ACC Rivalry Rematch: #3 Duke Blue Devils host #6 North Carolina Tarheels

There are few rivalry games in College Basketball as exciting and storied as the one between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tarheels. With the two teams combining for 9 NCAA titles, 33 Final Four appearances and 36 ACC conference championships throughout their collective histories, there’s nothing quite like watching a showdown between two of the perennially-elite teams in college basketball, even if you find yourself adamantly disliking both of these top-level programs. For tonight’s rematch, it’s doesn’t get much better than this as #3 Duke (25-4, 13-2 ACC) gets home court at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC, bringing in #6 North Carolina (25-4, 13-2), with both teams sporting identical records and sharing the top spot in the ACC conference. After a shocking upset win at Chapel Hill for Duke, North Carolina will seek to repay the favor tonight in the 234th meeting between the two schools over 92 years, with in-state bragging rights on the line as well as the claim to the ACC regular season title heading into the ACC conference tournament next week.

Both North Carolina and Duke couldn’t be in a better position coming into this exciting rematch tonight, with neither losing a game since their last meeting together. Since knocking off the North Carolina Tar Heels 85-84 on February 8th thanks to freshman Austin Rivers’ epic game winning shot at the buzzer, Duke has ripped off a further 6 straight wins through ACC play, continuing to improve their defensive efforts while maintaining good numbers on the offensive side of the ball (avg. 79 points/game). It was the Duke defense that was bringing a lot of question marks up through the middle of the season, with an average of 68.4 points allowed throughout the 2011-12 schedule, however with the Blue Devils playing all-around better defense in the last 6 games (allowing 63.3 points/game), Duke has definitely chosen a proper time to start improving their form. They’ll certainly need to play a bit better at home tonight against a North Carolina offense that by all means should have won the game nearly a month ago, hitting %49.2 percent of their shots from the floor against Duke, getting a +10 margin in the rebounding game, and carrying a 10 point lead into the final 2 1/2 minutes of play. If it wasn’t for Rivers’ three pointer, and Duke’s ability to come back using the outside shot (14-36 from 3-pt range vs. UNC’s 1-6), North Carolina would have easily pulled away from the game. But they didn’t. And here we stand with Duke trying to find another way to pull off a miracle against a North Carolina team that by physical measure is a more-talented, more aggressive and more disciplined team than Duke is this season.

A big key towards another Duke victory tonight certainly starts with better play on defense, as they can’t expect to give up 84 points to North Carolina and win the ball game again, and that in turn starts with the play of the big men inside the paint including the Plumlee boys Mason (10.8 points/game, 9.4 rebounds/game) and Miles (6.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg), and fellow forward Ryan Kelly (12.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Tasked with plugging the lanes in front of UNC’s Tyler Zeller (16.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and John Henson (14.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg) is certainly a huge assignment, especially when considering the top-scoring threat of Harrison Barnes (17.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg) looming large as a 3-man. North Carolina is big up front, and while Duke starters Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly are equally big themselves, they’re not nearly as physical or mobile as UNC’s big boys. Duke ran with a small line-up against North Carolina in the last outing to mix things up, which proved successful late the game as the Tar Heels’ game came apart. However there’s no question that Duke was dominated for the majority of that contest via the Heels’ inside play and letting that occur again will not likely have the same results tonight as North Carolina is bound to have a better finish to this hugely important game. I would hope to see more presence from Miles Plumlee in the lineup tonight if only for his rebounding presence (averaging 11 boards/game in his last 4 contests) and defensive efforts, and also to simply put more height up against a very big, very strong UNC front three.

