One of the greatest rivalries in college hoops goes down on March 9, as the Duke Blue Devils will visit the North Carolina Tar Heels to close out the regular season.
These two squads last faced off on Feb. 13 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Duke enjoyed a late run en route to a 73-68 victory on the back of key three-pointers from backup guard Tyler Thornton.
The scene has now shifted to Chapel Hill, and North Carolina is looking to close out its regular season with a seventh straight win. This would provide the team with plenty of momentum heading into the ACC Tournament, where a strong performance could earn them a solid seeding for the Big Dance.
More importantly, a victory over the Blue Devils would put North Carolina in second place in the ACC.
Duke seems destined for a good seeding position in the national tournament but has a lot of work to do before earning it. The Blue Devils shook off some bad losses with a win over the rival Miami Hurricanes on March 2, and a season sweep of the Tar Heels coupled with what would be a stunning Miami loss to Clemson would put both teams in a tie for first place in the conference.
No matter how you look at it, both Duke and UNC have a lot to play for in this game, and the rivalry aspect is only going to make it all the more intense.
Time: Saturday, March 9, 9 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Records: Duke (26-4, 13-4 ACC) vs. North Carolina (22-8, 12-5 ACC)
Duke X-Factor: Ryan Kelly, F
Kelly missed 13 games with a foot injury, only to return last weekend against Miami and carry his Blue Devils to victory. In the two games since his return, Kelly has averaged 27 points and eight rebounds per game and has shot an incredible 61.5 percent from the field and 56 percent from long range.
Needless to say, head coach Mike Krzyzewski is going to need his senior forward to be in top form against a hated rival in North Carolina. This means finding his own shot—be it making himself wide open for a three-pointer or working the low post before turning around and sinking a fadeaway jumper.
The fact of the matter is that Kelly has been hot as of late, and Duke needs him to be at his best in this rivalry game. This is asking a lot, as Kelly has only averaged 15 points per contest on the season, but consider the circumstances.
This game is against UNC, and the top spot in the ACC could be on the line.
That said, even if Miami wins, the Blue Devils should still look to finish the regular season on a high note. A win over the Tar Heels would be perfect, but that can't happen without Kelly providing his fair share of offense.
North Carolina X-Factor: Reggie Bullock, G/F
One of the keys to defeating Duke is keeping up offensively, as the Blue Devils rank seventh in the nation in scoring. North Carolina isn't far behind at 14th, but matching Duke basket for basket is critical in the team's quest for a win, which is where Reggie Bullock could come in handy.
A 6'7" junior, Bullock has averaged 14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. His work as a shooter has been deadly, as he has made 45 percent of his attempts from downtown.
Bullock has been amazing for the Tar Heels over their last five games, posting 16.4 points and 10.2 boards per contest while shooting an eye-popping 48 percent from long range.
Needless to say, this is the Bullock who needs to show up against Duke. Though his best work comes as a shooter, Bullock must also not be afraid to drive hard to the basket and absorb contact, constantly mixing up his attack to keep the Blue Devils on their heels.
Combined with strong defense from James McAdoo, a strong scoring game from Bullock could be enough to give UNC an edge. As long as he can diversify his attack, the Tar Heels will have a shot at winning.
One thing can be said about this game: It's going to be incredibly close. Both squads have a lot to play for, and neither one will back down in its quest for the victory.
That said, in an overtime thriller, Duke will pull away with a victory thanks to key late baskets from both Ryan Kelly and Quinn Cook. Mason Plumlee will also have a fine game, registering a double-double and being a defensive force in the middle from start to finish.
That isn't to say that the Tar Heels will look terrible towards the end. Reggie Bullock and James McAdoo will help keep the game close, and P.J. Hairston shall do his fair share as well.
Unfortunately, North Carolina will go cold at the wrong time. This, combined with Duke's clutch shots, will swing the pendulum in the Blue Devils' favor, leaving North Carolina and its home crowd stunned.
Duke Blue Devils 84, North Carolina Tar Heels 79, in overtime