North Carolina vs #8 Duke, 9:00 PM, ESPN or ACC Network
The Tar Heels, after a potentially disastrous 1-4 start in ACC play are riding a five game winning streak and playing some of their best basketball of the season. This is probably as ideal conditions as it gets for facing Duke in the first of three tough games that will serve as a barometer for this team. The Heels are at 6-4 and presently sit in 5th in the ACC standings. Wins over Duke and Pitt would put UNC into that much coveted top four group which doesn't play until Friday of the ACC Tournament.
For now the attention is squarely on the rival from eight miles down 15-501 and breaking a two game losing streak. This match-up is actually very interesting given the personnel, strengths and weaknesses of the respective teams. UNC enters the game having held four of the last five opponents eFG% under 50%. In the last two games teams have had turnover rates of 20% or worse. Against Duke, UNC will be significantly challenged to repeat these successes. Duke's eFG% has been over 60% in the past two games and the Blue Devils are 2nd nationally in turnover rate. As good as UNC's defense has been of late, containing Duke's shooting and forcing the Blue Devils to turn the ball over will be tall orders to say the least.
The concern for UNC is dealing with as many as four three point shooters on the court at any given time and the havoc that can play with the Tar Heels' ability to rotate. On the flip side, UNC's interior play will be crucial if the Tar Heels are to win. James Michael McAdoo needs to have a huge game, something along the lines of the way he played versus Clemson at the start of the recent five game winning streak. Likewise Marcus Paige will need to be on his game for both halves to ensure there is enough offensive firepower to match Duke should the Blue Devils get rolling. The big question for UNC is who starts at center. Roy Williams indicated that Brice Johnson might work his way into the starting lineup thanks in part to his improve play of late. Given Duke's lack of interior presence, this game might be a perfect scenario for Johnson to play significant minutes. Duke doesn't have a legitimate offensive threat at the five so Johnson's defense shouldn't be as much an issue.
Two definite match-ups to watch for on the defensive end for UNC will be McAdoo guarding Jabari Parker and J.P. Tokoto on Rodney Hood. McAdoo is athletic enough to guard Parker but also can be a little foul prone. Tokoto can help tremendously if he can lock Hood down and take away one of Duke's three point shooters. The concern for UNC is guarding Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins off the bench. Both players do a great job getting open looks from three and knocking them down.
This game(and the next one) are probably UNC's best chances to jockey for a better seed in the NCAA Tournament. Most projections are putting UNC around #8 but a couple of quality wins to show the previous victories over three ranked teams was not a fluke would help tremendously. Of course none of that matters tonight. Tonight it's about beating Duke and pushing the pendulum back the other direction even if it is only for a month.
UNC 84 Duke 81