Duke UNC III lived up to every bit of the hype with Duke defeating the Tar Heels 74-73 in the ACC Tournament semifinals. In what many are calling the game of the year and his first full game against the arch-rival Tar Heels, Zion Williamson looked to be at 100%, putting up a game-high 31 points on 13-19 shooting, while also grabbing 11 rebounds. Williamson dominated down the stretch, with big play after big play, including a three-point play after North Carolina extended their lead to 71-67, and then the go-ahead put-back layup after his own miss to put Duke up 74-73. Other star freshman, RJ. Barrett and Cam Reddish both took a backseat to Williamson’s heroics, putting up 15 and 6 points respectively. North Carolina played every bit the part, as seniors Cam Johnson and Luke Maye led the team in scoring with 23 and 14 points respectively. Carolina also got contributions from their two freshman; Colby White, who had a good all-around game with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. The other Carolina freshman and a potential top-10 pick, Nassir Little added 9 points off the bench, including the go-ahead dunk to put Carolina up 73-72. Here are some takeaways.
Zion Williamson is the best player in the country
Williamson just re-affirmed his status as the country’s best player in his first game in the Duke-Carolina rivalry. He clearly led the Blue Devils, and dominated the basketball game. Williamson added one of his signature dunks off a jumped pass, and that was just a bit part of his all-around stellar performance. Williamson was not going to be denied down the stretch, scoring 11 of Duke’s final 15 points. Williamson refused to let his Blue Devils lose to the enemy Tar Heels for three times in one season for the first time in 43 years. In what might have been the best game of the college basketball season to date, Zion Williamson showed the world how good he is, as if the world did not already know.
Duke’s bench was a strength, not a weakness
The Achilles heel for this Duke roster all season has been their lack of depth. In the ACC semifinal, their bench played a key part in their win. In the first half, Duke was in danger of letting Carolina run away with the game, as the Tar Heels jumped out to an early lead, stretching that lead to 13 points after a Garrison Brooks dunk. Coach K reached deep down his bench and inserted guard Jordan Goldwire and center Antonio Vrankovic. Vrankovic and Goldwire both heavily contributed to a 24-11 Duke run to close out the first half to tie the game. Goldwire put Duke ahead 72-71 with a layup, closing out a quick Duke 5-0 run to take the lead towards the end of the second half. If Duke can get contributions like this from their bench, they will be very tough to beat in March.
Reddish was nonexistent, Barrett was inconsistent
Behind Williamson’s heroics, Duke’s other two star freshman played below their capability. Barrett played 40 minute, and added 15 points on 5 of 15 shooting. Barrett was 2-9 from three, and missed two free throws at the end of the game, to give Carolina a chance to win the game at the end of regulation. Barrett was able to contribute elsewhere with 8 boards and 7 assists. Reddish on the other hand, did not show up in this huge matchup. Reddish only added 6 points and shot 3-7 from the field, 0-2 from three. Reddish lost playing time to Goldwire at the end of the game, only logging 23 minutes. Duke needs consistent, strong play from these two guys in big games if they want to be playing in April.
Does the ACC get 3 One Seeds? If not, who is left out?
With Virginia and North Carolina both losing in the semifinals, Duke goes up against the Florida State Seminoles tonight in the ACC Championship game. If Duke holds serve and wins, how the committee ranks Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina will be one of the hottest issues on Selection Sunday. Duke has beaten Virginia twice, Virginia has beaten North Carolina in their only matchup of the season, and North Carolina has beaten Duke two out of three times. So it will be really intriguing to see who gets on the one line, and who gets demoted to a two seed. My best guess is that if Duke wins the ACC, Duke and UVA are one seeds, while North Carolina gets bumped to the top of the two line.
Duke takes on Florida State in the ACC championship game after the Seminoles upset the Virginia Cavaliers in the first game of the Friday night doubleheader in Greensboro, North Carolina. Selection Sunday is this Sunday, March 17th and both Duke and North Carolina will be under consideration for a one seed. As March Madness approaches, both teams seem like they are playing at their highest level, and are considered favorites to be cutting down the nets in April.