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Game Preview: #19 UNC vs #3 Duke

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Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina vs Duke, 9:00 PM, ESPN

By the time this game tips off, the Virginia-Louisville game will be over and the Tar Heels' ACC Tournament seeding will be locked. A Virginia win gives UNC the #4 seed while a Louisville win locks the Tar Heels into the #5 seed. That doesn't render the UNC-Duke game meaningless by any stretch. The Tar Heels still need another top 25 RPI win having gone just 1-5 so far this season against the upper echelon of college basketball. UNC stands in need of a win versus Duke then a solid showing in the ACC Tournament in an effort to improve the Tar Heels' overall NCAA seeding profile.

Then again, none of that actually matters because this is Carolina-Duke. It is the return game after the Blue Devils rallied to force overtime then knocked off the Tar Heels in Durham a little over two weeks ago. Historically speaking, the Tar Heels have played extremely well in the second game versus Duke especially in Chapel Hill. The loss to Duke in 2013 was the first time in Roy Williams career as a head coach his team had lost in the Senior Day/Night game.

In Durham, UNC got quality play from Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto with solid performances off the bench out of Isaiah Hicks, Joel James and Nate Britt. Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson were noticeably quiet as was Joel Berry and Theo Pinson did not play. For UNC to win, the Tar Heels will need similar games from the post players but this time Paige and Jackson need to be factors. Paige in particular was clearly bothered by how he played in the first game against Duke so anything less than him stepping his game up in the rematch would be surprising.

The importance of a great start for the Tar Heels cannot be understated. The Tar Heels will have a raucous and energetic crowd. If UNC can come out and play well from the outset the Tar Heels can assume early control of the game and perhaps maintain it throughout. There is also the tempo. UNC pushing the pace clearly bothered the Blue Devils and Duke is still operating with limited depth. On the other hand, the Tar Heels have gotten healthier since February 18th with the return of Theo Pinson.

In short, for UNC to win the Tar Heels need to do what they do best which is pound the ball inside, control the backboards and get into transition which leads to easy baskets.

UNC 82 Duke 78