Game of the Week: No. 14 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Duke

Story posted March 8, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Michael Katz

The final Saturday of the regular season will provide the second meeting between the two biggest rivals in college basketball.

North Carolina is one of the hottest teams in the nation right now. In January, the Tar Heels were in the bubble conversation, after starting 1-4 in ACC play. Since then, they have won 12 straight contests, including an eight-point win over this Saturday’s opponent.

North Carolina, unranked at the time, rallied from a late deficit to win its third game over a top five team. Marcus Paige was clutch late, scoring all 13 of his points in the second half, including two huge buckets in the final two minutes of the game. The Tar Heel defense held Duke to 36 percent from the field in the second frame.

North Carolina jumped back into the top 25 with the win and are now ranked 14th. The Tar Heels have not swept the season series since their National Title in 2009. Duke has won 33 straight on its home floor.

The main matchup to watch in this game will be Duke’s Quinn Cook against North Carolina’s Marcus Paige.

With the loss of PJ Hairston to suspension, someone on UNC’s roster was going to have to take charge this season, and Paige has done just that. He leads the team in scoring with 16.9 points per game. He is a slow starter, but is prone to explode in the second half of games. 65.9 percent of Paige’s points in ACC play have come in the second half. Paige is also valuable at the free throw line. Carolina is one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the nation, going 62.6 percent as a team for the season, but Paige provides a reliable option at the line. He is second in the ACC in free throw percentage at 88 percent.

Opposite of Paige will be Duke’s Cook. Cook is the team’s third leading scorer and its leading assist man. He provides veteran leadership at the point guard position and is great at getting the ball to Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. His biggest challenge against North Carolina will be guarding Paige. He kept Paige quiet in the first half of the last game, but was not able to control him in the second. He will need to contain the second half surge of Paige in this game to give Duke a solid chance at taking this one.

Another factor in this game will be the foul situation. Carolina is a terrible free throw shooting team and its players are tempting to hack and put at the line. However, Duke cannot risk getting its players in foul trouble. Fouls killed Duke in the first Syracuse game.

Both Parker and Amile Jefferson fouled out in regulation, and they ended up losing in overtime. Hood has also piled up fouls in a few games this year. The Blue Devils need to keep Parker and Hood on the floor to score with the Tar Heels. If they get into foul trouble, Duke will be relying on secondary scorers, which will not be good enough.

This is the best rivalry in college basketball and is a fitting end to the College Gameday season. Both teams are very good this year, as usual, and this one should be another classic.

Michael Katz is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mak5672@psu.edu.