North Carolina vs Duke, 9:00 PM, ESPN and ACC Network
The original preview for this game can be found here.
Much of what was written last week still applies today. However the game definitely has a different feel to it than it did a week ago. Much of that is tied to UNC getting a win vs Pitt at home then gutting out a tough game in Tallahassee to knock of Florida State. Those games served as clear signals of this teams growth. Against Pitt, the Tar Heels got a huge game from James Michael McAdoo against a very tough Panthers team. On Monday, UNC had to win without McAdoo and after falling behing by 15 in the first half forcing a team that would have laid down a month ago to dig deep and get a win. For a team left for the NIT in early January, the new sense of confidence and overall understanding of how they need to play from an intangibles standpoint cannot be overstated. These Tar Heels have finally figured out who they are and now will put that identity to the test versus a top five team at home.
One other potential shift in the outlook of this game stems from the play of Kennedy Meeks(side note: check out this feature on him over at the N&O) against FSU on Monday. Meeks became the first Tar Heel since Sean May in the 2005 NCAA Championship game to score over 20 points on 90% shooting. Given Meeks inconsistency this season, it probably isn't fair to expect that kind of effort versus Duke. However confidence can be a vital ingredient in spawning an elevated level of play. If there was ever a time for Meeks to put together back-to-back games with this kind of efficiency, this would be it.
The other storyline is James Michael McAdoo. The junior forward went from having his best game of the season against Pitt and being named ACC Player of the Week to playing only 13 minutes and fouling out without scoring a point against Florida State. McAdoo will undoubtedly be anxious to getting back on the court and impacting the game all without committing fouls. Historically, McAdoo hasn't had big games against Duke. During his freshman season he had a putback dunk in the game in Durham but was largely a non-factor. During the 2012 season, McAdoo scored 9 points on 4-12 shooting in the loss at Duke then scored 15 points in the home loss versus the Blue Devils. McAdoo's recent play, especially at home, sets the stage for this to be the game McAdoo finally breaks out against the Blue Devils.
Even without the massive rivalry implications this game is important. UNC's schedule for the rest of the season is not that daunting with the two games versus Duke being the biggest concerns. Only one of the other four remaining non-Duke games does KenPom have UNC's win probability below 80% and that is at NC State next Tuesday against a Wolfpack team that might be floundering a bit. In short, a win tonight could be the gateway to UNC extending the win streak to as many as twelve games before making the trip to Durham. That is assuming UNC takes care of business which is by no means a sure thing. Just ask Syracuse.
UNC 82 Duke 80