The greatest rivalry in college basketball history takes center stage Wednesday night as the no. 1 Duke Blue Devils host the no. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels. Despite both being top-10 teams, Duke is a 9-point favorite at home.
North Carolina heads to Cameron Indoor Stadium fresh off a 38-point shellacking of Wake Forest. That was a good bounce-back game for the Tar Heels, who lost to Virginia at home last week. They now sit at 20-5 overall and 10-2 in ACC play. However, with Duke having just one conference loss, UNC may need to win Wednesday in order to keep them in contention for the ACC regular season title.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils are riding a 9-game winning streak since losing to Syracuse last month. Duke has beaten Virginia twice during that span and also overcome a 23-point deficit against Louisville. The Blue Devils are clearly in the driver’s seat atop the ACC standings, but with road games against Syracuse and Virginia Tech coming up, they don’t want to slip-up at home, especially against the Tar Heels.
Two Lottery Tickets
Game after game, the Blue Devils are led by Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, who may end up being the top two picks in this year’s NBA Draft. Williamson may be the biggest physical freak that college basketball has ever seen. On the season, he’s shooting 68% from the field, as he’s virtually impossible to stop anywhere close to the basket. Barrett has been equally impressive this season, even if he doesn’t get as much attention as Williamson. He’s scoring with just as much consistency and is coming off a game in which he recorded a triple-double, so he impacts games in a number of ways.
The few times Duke has been vulnerable this season is when they don’t shoot the ball well from the outside. That’s one of the few weaknesses the Blue Devils have. However, Williamson is so proficient inside the arc that it’s difficult for teams to force Duke to stay outside and shoot 3’s. The Blue Devils are also one of the best teams in the country in terms of defensive efficiency, as point guard Tre Jones is an elite on-ball defender who can disrupt a team’s offensive rhythm by himself.
As usual, North Carolina is all about getting up and down the court and trying to outscore teams that way. They are the second-highest scoring team in the country, in large part because they have great scoring balance. Luke Maye can be a force inside the paint, while Cameron Johnson warrants a great deal of attention as a knockdown shooter on the perimeter. Then there’s freshman Coby White, who seems to get better every time out and has taken over a game on multiple occasions this year.
However, questions linger about North Carolina’s commitment on the defensive end. Even middle-of-the-pack and low-end ACC teams have managed high point totals against Tar Heels. If those teams can put the ball in the basket, UNC doesn’t stand much of a chance to slow down Williamson and Barrett. That means North Carolina’s only path to victory would be to force a shootout and try to out-run the Blue Devils on their home floor.
It’s a Rivalry, Right?
No one will deny that Duke is the better team in this game. However, these two teams almost always play close games. Even with some defensive issues, the Tar Heels are just as capable as Duke offensively. Bet on North Carolina to beat the 9-point spread, even if they can’t pull off the win.