I grant you that there are better games on Saturday and with more at stake than North Carolina vs. Duke, but it just feels wrong not to preview college basketball’s best rivalry even with the Tar Heels being a massive disappointment and a likely NIT team. And, of course, ESPN GameDay and Dickie V will be there.
No. 4 Duke is a 12-point favorite on Bookmaker and really shouldn’t have much trouble in this game. The Blue Devils won by 10 in Chapel Hill back on Feb. 10, Carolina is just 2-7 (3-6 ATS) on the road this season and Duke is 17-0 at home (10-4-1 ATS). But it’s Duke-UNC, so records don’t tend to matter. Plus, the Heels have won six of the past eight meetings and four in a row at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Obviously the Duke seniors, led by star guard Jon Scheyer, don’t want to end their careers without a home win against the hated Heels.
UNC does have the motivation of keeping its bitter rival from winning the ACC regular-season title and possibly getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Duke will know by the time it takes the court what co-conference leading Maryland did earlier Saturday against Virginia. Of course, the Terps upset Duke earlier this week in College Park. But if Duke and Maryland tie atop the ACC standings, the Blue Devils will receive the No. 1 seed for the ACC Tournament ahead of the Terps. North Carolina is playing better of late, having won at Wake Forest and then beating Miami on Tuesday for the 2,000th win in the program’s history. It’s the first back-to-back wins for the Heels in 2010.
Maryland might have given other teams a blueprint of how to beat Duke, not that it’s exactly breaking news. The Terps basically smothered the Devils’ star trio of Kyle Singler, Scheyer and Nolan Smith and dared other Blue Devils to beat them. It worked as Duke’s four interior players combined for only 13 points and the Devils shot just 33.3 percent from the field in the second half.
North Carolina leading scorer Deon Thompson injured his back in the win over the Hurricanes but said there’s no way he would miss the Duke game. Carolina has yet to score 80 points in an ACC game this season, and the Heels have never gone an entire conference season without hitting 80 at least once.
Possibly the most disappointing Heel this year has been point guard Larry Drew II. UNC is 5-13 this season when he shoots less than 50 percent from the field. He was 4-for-15 from the field in the first game with Duke (1-for-8 from the three-point line). When the Heels shoot better than 50 percent as a team, they are unbeaten this year (9-0). A promising sign for UNC against Miami was the play of Marcus Ginyard, who has been plagued by injuries. He played arguably his best game of the season with 12 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. He also came up big against Wake, so if Ginyard continues at this level and Drew isn’t terrible, the Heels have a shot at the upset Saturday.
I like the Heels to hang close in this one and cover the spread. Remember, they led Duke by four points with about 11 minutes left in the first game before the Dukies went on a 22-8 run. The Heels held Duke to 31.9 percent shooting but only shot 34.5 percent themselves, including 5-for-19 from the three-point line. The road team has covered in the past five meetings in this series overall.