The biggest rivalry in college basketball is almost here. North Carolina-Duke is always must watch television as two of the country’s best programs play each other twice a year to determine which team is better on Tobacco Road. The teams are about to play each other for the first time this season in a game that could determine the ACC regular season title.
Duke is currently atop the ACC with a record of 11-1, but have three challenging road games ahead of them in Syracuse, Virginia Tech and North Carolina. The Orange upset the Blue Devils in Durham earlier this season, so Syracuse could get the season sweep of Duke. North Carolina is 10-2 in conference play with losses to Virginia and Louisville.
The Tar Heels are undefeated in road conference games this season, a streak they will like to continue against Duke in Durham. The freshmen tandem of Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett is second to none as they combine to average 45.1 points per game.
Their ability to attack the paint from the perimeter is what has propelled Duke to the top spot in the AP poll. Cameron Johnson will matchup with Barrett, but the better question is who will matchup with Williamson. Garrison Brooks and Luke Maye are the two obvious candidates as they have the size to match his physicality, but both players lack the foot speed to stay in front of Williamson. Nassir Little could see his first career start against Duke as he has the quickness on the perimeter to defend Williamson, Barrett and Cam Reddish.
The point guard matchup between Tre Jones and Coby White will determine the outcome of the game as both players are the engines of their respective teams. Jones runs Duke’s offense to perfection, setting up Williamson and Barrett on the perimeter without turning the ball over. His efficiency with the ball in his hands is the reason why Duke’s offense is so efficient as he rarely makes mistakes.
White is a pure scorer as he is second on the team in scoring at 15.7 points per game. His speed in the open court allows North Carolina to get easy baskets in transition as White is becoming more comfortable running Roy Williams’ offense. He is a dangerous three-point shooter for the Tar Heels and they will need him to stretch the Blue Devils on defense. The X-factor for the Tar Heels is senior Kenny Williams, who has had an up and down final season in Chapel Hill.
The Virginia native has struggled shooting the ball from the perimeter, but is the team’s best on-ball defender. His main responsibility against Duke will be to pressure Jones into making mistakes. The freshman guard has been among the nation’s best at limiting mistakes, so Williams will have his work cut out for him on the defensive end.
Johnson leads the team in scoring and needs to have a big game in Durham for the Tar Heels. He is one of the best shooters in the conference, but can also put the ball on the deck and get to the basket. If Johnson is able to hit a couple three-pointers early in the game, the Tar Heels will have a great chance of pulling off the upset.
Duke’s strength is on the interior as they excel in rebounding and blocking shots. Williamson’s presence in the paint has been a key factor, but Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier and Jack White are all capable rim protectors and shot blockers. Brooks could struggle getting shots off over Duke’s length, meaning Maye has to knock perimeter jump shots. If the Tar Heels force the Duke big men to play away from the basket, North Carolina will be able to get a lot of easy shots around the basket.
North Carolina-Duke is one of the most intense rivalries in sports and the upcoming matchup will be no different.