Tar Heel Game Preview: UNC Takes on Duke


We’re just over 24 hours away from the greatest rivalry in college sports, it’s Carolina-Duke!  The Blue Devils and Tar Heels head into tomorrow’s face off going in opposite directions.  Since a blowout loss to Florida State, UNC has been hot winning five in a row, including three on the road.  The Blue Devils come in losers of 2 of 3 at home after falling in overtime to Miami Sunday.  Aside from the rivalry the game has huge implications in the ACC race.  The surprise FSU Seminoles sit atop the conference tied with UNC at the moment.  A loss to Duke and Carolina would fall out of first place heading into another tough game with Virginia up next.  Duke has even more to lose with two ACC losses already, another one and the Blue Devils may fall too far behind to catch up.

If history has told us anything, this is going to be a dogfight at the Dean Dome on Wednesday night.  Let’s take a look at the head to head series between the two rivals since 1980.  UNC holds a slight edge in the series 38-36 with the teams deadlocked with an average score of 78.

Total Wins
  North Carolina38
Average score
  North Carolina78

North Carolina Wins If:  They control the tempo if they can get out and run and Kendall Marshall can push the ball, Duke’s in trouble.  UNC also needs strong perimeter defense from Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock.  This Duke team isn’t as good of a shooting team as they typically are, but when they are hot they can be very good.  I consulted Keeping It Heel staff writer Ben Williams on his opinion of the defensive match ups, here’s his assessment.  Barnes on Seth Curry, Bullock on Austin Rivers, Marshall on Quinn Cook, Tyler Zeller on Mason Plumlee, John Henson on Ryan Kelly.  My favorite match up is Bullock vs Rivers.  I don’t see the 6-4 Rivers doing anything against the 6-7 Bullock who has demonstrated terrific lateral quickness since taking over for Dexter Strickland.  Rivers has been played well lately, averaging 15.8 points per game in his late five outings.  It’s normally hard to single out my least favorite Blue Devil.  This year, it’s easy, Rivers runs away with it and I look forward to watching him get shut down.  Outside of Mason Plumlee, Duke doesn’t get much inside in terms of points or rebounding production.  If Carolina can exploit those match ups on both ends of the floor and off the glass, a Tar Heel victory is in the future.   UNC should have plenty of motivation in this one.   The last thing the Tar Heels want to see is FSU atop the conference they were supposed to dominate this year.  And the Heels are in need of a signature win this year after losses to Kentucky, UNLV and FSU.

Duke Wins If: Duke must do two things if they want to beat Carolina.  Slow down the Tar Heels and force them to play a half court game.  And they must shoot a high percentage from the field.  Duke doesn’t stand a chance on the boards against Carolina so they will need to get hot and stay hot.  Duke is, and should be the underdog going into Chapel Hill, a Duke victory isn’t out of the question.  The Blue Devils are likely to be fired up after it’s first ever home loss to Miami.  This is a huge rivalry and beat the Tar Heels would be just the thing to put Duke back on the right track this season.  This is a tough test for The Rat they call Coach K (I refuse to type his stupid name), this is a down year for Duke (whether the idiots that vote the Top 25 poll want to recognize it or not).  Duke needs a signature win like this on many levels.  It would put them right back into contention in the ACC and help their positioning in the NCAA tournament.

How it’s going to go down: Just like history says it will be, this one’s going to be a battle to the end. I think UNC will get out to an early lead with the crowd roaring behind them. Duke will bring it close at the half by closing out the first hot from three point land. A sea-saw battle in the second half will ensue and it’s anybody’s game with 3 minutes remaining. Some key buckets by Harrison Barnes and monster blocked shots by John Henson ward off a late Duke run. Carolina wins and sends Duke further down the ACC rankings.

Final Score/Player of the game prediction: I’m going to stay with tradition here and call it a 78-74 Carolina win. Player of the game: Harrison Barnes, a heavyweight fight like this should mean the Heels need their biggest puncher the most. I expect Barnes to come through with a big shot when UNC needs it. 25 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals.  Barnes is one of many players that gives Duke a huge match up problem.  I’ll dive into each one of those tomorrow closer to tip off.

Programming Note: The game will be televised on ESPN.  If you do not have cable you can also watch the game online at ESPN3

Follow @Keeping_It_Heel