The stakes are always high when Duke and North Carolina meet in college basketball’s greatest rivalry, but they are even higher than normal for Saturday’s showdown between the Tobacco Road foes. The Tar Heels (15-9, 9-6 ACC) and Blue Devils (11-10, 9-8) are both on the NCAA Tournament bubble, according to Jerry Palm’s Bracketology, and Duke is in particularly dire need of a win to bolster its at-large hopes.
UNC won the first meeting at Duke 91-87 on Feb. 6 behind a 25-point outburst from Caleb Love, but both teams have been through plenty of transition in the month since. Duke lost five-star freshman forward Jalen Johnson, who scored 14 points in the first meeting, and his departure from the roster has helped Duke’s offensive fluidity. But the Blue Devils are entering this game having dropped two straight heartbreakers that have locked them in as the No. 9 seed for next week’s ACC Tournament.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have played with a confounding mix of greatness and ineptitude since the first Duke game and enter Saturday with their ACC Tournament seeding — and NCAA Tournament seeding — very much still up in the air. As of Friday, UNC was projected on the No. 11 seed line for the Big Dance by Palm. A win would go a long way toward solidifying their resume entering the postseason.
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- When: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
- Where: Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
- TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Duke: Losses have come in bunches for the Blue Devils this season, and they need a win to avoid a third three-game losing streak in the ACC. This team just hasn’t been great in late-game situations, and that was been especially crushing in back-to-back overtime losses to Louisville and Georgia Tech over the past week. One factor in those losses was leading scorer Matthew Hurt fouling out of both contests. His exit with 6:14 left in regulation against the Yellow Jackets was particularly painful, and the Blue Devils will need a full dose of Hurt in this game. He scored a season-low 7 points in the first meeting against UNC but has averaged 20.7 points on 65.9% shooting since and will be depended on by Duke in a big spot here.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels have developed a new weapon to throw at Duke since the first meeting. His name is Walker Kessler, and he’s a 7-foot-1 freshman who is starting to play up to his five-star prospect rating. After logging just two minutes in the first meeting, Kessler has been enjoying producing some encouraging results during more time on the floor. In particular, his 20-point outburst helped spur UNC to a big win over Florida State last Saturday. Duke’s five-star freshman 7-footer Mark Williams has been playing better as of late, too, and it will be fun to see Williams and Kessler on the floor at the same time.
Game prediction, pick
Between bigs Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks and Day’Ron Sharpe, UNC was already a lot to handle on the interior. With Kessler now in the mix as well, the Tar Heels are absolutely massive. Front-line heft is not a strength for Duke, and Carolina’s physicality should help it get a big win. Prediction: North Carolina 80, Duke 75
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