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UNC vs. Duke: Three Things to Watch

UNC has it all to play for. Win against Duke with at least a share of first place in the ACC, and one foot in the NCAA Tournament

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Coach K Farewell Tour makes its way to Chapel Hill as the Blue Devils take on UNC for the first time this season. This match-up is a huge opportunity for the Tar Heels. It represents a chance for an elusive Q1 win and at least a share of first place in the ACC. Pulses will be raised as will Heels fans’ hope—Carolina is undefeated in the Dean Dome this season, and their home form far surpasses their play on the road. Here are three things to watch during a huge match-up against Duke.

Foul Trouble

With Dawson Garcia still missing from the line-up, UNC has the unenviable task of defending Duke’s NBA frontcourt without a safety net. Armando Bacot, the fulcrum of the Tar Heel attack, will have to work hard on defense to keep the 7-foot, 243 pound Mark Williams off the glass and hopefully not on double-digits in the scorebook. Brady Manek’s match-up against freshman Paolo Banchero is even more problematic. The freshman (and ACC player) of the year candidate is a scoring dynamo, and athletic to boot—all qualities that torment Manek on the defensive end.

If either of Carolina’s starting posts get into foul trouble, Hubert Davis has nothing but pain to look at on the bench. Justin McCoy (6’8” 215 pounds) is a little light compared to Banchero (6’10” 250), and you’d prefer not to slide Leaky Black to him and have someone else chase around Wendell Moore, Duke’s second-leading scorer (14.2 ppg) and swingman.

One thing to watch out for in the game is how many times UNC’s guards get beat off the dribble, forcing a Tar Heel big to foul at the rim. Bacot and Manek need to save all of their fouls for Banchero and Williams. They don’t have any to spare for anyone else.

Duke’s updated scouting report?

Leaky Black is in the midst of a scoring renaissance. The Senior wing, who is notoriously shy when given the ball in prime scoring position, has the reputation of an unwilling shooter. Teams sagged off him, none more egregiously than Virginia Tech, who guarded him with a point-guard six inches shorter than Black, who usually kept one foot in the paint.

Well joke’s on y’all now! Leaky has hit from downtown in each of his last four games, including three big 3’s against Louisville. When Leaky has space and shoots in rhythm, his shoot looks surprisingly pure. And now that the Heels are back at home, they’ll hopefully be dialed in from distance.

Last Saturday during Roy Williams Day, they shot 15-27 from the 3-point line. Similar efficiency (and volume) will be needed to beat a Duke team that is superior athletically, but can build brick houses on any given night.

If things go well, Manek, Love, Davis, and even Black can space the floor out for Armando Bacot to break Mark Williams down in the post, and if Duke’s defense sags to help, make the open shots that follow. Carolina likely can’t pull off the upset without a great night shooting from distance.

Caleb Love vs. Duke

Caleb Love’s performance in any given game has usually been a barometer for how well the team will perform. When he’s up, the team soars. When he’s down, the team gets squashed. Last season, Caleb had his best games against the Blue Devils. By far.

UNC needs the Caleb Love that averaged 21.5 points and 7 assists against Duke in their two match-ups last season. They need the Caleb Love that tore Jeremy Roach apart. They need the Caleb Love that gets to the rim and finishes through contact. They need the Caleb Love that gets to the line and calmly sinks free throw after free throw. They need the Caleb Love that locks down a team’s point guard to constipate their offense and take pressure off of the bigs to help off penetration.

If Caleb has 20+ points and more assists than turnovers, Carolina likely wins. His line against NC State (21 points, 4-6 from 3, 5-5 FT, 5 assists, 1 TO, 2 steals, 1 foul) is what he should aim for. He looked leggy at Louisville, especially when he exploded to the rim only to shank a tomahawk dunk. Hopefully on Saturday, that same attempt lands on a Blue Devils head.