College basketball’s most extravagant rivalry renews this week as the No. 20 Duke Blue Devils voyage 10 miles down Tobacco Road for a midweek date with the No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels.
The first of two meetings between these teams over the final three weeks of the season comes with both teams trending in opposite directions.
The preseason’s top-ranked Tar Heels lost two straight games to begin February and nearly dropped a third to Boston College, which is 0-12 in the ACC. Carolina is hitting a skid at the worst time as it eyes the conference’s toughest remaining slate, with meetings against No. 11 Miami, No. 7 Virginia and a pair against Duke to account for four of its final six games.
The Tar Heels remain atop the ACC standings at 10-2, but Miami and Virginia lurk at one and 1.5 games back, respectively.
Entering last week, defending champion Duke hadn’t defeated a ranked team all season, but it enters Wednesday’s contest with two such victories in the past six days, including Grayson Allen’s buzzer-beater against Virginia Saturday, as shown here by ESPN:
Grayson Allen. At. The. Buzzer.— ESPN (@espn) February 13, 2016
Duke defeated No. 7 Virginia 63-62 with this final play: https://t.co/cZo0qRZ2Hs
Riding a four-game win streak, the Blue Devils are back in the Associated Press Top 25 after a two-week hiatus, and they could take a huge leap forward to the NCAA tournament with a win in the hostile environment of the Dean Dome.
Here is a closer look at Wednesday’s contest.
Where: Dean E. Smith Center (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
When: Wednesday, February 17, at 9 p.m. ET
Live Steam: WatchESPN
Battle in the Paint
ESPN Stats & Info shared quite a telling statistic on what will likely be a huge factor in Wednesday’s tilt:
UNC averages 41.2 paint PPG, most among major conference teams.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 15, 2016
Duke allows 36.1 paint PPG, 3rd-most among major conference teams.
North Carolina’s inside scoring accounts for nearly half of its offensive production at 83.8 points per game, which ranks 10th in the country.
Duke has always been a spread team with sharpshooters to free up the rest of the offense, and it will need to utilize its three-point specialists—Allen, Brandon Ingram and Matt Jones—to keep pace.
Ingram and Allen have become arguably the ACC’s best scoring tandem, and they understand the Blue Devils thrive best when the offense runs through them.
“A lot of people just play on us,” Ingram said, per C.L. Brown of ESPN.com. “We look for other guys too; I think they get more open off of us.”
Who Will Win?
This could be Ingram’s only game in the Dean Dome, as the freshman forward’s NBA stock continues to rise. He was listed No. 2 behind only Ben Simmons in the latest mock draft by Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report, who elaborated on why Ingram has become such a coveted talent.
"Ingram clearly has the offensive game to go with extraordinary measurements and bounce," Wasserman wrote. "His ball-handling and perimeter shot-making ability highlight a face-up scoring attack that screams mismatch for a small forward with 6'9" size and 7'3" length."
Ingram pitted against UNC forward and leading scorer Brice Johnson will be the game’s best matchup. Ingram needs to create opportunities in the paint to allow Duke’s edge shooters to get their looks.
North Carolina is due to shake from its recent skid as it heads into its onslaught of monumental matches to end the season.
Duke will keep them honest, but the Tar Heels are at home and should be able to find the edge in their post play to snap the Blue Devils’ three-game win streak in the series.
Predicted score: UNC 71, Duke 65