The famous Tobacco Road rivalry between the Duke Blue Devils and UNC Tar Heels will be rekindled once again on Saturday night.
As usual, there will be plenty of repercussions based on the outcome, and both sides have much to gain by winning the battle at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
While Duke may be heavily favored by the public due to its No. 3 ranking in the AP poll, this has the markings of a game where either program could escape with a victory.
If the Blue Devils are going to come out on top, here’s what has to happen:
Ryan Kelly Must Continue to Shine
The 6'11" senior missed 13 games with a foot injury this season, but he has been absolutely electric since returning against the Miami Hurricanes last week.
In that contest, “The White Raven” put the team on his back and piled in 36 points (10-14 FG, 7-9 3PT) and grabbed seven boards. Duke was able to overcome the No. 5-seeded ‘Canes, 79-76, and has remained undefeated with the star forward in the lineup.
Kelly followed that performance up with another gem, scoring 18 points (6-of-12 FG, 2-of-7 3PT), hauling in nine rebounds and dishing five assists in a complete shellacking of the Virginia Tech Hokies.
If he can muster up yet another top-notch showing against Carolina, the Dukies are going to have a much easier time nabbing a road victory against their rival.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski should send Maryland’s Mark Turgeon a gift basket for revealing a great strategy to deploy against UNC point guard Marcus Paige.
In the final few minutes of the Terrapins' loss to the Tar Heels, the Maryland defense swarmed and hounded Paige up and down the court, causing the freshman to commit numerous turnovers after picking up his dribble in the trap.
UMD wound up going on a ridiculous 11-2 run in just 56 seconds, with two Paige turnovers contributing to that surge.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams had to eventually switch up his ball handlers to close the game out, but that’s not something he can afford to do for the duration of the contest against Duke and still win.
Unless Paige figures out how to beat a press and fight through traps by dribbling, it’s going to be a long night for the young guard.
Win the Battle for the Boards
With UNC running with a small lineup lately, it has given up a lot on the glass in exchange for more firepower.
So far this gamble has paid off, even if the Tar Heels aren’t winning the rebounding battle against many teams they have beaten.
However, during this stretch, UNC has yet to face a team that can capitalize on second-chance opportunities and employ a variety of lineups to create huge mismatches all over the floor.
Which team will win?
Duke possesses the personnel to destroy North Carolina on the glass, while also being athletic and quick enough to guard the opposition out on the perimeter.
Expect Coach K to tinker with the lineups until he finds the right one that will not only allow his squad to dominate the offensive glass, but limit the three-point opportunities and wide-open jumpers from the Tar Heels shooters.