College Basketball Game of the Week: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 8 North Carolina
College basketball’s greatest rivalry is back.
The Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels meet for the 249th time this Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The game will be broadcast at 9 p.m. on ESPN. North Carolina holds a commanding lead in the all-time series, 137-111.
After Tennessee fell to Kentucky 86-69 last Saturday, the Blue Devils reclaimed the No.1 spot in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll. With the Tar Heels currently sitting at No. 8, this will be the 46th meeting all-time when both teams are ranked inside the top-10. For the first time in several years, this matchup will play a huge role in determining who will be crowned ACC regular season champions.
Unlike previous years, this season has been a tale of two very different rosters. North Carolina is an experienced team, feeding off of its senior leadership, whereas Duke has been carried by its extraordinary freshman. For the Tarheels, seniors Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams have accounted for 45 percent of the team’s total scoring. On the other hand, freshmen Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones have combined to produce 77 percent of Duke’s scoring this season.
Led by Zion Williamson, Duke (23-2, 11-1) enters the matchup atop the ACC standings, half a game ahead of Virginia. The Blue Devils haven’t lost since Jan. 14 and are looking strong as ever, following convincing wins over No. 16 Louisville and NC State last week. Expect this type of play to continue, as Duke goes for its sixth straight win over a ranked opponent and a sixth straight win at home.
Meanwhile, North Carolina (20-5, 10-2) currently sits in third, one game behind Duke in the ACC. A win on Wednesday would create a three-way tie atop the conference standings with just five games remaining though. The Tar Heels easily dispatched of Wake Forest last Saturday, winning 95-57. North Carolina has won eight of its last nine and its last six road games, but will be without sophomore forward Sterling Manley and freshman guard Leaky Black in this matchup. If the streak is to continue, the Tar Heels will have to play their best game of the year.
Other than finding a way to stop Zion Williamson and Duke’s other star freshmen, the key to winning the game for North Carolina comes down to Coby White. The 6-foot-5 freshman guard is averaging 17.7 points per game in ACC play, while shooting 38 percent from behind the arc. When he plays well, White is able to balance the offense more successfully, taking some pressure off of Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson. His matchup with Duke guard Tre Jones will play a big part in deciding who comes out of Cameron Indoor Stadium with a win.
For Duke, it all comes down to freshman forward Cam Reddish. Zion Williamson should be the focus of North Carolina’s game plan come Wednesday, so expect Reddish to receive more looks. At 6-foot-8, Reddish has been a major part of Duke’s success this season, averaging 13.8 points per game. Despite this, he has been inconsistent at times. With North Carolina’s defense always a welcomed sight for three-point shooters, it’s all a matter of if Reddish will be the 37 percent shooter from the last six games, or the 21 percent shooter from the previous ten.
All in all, if the Blue Devils play to their strengths, the first of two meetings this season should go their way. Luke Maye will be in for a long night guarding Zion Williamson, so expect North Carolina to be forced to double-team. Because of this, Duke’s other freshmen will have plenty of opportunities to take over. North Carolina has a clear advantage on the glass, but if Duke can limit the damage done, this game could get out of hand quickly. The Blue Devils are arguably the most talented team in the country, and you should expect them to bring maximum effort in a rivalry game like this, especially one at home.
Prediction: Duke 84, North Carolina 76
Matthew Black is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email MatthewCBlack20@gmail.com.