DUKE BLUE DEVILS (23-7)
NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (25-6)
Dean E. Smith Center Ė Chapel Hill, NC
Tip-off: Saturday, 8:15pm ET
#5 North Carolina aims for an outright ACC title and revenge as they host rival #17 Duke in the regular season finale for both teams.
The Tar Heels (16-14 ATS) and Blue Devils (11-18 ATS) renew their rivalry with the last game of the ACC regular season for both teams on Saturday night. North Carolina holds the edge, all time, with a record of 134-109 in this series. This will be the 77th time that both teams meet while ranked in the top 25 (Duke has a 40-37 record in these instances). Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski is 44-39 overall against his counterparts from Chapel Hill while North Carolina Coach Roy Williams is 12-20 against Duke (including 1-3 while coach at Kansas). The Tar Heels come into Saturdayís tilt winners in four of their last five games (4-1 ATS). Coach Roy Williamsí team took an ignominious loss at Virginia (53-43, UNC -3) on Monday night, however. The 43 points were the lowest Tar Heel offensive output in the shot clock era. Duke ran through a three-week stretch in late January through mid-February with seven straight wins, looking like a legitimate threat to the regular season ACC crown. Injuries and poor play, however, have the Blue Devils losers in two out of their last three games, now just scraping to hold on to a double-bye (11-6 ACC) in the conference tournament next week. Coach Mike Krzyzewski is managing lingering injuries to key veterans Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson, in hopes of having the Blue Devils at full strength for the postseason. Duke is 0-4 ATS in their last four, struggling in home wins over Wake Forest and most recently, Florida State (75-70, Duke -7) on Tuesday night. Duke is 3-5 (2-6 ATS) on the road in ACC play, including losses where they failed to cover in their last two games (at Syracuse, at Miami). North Carolina brings their perfect 14-0 (10-3 ATS) home record into Saturday nightís game. Duke recorded the first home win in this series since Feb. 2015, when they defeated North Carolina in Durham on Feb. 9 (86-78, Duke -3). Overall, the road team is 5-5 in the last 10 meetings and 5-3 ATS in the last eight meetings. The teams split the series last season, both times winning on each otherís home floor (and covering in the process). The two games were decided by a combined five points. In total trends, the UNDER is 8-0-3 in North Carolinaís last 11 games this season. The total has also been UNDER in six of Dukeís last eight contests. On the injury front, while G Grayson Allen (14.5 PPG) is not listed on the injury report, he did miss Dukeís Feb. 25 road loss at Miami, and played just 16 minutes in Dukeís home win over Florida State on Tuesday.
North Carolina already has a share of the ACC regular-season title locked up. While there have been more ups than downs in such a successful season for Coach Williams, questions still prevail about this seasonís Tar Heels. Whatís the deal with only 43 points in regulation (even if it was against slow-down Virginia)? Why are North Carolinaís losses predominantly of the larger variety (five of six losses are by 8+ points)? North Carolina succumbed to a Duke team that found little defensive resistance in the Tar Heels in their first meeting. North Carolina forced Duke into just five turnovers, and allowed Grayson Allen to have arguably his best game of the season (25 points). Allen, Luke Kennard and Frank Jackson (Dukeís three main guards) combined to shoot 21-for-34 from the field, which will have to be addressed on Saturday in the rematch. The Tar Heels also didnít get the dominant rebounding at Duke (just 30) that theyíre accustomed to (43.8 RPG, 1st in NCAA). Combine the previous numbers with the fact that North Carolina converted just 10-of-18 from the charity stripe, and itís easy to see where they have to improve to get in the win column Saturday. There are plenty of capable weapons for Coach Williams to attack Duke with, starting with Justin Jackson (18.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG) and Joel Berry II (14.7 PPG, 3.8 APG). Berry II and Jackson combined for 36 points in the loss at Duke, but no other Tar Heel broke double-figures in the scoring column. Senior F Kennedy Meeks (12.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG) needs to put forth a better effort than his six points and five rebounds in the first meeting against the Blue Devils. Meeks had two straight double-doubles until the Virginia debacle. Fellow senior F Isaiah Hicks (11.6 PPG, 59% FG) missed the first tilt with Duke due to a late injury. His absence was felt against Duke, although Hicks has only averaged 5.4 PPG in five games since returning, including two points and five fouls against Virginia on Monday.
Duke at this point is trying to manage their health and get everyone as close to 100 percent for the postseason. Not that Coach Krzyzewski isnít trying to win, but heís not going to overtax his banged-up veterans in exchange for a regular season victory. Against Florida State on Tuesday, Duke got a big contribution from freshman G Frank Jackson (22 points, 8-for-15 FG). Jackson, who averages 10.3 PPG, now has 38 points (14-of-29 FG, 6-for-9 3PT) over his last two games and has filled in admirably for the aforementioned Allen (just two points in 16 minutes against the Seminoles). Allenís two points were the only bench points Duke would get on Tuesday night. The Blue Devils are still 17th in the country and have as talented a roster as there is in America, but playing with a rotation this thin is teetering on a very dangerous line unless Duke can get healthier in a hurry. Dukeís offense (80.4 PPG) is solid as always (30th in NCAA), but has slipped in recent weeks, as theyíre scoring just 65.8 PPG in five of their last six games (exception: Wake Forest at home). The Blue Devils will be looking to up their ACC road scoring average of just 71 points per-game as well. Duke holds opponents to just 30.1% 3PT, (10th in NCAA), and did an admirable job limiting North Carolinaís second chance opportunities in the first win of this series this season. G Kennard (19.8 PPG, 45% 3PT) has been a bedrock for Duke this season, and has a good case for ACC player of the year honors. The southpaw sophomore has double-figures in all but one of his conference games. Is he wearing down under all the offensive responsibility though (11-for-33 FG in his last two)? Jayson Tatum (16.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.4 BPG) was a matchup nightmare with 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists (7-for-8 FT) in Dukeís first win over the Tar Heels this season.