The North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils renew their intense rivalry tonight at 9pm on ESPN at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke comes in with a 21-2 (8-2 ACC) record ranked #1 and #2 in the polls while the unranked Tar Heels come in with a 16-7 (6-4 ACC) record. UNC is coming off their worst loss of the season at Miami while the Blue Devils barley escaped with a one point win against Boston College on Sunday.
Injury Watch: Duke is still without senior forward Ryan Kelly who injured his foot on January 8th against Clemson, Kelly was averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game prior to going down. The Tar Heels will be without freshman center Joel James who suffered a concussion against Wake Forest yet still played nine minutes against Miami. Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo has been dealing with a back injury but will likely play according to Roy Williams. McAdoo had his worst game of the season against Miami with just six points and three rebounds his effectiveness tonight will be a key component to the Tar Heels chances of pulling of the upset.
Keys to Victory: Starting strong and avoiding digging a hole early in the ball game is huge for Carolina. In losses to Butler, Indiana, Texas, NC State and twice to Miami, UNC found themselves down big early and were unable to recover despite big second half runs in several contests.
Offensive rebounding will be huge, both teams are good on the offensive glass overall the Tar Heels are the better rebounding team. Controlling the boards and getting out in transition is the only way UNC can feasibly hope to score enough points and keep Duke out of rhythm.
Notable Stats: Both teams have a nearly identical scoring average with UNC holding a very slight edge 78.3-78.2 points per game. Each team has one big statistical advantage over the other, UNC holds a 6.4 advantage in the rebounding department (41.7-35.3). Duke is a vastly superior shooting team shooting 47.3% from the field against UNCs 44.5% average. Despite being without Ryan Kelly, Duke will still trot out four double digit scorers led by Mason Plumlee’s 18.2 ppg. The Tar Heels have three with one coming off the bench (P.J. Hairston’s 12.3 ppg)
Prediction: As much as it pains me and as much as I would like a win here it’s just not in the cards I’m afraid. I expect this game to follow a similar patter we’ve seen far too many times this season. UNC will face a double digit deficit at half time, make a strong push in the second half and come up short in the end. UNC 65 Duke 72