For North Carolina on the flip side, consistency is as important as anything in a game taking place in a very hostile environment, and as the Tar Heels’ don’t feature much bench scoring or depth in their game plan (for example, only 1 player scored for UNC in the last meeting between these two teams). UNC did get good efforts across their starting five versus Duke, with 4 players in double figures and both Zeller and Barnes going for north of 20 points, but with so few relevant reserves capable of scoring, they have to be sure not to get too tied up on expecting points from 1 or 2 individuals tonight. Duke has to expect that most of the Tar Heels’ scoring is going to come within the perimeter, but they’ll have to be wary that UNC will try more shots from the outside tonight to balance out their game. That will put more emphasis on Kendall Marshall at the point (6.8 ppg, 9.6 apg) as well as Reggie Bullock (8.5 ppg), the latter who has averaged almost as many 3-pt shots in the past 5 games as the Tar Heels had against Duke in the last outing. Bullock was nonexistent in the first meeting, but coming off 4 double digit scoring efforts in the past 5 games, expect him to be a player to watch from the UNC perimeter tonight. Also essential towards a more consistent game for North Carolina is better play from Harrison Barnes. Against the smaller Duke perimeter defenders like freshman Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, Barnes should be due for another big game. He’s failed to reach more than 10 points in each of his last two games, and with big potential for mismatches here tonight, look for Barnes to take advantage and have a better first half effort to get UNC out of the gates.

While Duke is by far the quicker, more agile team around the perimeter behind the talented ranks of Rivers (15.3 ppg), Curry (13.6 ppg) and Dawkins (9.3 ppg), they are going to have to find other ways to produce points aside from bombing away from 3-pt range. While Duke is tops in the ACC in 3-pointers made and in 3-pt shooting percentage, expecting to win against UNC by taking another 36 3-pt shots in tonight’s game isn’t a great game plan, and Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows that better than any of us. Duke has to be better at penetrating with the ball, and using their more agile guards to pull inside defenders at them, thus freeing up weak side shooters. Austin Rivers was incredibly effective scoring 29 points against UNC in the last meeting, as was Seth Curry, but they can’t expect to both hit better than 50 percent from 3-pt range tonight. Thus, driving to the basket more frequently, rotating the ball around the perimeter and setting up designed plays will be something to watch for out of Duke. Also, the rebounding game has to be more of a focus for Duke. North Carolina is the top rebounding team in the nation, and likely will have an edge at the end of the night in this category considering their +10 margin over the Blue Devils on Feb. 8th. However, if Duke can solidify a better effort especially towards their defensive rebounding game, they can help themselves by limiting the number of second chance shots UNC gets.

Betting Lines for #3 Duke hosting #6 North Carolina at Sportsbetting Sportsbook

On Senior Night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the onus is certainly on Duke as the home team to pull out a victory in front of the Cameron Crazies, but on the betting lines at the Sportsbetting Sportsbook, the favorite goes to North Carolina, with -135 odds to win straight up on the money line. Duke is a marginal underdog at +115 odds, as this game, regardless of which way it falls, should be tight up until the finish.

Interesting to note here, North Carolina is 4-2 in straight up bets against the line when on the road at Duke.

Against the spread, just 2 points separate the two rivals, with UNC needing to cover -2 points and Duke getting a +2 point cushion to work with on home court. Noteworthy stat for spread pickers; Duke is 5-2 against the spread in the last 7 meetings with North Carolina.

On the total points line, Sportsbetting Sportsbook puts the mark at 155 points, expecting a high-scoring game. Considering the last meeting between the two teams resulted in 169 points might point you towards a break out of the total points favoring an over wager, but make note that in 6 of the last 7 meetings between these two teams, the points total has gone under.

Our Pick to Win:

For the biggest ACC game of the season, there’s no doubt this will be one hard-fought challenge as Duke gets home court advantage, but North Carolina is undoubtedly the all-around more talented and physical team. That said, the home court advantage has played out huge in the last few weeks between top ranked teams, so a look at Duke to emerge victorious is certainly tantalizing. What makes this difficult however is the fact that North Carolina has played very well at Duke over the last 6 meetings, and arguably there’s more pressure on Duke to win at home than there is on UNC as the visitor. North Carolina could easily end up owning the boards once again, dominating with their bigger inside presence, and overcoming the outside shooting of the Blue Devils to pull out a victory. As we saw in the first meeting between these two teams, only a total scoring collapse by North Carolina down the stretch, combined with a couple of crucial missed free-throws by Tyler Zeller, gave Austin Rivers the opportunity to pull off a huge upset for Duke. Lightning doesn’t strike twice for the Dukies tonight though, and North Carolina pulls out a decisive victory against their most hated rivals by a score of 80-75.

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