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UNC vs Duke: Game Preview

The Tar Heels take a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday for part one of an epic rivalry

North Carolina v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Duke and North Carolina. You’ve been waiting for it all week, potentially all season, and it’s finally here. These two historic programs will meet in Durham tonight at 8:00 pm, and it’s sure to be a game to remember. Since 2005, these teams have played a total of 27 times. In every game but five, both teams have been ranked. The same will be true tonight when #8 takes on #18. History has shown us that no matter the disparity between these teams on paper, the games are thrillers. If there’s ever a mark of a good rivalry (setting aside passion and history which this one definitely has) it is a close series with games that come down to the wire.

Speaking of “on paper,” theoretically Carolina is poised for a win tonight. The Tar Heels lead the NCAA in rebounds per game, are ranked 3rd in assists per game, and come in at 5th in points per game. They are atop the conference standings, and just generally look like a force to be reckoned with as of late. This is all with spotty assistance from Theo Pinson due to injury, I might remind you. And Duke? So far, it’s been a season characterized by a Grayson Allen trip, a Krzyzewski surgery, and a closed locker room. However, Duke is a team full of tremendously talented individuals that has still put together an 18-5 record. As the season progresses, Duke is looking more and more like a team, rather than a collection of good players.

If you’re expecting anything less than a fast-paced, exiting game full of highlight reel plays, you’re wrong. That’s how it has always been, and probably always will be. The biggest aspect of this game to watch will be what these teams can respectively do on defense. With guys like Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, and Frank Jackson, Duke loves to run a motion offense that consists of constant penetration, followed by a shot in the paint or a kick for three. When Duke is firing on all cylinders and shooting well, they’re tough to stop. Take Duke’s 53-point rout of Georgia Tech, a team that Carolina lost to, as an example. Duke is also ranked 11th in the country in terms of three-point defense. If the Blue Devils can frustrate the Carolina bigs, and force the Heels to shoot (and miss) threes, Duke could have an edge in a big way.

On the flip side, Carolina could easily come out and punch Duke in the mouth with the likes of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Justin Jackson. Points in the paint, and a heavy excess of rebounds could make the Devils’ defense very vulnerable. Playing and excelling close to the basket early could also open up better looks for Joel Berry II and Kenny Williams, making it hard on those Duke perimeter defenders. It will depend on how the game goes, and how Duke chooses to go about guarding the Tar Heels, but a Carolina offense that is playing even just better than average is tough to defend. Both teams can score in droves. That is a given. But, who can step up on defense will be the difference maker in this game.

The game is tonight at 8:00 on ESPN. Expect a lot of ESPN promo videos, sleep-deprived Duke students doing obnoxious things, and an insanely entertaining game.