Against any other team, No. 5 North Carolina–having already locked in the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament–might have had trouble finding proper motivation for Saturday’s regular-season finale.
But not against Duke. Not in the most storied rivalry in college basketball history. And certainly not after the Blue Devils got the best of the Heels in early February, 86-78.
The Heels are out for revenge, while Duke is looking to win its third straight in Chapel Hill for the first time since 2000-2002.
Here’s a preview of the newest chapter in the heated rivalry:
Duke vs. North Carolina Preview
Date: Saturday, March 4, 2017
Start Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Line: North Carolina (-6), per OddsShark.com
In the first matchup of the season, Duke got it done from beyond the three-point line. Grayson Allen knocked down seven treys, Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard added a couple of triples, and the Blue Devils as a team shot a scintillating 13-of-27 (48.1 percents) from deep.
It’s unlikely North Carolina lets that happen again. Since that loss, the Heels have ramped up the defensive effort, holding opponents to 59.4 points per game, 28.6 percent shooting from three and just 0.892 points per possession. For comparison, their averages for the season, respectively, are 68.1, 33.9 and 0.957
Duke’s offense is more explosive than anyone the Heels have played during that stretch, but an ankle injury to Grayson Allen, who missed last week’s loss to Miami, scored just two points in 16 minutes against Florida State on Tuesday, and won’t be 100 percent for this one, looms especially large. Though Frank Jackson has played well in his stead, Allen will likely need to provide something for Duke, who will need to be near perfect offensively to keep up with the ultra-efficient Heels.
Another important factor: home-court advantage.
While the Blue Devils have gotten the best of UNC in Chapel Hill the last two years, the Heels are 14-0 at the Dean Smith Center this season, which includes a 24-point win against Virginia and an 11-point win against Louisville in mid-February.
Put it all together, and North Carolina evens the season series–with the rubber match hopefully to come in the ACC tournament.
Prediction: North Carolina 79, Duke 70