UNC Basketball Game Preview: Tar Heels Take on Duke


The rematch is on!  The biggest rivalry in all of college sports, the North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Duke Blue Devils.  Duke stole game one in Chapel Hill on a Austin Rivers buzzer beater three that stunned the Heels.   Carolina played a nearly perfect game for the first 37 minutes holding a 13 point lead at the three minute mark in the second half.  In my eyes that game was more of a product of the Heels collapse than a Duke comeback.  A series of events some weird (Tyler Zeller tipping the ball into the wrong basket), and unfortunate (Zeller missing two critical free throws after a great game) contributed to a devastating loss to the Heels arch rival.  Both teams have won every game since their last meeting.  This time it’s not just for bragging rights between the neighboring schools.  The ACC regular season conference championship is up for grabs.  The stage is set, the wait is finally over, it’s time for UNC vs Duke!

What to expect: Expect a back and forth dog fight in this one.  This is as big of a game as you will ever see in the regular season.  And to say the least, these two teams hate each other, motivation and tension will be high coming in.  That’s why I expect a sloppy start by both teams and a low scoring first half.  I expect the Heels to struggle with their jump shot and they will rely heavily on Kendall Marshall creating open shots for their big men in the half court.   Getting out in transition by controlling the glass is how the Heels will win this game.  Tempo is everything against Duke and UNC has an excellent chance to get out and run often against the Blue Devils.  I expect the Heels to do a much better job of closing out on the three point shooters.  If they can do that, getting out in transition comes that much easier.

After a rough first half offensively I see the Heels coming alive in the second half.  Building on transition and post heavy offensive attack in the first half.  Things will open up on the perimeter for Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock.  This will force the Blue Devils to key in on the Heels shooters allowing more room inside for Tyler Zeller and John Henson to operate.   A big run by the Tar Heels will open up a double digit lead mid way through the second half.  Only this time, things won’t get relaxed for UNC.  The Heels will continue to press the issue on both ends of the floor and hold up after a big, final run by Duke and hold onto victory.

Keys to victory: Defending the three point line and Duke’s plethora of long range shooters will be huge in this one.  UNC did a decent job in the last meeting holding the Blue Devils to 38.9% shooting from beyond the arc (14-36).  The Heels need to dominate the boards more than their +7 advantage they had in Chapel Hill.  The difficulties with a fast team that likes to shoot the long ball like Duke is they make it hard to stay disciplined defensively.  Duke was able to draw the Tar Heels big men away from the basket by swinging the ball around the perimeter, forcing the bigs to move out of position to challenge the shot.

Harrison Barnes has got to step up and assert himself offensively early and often.  Barnes, has yet to have that signature game yet this season.  Instead, he has often disappeared in games and has not lived up to his preseason All-American status.  This was Harrison’s time of year last season, whether or not Barnes comes alive this March or not could be the difference between the Heels cutting down the nets or watching someone else use the scissors.

Final Score and Player of the game predictions: Tyler Zeller caught a lot of unfair criticism after the last outing.  Zeller had a terrific game and a couple of miscues landed on his shoulders.  Z has a lot of motivation in this one to say the least.  His last regular season game as a college basketball player.  Possibly his last game against Duke.  Something tells me that all pales in comparison to the motivation of getting even and carrying his team to victory this time out.   I expect Zeller to have one of, if not, the best  game of his career.  30 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocked shots for Z in a 82-77 Tar Heel victory!

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