With Duke set to square off against North Carolina tonight in Chapel Hill, we take a look at some of the implications for the Blue Devils in the rematch of this bitter rivalry:
1. ACC Seeding
Depending on the result of tonight’s game, Duke could end up anywhere between the no. 3 seed and the no. 7 seed in the ACC Tournament. North Carolina has already clinched the top sport, but Duke can secure the three seed with a win over the Tar Heels and a loss from Florida State (a loss from Louisville would have helped Duke’s cause, but they defeated Notre Dame this afternoon). A Duke win and a Florida State victory would result in Duke being the four seed, while a loss for the Blue Devils could drop them to the seven seed as it could make them one of six teams finishing the regular season with exactly seven conference losses. Regardless of the Florida State outcome, however, Duke can control their own destiny and secure one of the four crucial double byes with a win.
2. NCAA Seeding
Win or lose, this game could have a serious influence on Duke’s potential seeding in the NCAA Tournament later this March. The Tar Heels, despite their no. 5 ranking, are still regarded by many analysts as the best team in the country, and a sweep of the ACC regular-season champs would be a boon for Duke’s resume in trying to garner a higher seed. North Carolina is undefeated at the Dean Dome, and Duke’s struggles on the road could make this a marquee win that would give the Blue Devils momentum heading into the postseason.
Injuries have been a major hindrance for Duke this year, and they still have nagging issues. Amile Jefferson remains somewhat hampered by a foot injury despite putting in a phenomenal 14 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Florida State. Grayson Allen simply hasn’t been the same since he reinjured his ankle against Syracuse and was forced to sit out in Duke’s loss against Miami. He was limited in the win over Florida State, and will most likely be relatively limited against the Tar Heels as well as Duke tries to get healthy for the postseason. How will Duke adjust? Jefferson still played 31 minutes against Florida State, and will likely see a heavy load again tonight with the frontcourt matchup of Kennedy Meeks and a healthy Isaiah Hicks looming. Will coach Krzyzewski finally place more trust in young bigs Harry Giles and Marques Bolden? Duke is playing for the double bye, but they’re also playing for longevity, which should make for a lot of different rotations (and plenty more of Frank Jackson).
Duke is 5-2 at Chapel Hill since the 2009-2010 season, and can achieve their second sweep of the Tar Heels in three years (the two teams split in 2016, with Duke winning both in 2015). As previously mentioned, Duke has struggled on the road, going just 3-5 in true road games this season. With a potential double bye and season sweep on the line, the Blue Devils can make a big statement with another win over their bitter adversaries.
This is a Duke team that still hasn’t quite found its stride. The recent brilliance on the defensive end has been met with offensive inconsistency as the Blue Devils have struggled to establish an assertive presence in the paint, often relying on the strength of their perimeter play. Yet they continue to show flashes of their potential as represented by Frank Jackson’s outstanding 22-point performance against the Seminoles. Will Duke continue to find new heroes and get over the hump on the road, or will they face the daunting prospect of being a middling seed in the ACC Tournament? Fittingly, it all depends on the rematch of the best rivalry in college basketball.