amile Jefferson, Duke has become a good rebounding team, but Carolina is even better. There are no conference stats kept (unfortunately) for transition baskets and transition defense. If one team or the other gets easy baskets off steals or rebounds (as Carolina did against Notre Dame) that could be a huge factor. The home environment could also be large.
Quite honestly, this is a 50-50 game, but since I have to make a choice, it’s hard to pick against a team that shoots threes and free throws like Duke.
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Both teams are easily playing their best basketball of the season right now. Duke has lost just one time since Coach Mike Krzyzewski's "judge us from this point forward" decree, following their Big Monday win over Virginia. North Carolina is on a 5-game roll, fresh off a dominating road win over Notre Dame.
For the Tar Heels, Leslie McDonald has settled down and into a very strong support role for the Tar Heels, which has enabled Marcus Paige to relax and run the team as opposed to try and score his way to wins. That method worked early in the year, but it was never a recipe for long-term success. With the back court rotation so much more settled, the rest of Carolina's rotation has fallen into place. James Michael McAdoo is playing like an all-ACC candidate again and Carolina is back to playing the defense that contributed to their big early-season wins over the likes of Michigan State and Kentucky.
As for the Blue Devils, since the refocusing of Coach K after the devastating loss of his brother, this is a team that has played well on both ends of the court. Jabari Parker's last two games have been player-of-the-year good, Rodney Hood has settled into his role of second-scorer and top defensive stopper and Rasheed Sulaimon has recaptured the spark that had him in the running for last year's rookie of the year award. Clearly, the Blue Devils have more firepower as they're on fire from beyond the arc during this stretch where they've won 7 of their last 8 games. Over the last five, specifically, Duke is shooting 46% as a team from long range and that is traditionally one of the areas that has proven problematic for UNC. However, at least in a limited sample size of conference games this year, the Heels are the best in the league in guarding the 3-point line. Talk about irresistible force versus the immovable object. Two other factors that will be critical in determining the outcome are offensive rebounding – where these are two of the three best teams in the league – and free throws, where Duke has a major advantage, though anything can happen in one game.
Prediction: UNC wins the battle of the boards, Duke's defense doesn't force enough turnovers and that is just enough to offset the Blue Devils 3-point shooting advantage.
Pick: UNC 75 Duke 73
While the Blue Devils and Tar Heels have been trending in the right direction the last couple weeks, it's Duke that has truly flexed their strengths through a more rigid schedule.
That's not a knock on North Carolina, who have won five straight after fans and pundits openly wondered if their season was slipping away. It's that the Blue Devils have passed bigger tests in wins over Virginia and Pittsburgh, to go along with a highly competitive loss at Syracuse.
Duke simply appears to be clicking at the right time for this matchup. Rasheed Sulaimon has emerged from whatever funk plagued him earlier in the season. Rodney Hood has quietly put together a first team resume. Meanwhile, Jabari Parker is playing dangerously efficient. Even Quinn Cook is capable of shaking off rough play to contribute.
It's one thing for North Carolina to be defensively focused against limited teams. The Blue Devils present their biggest challenge yet.
Duke is playing its best basketball of the year because of their outside shooting from Andre Dawkins and Rasheed Sulaimon. Freshman Jabari Parker is going to create problems for North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo. The Tar Heels recent success has been due in part to their fast starts which shouldn't be problem for Duke.
Pick: Duke 78 UNC 64
Both teams have picked up their game since the new year. Duke has discovered its swagger again and UNC has seen a few players elevate their game. Still UNC has been a mystery, a team good enough to beat the top teams in the country but have had head scratching losses.
Duke hit a rough patch, but has put it together, with Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Andre Dawkins and a host of other players that figured out their roles and the defensive effort that we are used to seeing from Blue Devil teams of the past. Scoring is not a problem for Duke, rebounding could be an Achilles heel.
UNC had relied heavily on Marcus Paige to handle the scoring load, but the emergence of James Michael McAdoo into a consistent player has steadied the Heels. UNC should be able to control the glass, but if McAdoo and Paige are having off nights, the Tar Heels haven't shown that consistent third scorer.
It will be close, but Duke has too many weapons.
Pick: Devils 78 -60
I’m picking UNC although I still think Duke will pan out to be the best team in the ACC, as well as the league’s most likely candidate to reach the Final Four.
But I like the Heels in this one primarily because the game’s in Chapel Hill. Even if travel conditions aren’t good, UNC fans are so hungry for a win over Duke that the Dean Dome atmosphere should be a substantial advantage.
However, there are some other factors that should favor Carolina – Brice Johnson’s improvement, Heels’ size and front court depth, seemingly better free throw shooting by James Michael McAdoo and Leslie McDonald (based on the game at Notre Dame) and the fact that McDonald is so overdue to find his shooting touch.
Duke could win by 15 in Durham (March 8), but I like the Heels in the opener.
Pick: UNC 77 Duke 74
North Carolina has won five in a row and is coming off a strong finish in South Bend. Duke has won seven of eight and is coming off a dominating performance in Chestnut Hill.
Since losing to Clemson on Jan. 11, only Syracuse has been able to challenge the Blue Devils as they boast five 20-plus point wins in their last six victories.
UNC will get the benefit of the home court in Round 1 of this year’s Battle of the Blues, but that might not be the best thing. Three of their seven losses have come at the Dean Dome – all three to unranked opponents. That said, the Tar Heels boast a 3-1 record over ranked opponents this year.
Duke does not rebound well, UNC does. UNC does not shoot particularly well, Duke does.
If the game gets physical, I like UNC. If the game has space, I like Duke. I will roll the dice and say that Duke is able to control tempo and win in a very, very well-played game.
Pick: Duke 76 UNC 71
It took some time but the Duke and North Carolina teams, or maybe coaches rather, have both figured out what works for them. With both teams clicking, this game should be a good one. North Carolina will be looking to prove that they are that team that we saw against Michigan State, Kentucky and Louisville as Duke aims to prove that they are one of the best teams in the ACC.
The key for Duke will be their three-point shooting and their freshman Jabari Parker. He'll be a tough one to match-up with for North Carolina. The Blue Devils will rely heavily on their outside shot, which they should, because it works – ya'll did watch the Syracuse game right?
North Carolina guards well against the three, so they'll challenge that and they will win the battle on the boards. But the key with North Carolina, as it has been all year, is consistency. Of late, the points have consistently been coming from a large cast of characters and the players have fallen into their own. If they can play their game, up-tempo and defensively sound, they could challenge Duke. But if the Heels don't get off to a good start, Duke will easily take the win.
All that being said, I think the Tar Heels take this one at home and hopefully some fans can get there to see it