How do they play?
The focus for the Blue Devils will be getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers and letting them go to work from there. Duke runs a variety of screens to set up space for either three-pointers or driving lanes, and between ACC Player of the Year candidate Luke Kennard, likely top-five draft pick Jayson Tatum and Grayson Allen, the team has a wealth of playmakers who can score.
North Carolina’s defense has improved in recent weeks compared to the unit that the Blue Devils lit up for 86 points in the last matchup, but this will be UNC’s toughest test since that game. There are few offenses that stretch defenses as much as Duke does between its outside shooting and its driving ability.
Who stands out?
Kennard, who leads the Blue Devils in scoring, has been the favorite to earn ACC Player of the Year honors for several weeks, though UNC junior Justin Jackson has made a run at him in the past few games. Whichever player shines brightest on Saturday night could go a long way toward sealing the award.
With Grayson Allen dealing with an injury in the last game against Florida State, first-year point guard Frank Jackson — who averages 10.3 points per game — stepped up with one of his biggest games of the season. The rookie scored 22 points with over 50 percent shooting in Duke’s 75-70 win against the No. 15 Seminoles.
Even if Allen is limited again on Saturday, Frank Jackson could more than offset that. He scored the game-tying three-pointer in an eventual loss to Kansas earlier in the season, so he’s no stranger to performing on the big stage.
What’s their weakness?
In addition to the aforementioned injury to Allen, Duke forward Amile Jefferson is also dealing with some nagging injury issues. Although he played 31 minutes against Florida State, Jefferson has been in and out of the lineup the past two seasons because of injury and when he's on the bench, he has been sorely missed and difficult to replace.
Even with Jefferson, though, Duke’s frontcourt is not the strength of the team. North Carolina’s skilled big men could make a living on the offensive boards like they have for much of the season. Defensively, Duke also will likely not be able to do much to slow the Tar Heels down, as the Blue Devils rank 37th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric.
How could they win?
Despite the defensive shortcomings, Duke can and likely will score a lot of points on Saturday night, particularly against a UNC team missing one of its better perimeter defenders in Kenny Williams. With senior forward Isaiah Hicks also still limited by a hamstring injury, UNC’s post advantage could be diminished enough to keep the game close.
Then it just comes down to which team can hit shots at the end — which last time proved to be Duke. It’s been proven extremely difficult to win on the road against tough ACC opponents this season, but with Duke against North Carolina, throw out the trends and get ready for a classic.