North Carolina Basketball: UNC’s 5 Most Important Games Left

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Nov 14, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams and forwards Brice Johnson (11) and Kennedy Meeks (3) react in the second half. The Tar Heels defeated the Eagles 76-60 at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Feb. 18 at Duke (19-3, 6-3)

Round One of college basketball’s showcase rivalry pits two teams pegged as preseason favorites for an ACC regular-season title. Now one, or both, could be on the outside looking in for one of the conference tourney’s top four seeds should they falter down the stretch.

The Blue Devils seemingly were a team in turmoil after coach Mike Krzyzewski became the first men’s Division I coach to claim 1,000 wins. Duke dropped a road matchup at Notre Dame to fall to 4-3 in league action, and top reserve Rasheed Sulaimon became the first player in Coach K’s 35 years at the helm to be jettisoned from the program.

The Blue Devils, however, quelled the alarm bells with a 69-63 win at Virginia, and a potent offense that is operating from the inside out for the first time in years may provide Duke with its own late-season surge.

Freshman center Jahlil Okafor ranks second nationally shooting 66.4 percent and is the ACC’s second leading scorer averaging18.3 points a game to anchor an offense that ranks seventh nationally shooting 49.7 percent from the field. It’s the Blue Devils’ defense, though, that has been most unDuke-like and will be tested by the Tar Heels’ inside duo of Brice Johnson (12.7 points, eight rebounds a game) and Kennedy Meeks (11.9 points, eight rebounds).

Duke ranks 164th nationally in two-point field goal percentage defense with opponents shooting 47.5 percent, and North Carolina will look to capitalize on an advantage on the boards. The Tar Heels top the ACC pulling down 47.3 rebounds a game, while Duke is ninth with 40.3 boards a contest. That could translate into something else North Carolina has been adept at this season — second-chance points.

The Tar Heels rank sixth in the country snaring 15.3 offensive rebounds per game and is averaging nearly 14 second-chance points a game in ACC play. But both squads will need to put the clamps on each’s work on the offensive glass. Duke ranks 154th nationally with foes hauling in nearly none offensive rebounds a game.

As ugly as that number may be, North Carolina has been even more putrid with its opposition averaging 11 offensive boards per contests, good enough to rank 332nd nationally.