At the midway point of the college basketball, the ACC is far and away the best conference in the country with six teams ranked in the top 15 of the latest AP poll. Duke headlines the group with the top spot in the poll, while Virginia is one of only three remaining undefeated teams in college basketball. While those two teams look like they are going to be the conference’s top two teams, North Carolina basketball provides a bigger threat to Duke than Virginia.
The Tar Heels are 2-0 in conference play after knocking off in-state rival NC State 90-82 in Raleigh. Luke Maye had a team-high 21 points as all five starters for coach Roy Williams scored in double figures. Cameron Johnson and Maye both grabbed 11 rebounds as North Carolina dominated NC State on the glass, 51-33. In two conference games this season, the Tar Heels have grabbed 102 rebounds as they have established themselves as the nation’s top rebounding team at 44.9 per game.
Their ability to crash the glass is vital as Duke does not have many shooters on the team and score the majority of its points in the paint. While Virginia’s pack line defense is the nation’s top scoring defense, the Cavaliers are second to last in the conference in rebounding, which is not good enough to beat a Duke team that grabs around 15 offensive rebounds a game.
The Tar Heels are prone to turnovers as they committed 23 against NC State and they still scored 90 points. Maye and freshman point guard Coby White combined for 12 turnovers, but scored 40 points on 13-27 shooting. North Carolina will need to clean up its turnovers against Duke, but the Tar Heels’ ability to score points in bunches makes them a tough team to beat as they are fifth in the nation in scoring at 89.9 points per game.
Michigan is the only team to hold North Carolina under 70 points, while they have eclipsed 100 points on four different occasions this season. The reason for the offensive success is how complete they are offensively with Maye as a stretch four and Garrison Brooks as the interior presence with Johnson, White and Kenny Williams on the perimeter. Sixth man Nassir Little has struggled with consistency in his freshman season, but he provides North Carolina with another scorer off the bench with his athleticism and driving ability.
Williams has the athletes to run in transition with Duke as the Tar Heels will need to get as many easy baskets as they can against the nation’s best shot-blocking team. North Carolina’s ability to score points in transition gives the Tar Heels the edge over Virginia as Duke’s biggest threat for the ACC title.