Coby White, No. 3 UNC Top RJ Barrett, No. 4 Duke Without Injured Zion Williamson

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMarch 10, 2019

North Carolina's Kenny Williams (24) drives to the basket as Duke's RJ Barrett defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Coby White scored 21 points as No. 3 North Carolina beat No. 4 Duke 79-70 Saturday at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

UNC beats Duke 79-70! https://t.co/hAeFQ7Gorj

Luke Maye posted seven points, 16 rebounds and seven assists for the 26-5 Tar Heels, who won their seventh straight game. Kenny Williams added 18 points, and Cameron Johnson posted a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double.

The Blue Devils, also 26-5, are just 3-3 in their last six contests. Duke has been without Zion Williamson for all but 36 seconds of that stretch with a knee sprain suffered early in the first half against UNC on Feb. 20.

RJ Barrett led Duke with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Cam Reddish added 23 points and three steals.


UNC Proving Worthy of a No. 1 Seed

The Tar Heels' ugly 83-62 home loss to the Louisville Cardinals on Jan. 12 seems like decades ago.

Since then, UNC has built an excellent No. 1 seed resume, with two wins over Duke, an 18-point victory over No. 16 Florida State, a 21-point demolition of No. 10 Virginia Tech and a revenge road win against Louisville.

Granted, UNC played Duke sans Williamson in both of those games, but the Tar Heels look like they're playing on skates lately.

The team ranked No. 5 in tempo by the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings flies down the court and scores with ease. The Tar Heels have also scored 75 or more points in every game since Jan. 12 sans a 69-61 loss to Virginia.

The Sagarin Ratings listed UNC as a top-four team before Saturday, just a touch ahead of No. 5 Michigan State. The Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings list UNC at No. 5, but its ranking seems destined to improve after Saturday.

And Tennessee's loss to unranked Auburn on Saturday opens the door for North Carolina to get a No. 1 seed. Bracket Matrix aggregates the most notable bracketologists, and most had UT as the last No. 1 in the field entering Saturday. However, the Vols are staring at a No. 2 seed at best now, with Kentucky, UNC, Michigan and Michigan State as the next four up.

But of that group, UNC received the most No. 1 seed votes with nine, a number sure to grow shortly.

Pomeroy also listed UNC with the No. 11-toughest strength of schedule in the nation entering Saturday, also a listing that's bound to move up. From that slate, North Carolina can also claim a 13-point win over Gonzaga, which looks destined for a No. 1 seed provided it wins the WCC tournament.

There's a long way to go with the conference tournaments needing to play themselves out. But UNC's case for a No. 1 seed is only getting stronger in March.


It's Time to Start Believing in Cam Reddish

No college basketball player in the country is more polarizing than Reddish, who has a place in the top five of the 2019 NBA draft waiting for him. Mike Schmitz of ESPN provided a good summary of Reddish's game now and where it can be:

Mike Schmitz @Mike_Schmitz

Which Cam Reddish will we get today at UNC? When he’s in a rhythm and playing with confidence, Reddish looks like a lock top-4 pick. He also has 10 games with single-digit scoring. Still high on his combination of size, length and versatile shooting. https://t.co/IdA2VLLEpr

Reddish looked more like Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George in the first half, as Reid Forgrave of CBS Sports tweeted:

Reid Forgrave @ReidForgrave

Cam Reddish, who is going to be a better NBA player than he is a college player, has been a fantastic college player so far tonight. Love his Paul George-ish game.

And he proved why it's time for people to start getting bullish on his prospects for the collegiate postseason and the pros.

First, let's set the scene. Duke was without its best playerwho is arguably the top collegiate basketball star since Kevin Durant in 2006-07—and facing the scorching-hot No. 3 Tar Heels on the road. The crowd was naturally hot for the archrivalry game and stayed energetic throughout the entire night.

Plus, Duke had to go without starting center Marques Bolden. The big man suffered a knee injury on a block attempt and was forced to leave in the first half.

The Blue Devils faced severe obstacles, but that didn't seem to matter to Reddish, who scored an easy 17 first-half points to help keep Duke in the game.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted about how that mark compared to Reddish's previous results:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Duke leads UNC 40-38 at the half in Chapel Hill. Cam Reddish leads all scorers with 17 points, his 2nd-most in any half this season (18 in 1st half vs Stetson on Dec. 1). Reddish shot 4-for-10 outside the paint, while his teammates went a combined 1-for-8.

As ESPN Stats & Info implied, the vast majority of Blue Devils had trouble scoring. Reddish and Barrett combined for 49 of Duke's points. The former player slowed down in the second half as it seems as though the duo was playing 2-on-5 on offense.

But Reddish showed enough on this night to gain some optimistic views from skeptics.

Tony Jones of The Athletic noted that Reddish could be an NBA great under one condition:

Tony Jones @Tjonesonthenba

If cam reddish ever gets a killer instinct he could be an annual nba all-star...his skillset is just flat out ridiculous

That killer instinct hasn't always shown, but Reddish has revealed it in the past, like when he drilled this game-winning three-pointer versus Florida State:

And Seth Davis of The Athletic tweeted about how much of an impact Reddish has on Duke's success when he's feeling it:

Seth Davis @SethDavisHoops

Cam Reddish now has 17. Duke's a different team when he's playing like this.

Reddish has the tools and natural gifts to become an NBA star and co-lead Duke to a national title. But those aren't always present.

He's posted 17 points, three steals and two blocks at No. 1 Virginia earlier this season. But he has also scored single digits 10 times and entered Saturday shooting just 36.2 percent from the field.

The important thing to remember is that Reddish is 19 years old and playing for a team with a severe spotlight on it at all times. He may have an incredible amount of natural talent, but that doesn't mean it'll be realized right away as he navigates through his freshman season.

After a strong first half Saturday, however, Reddish may be on the right track toward a breakthrough.


What's Next?

UNC will be the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament, which begins Tuesday, March 12. Duke will be the No. 3 seed. Virginia earned the No. 1 spot by virtue of its 16-2 conference record, capped by a victory over Louisville on Saturday.

Both teams have received double byes and will start the tournament in the quarterfinal round Thursday, March 14, at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. UNC will play at approximately 7 p.m. ET, and Duke will tip off around 9:30 p.m.