Sports editor Chris Hilburn-Trenkle and assistant sports editors Ryan Wilcox, Holt McKeithan and Jack Frederick give their predictions for the second installment of the UNC-Duke game. Tipoff is Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Smith Center.
In the teams’ first meeting of the year, UNC and Duke combined to shoot 10 of 59 (16.9 percent) from 3-point range. I’m going to go out on a limb and say they won’t shoot that poorly again. And if that’s the case – if we go by the law of averages, and suppose that the Chapel Hill rematch will become a battle beyond the arc – that favors the Tar Heels.
In almost any other season, turning the game into a 3-point shootout would be a point in Duke’s favor. But this year’s Blue Devils are shooting 30.9 percent from deep, just 328th in the country and a sharp contrast from other Mike Krzyzewski-coached teams of recent. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels are shooting the long ball at a 37.3 percent clip in conference play, and have a roster more than equipped for an up-and-down, scoring-heavy game.
The first Duke-UNC matchup was a slugfest. I predict that the rematch will be just the opposite, and that North Carolina will capitalize on the high-scoring nature of the game and outlast Duke at home.
UNC 81, Duke 74
UNC and Duke are currently on two opposite trajectories. The Tar Heels have won six straight, including the first leg against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke, on the other hand, has struggled since losing Zion Williamson to a knee sprain. It has lost twice in five games without Williamson, which is as much as it had lost the first 25 games combined. Duke also was a fortuitous roll away from being upset at home by Wake Forest — the worst team in the ACC by far.
Williamson’s absence has shown just how reliant Duke’s offense has been on the first-year star. While RJ Barrett has done an admirable job of running a one-man show without him, the Blue Devils need Williamson to be the best team in the country.
Unfortunately for Duke, it seems unlikely he will play Saturday. And without Williamson, North Carolina is simply the better team. In round one, UNC took down Duke handily, even while shooting poorly from beyond the arc.
Look for Cameron Johnson to continue to bolster his first-team All-ACC resume with another strong performance, and Coby White to redeem a poor showing in his debut against the Blue Devils. With the Tar Heels playing the best they have all season, expect North Carolina to finish the regular-season with a series sweep of the Blue Devils in Chapel Hill.
UNC 85, Duke 77
Right now, there are very few teams in the country hotter than UNC. Winners of 13 of its last 14 games, North Carolina picked the right time to heat up less than two weeks out from Selection Sunday. The stretch included a win over then-No. 1 Duke, 88-72, on Feb. 20. The win came after first-year forward Zion Williamson sprained his right knee less than a minute into the contest.
Saturday marks the second installment of the greatest rivalry in college basketball, but it's also senior night for Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Williamson still hasn't played since that first game and it is doubtful that he will play Saturday.
Without Williamson in the lineup the first time around, the Tar Heels dominated the Blue Devils in the paint for 62 points and Maye led the way with a 30-point, 15-rebound performance. I expect a similar outburst from UNC's frontcourt against Duke on Saturday.
Williams, who has been quiet most of the season, had one of the best games of his career last Feb. 8 against Duke at the Smith Center when he exploded for six 3-pointers. I think he will have another double-digit performance and I expect Johnson to also play well.
Duke still has plenty of talent without Williamson, but the team does not gel well without him in the lineup. First-years R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish will get their points, but the rest of the Blue Devils will continue to struggle from long range. The game could be close at halftime, but UNC will break away in the second half on the back of its frontcourt.
UNC 84, Duke 70
Let me preface the rest of this prediction by looking back at what I forecasted for the first UNC-Duke game.
I began my expectations for the rivalry matchup by suggesting how crucial it would be for UNC to shoot the ball exceedingly well from 3-point range. But the Tar Heels shot 10 percent from deep and still won by 16 points.
Then I boldly said what no other in sports media has ever dared to say — that Zion Williamson would be a physical force to be reckoned with. Well, after going down 36 seconds in, he was anything but that.
Almost every word I wrote ahead of the UNC-Duke game was wrong. Dead wrong. So take what comes next with a grain of salt.
No matter who is in Duke's starting lineup on Saturday, here are some things you can count on:
This game will matter for Williams, Maye and Johnson — the players playing their last college home game. You can expect their best from start to finish.
You can also expect that Mike Krzyzewski hasn’t forgotten about the first loss, and he hasn’t taken it lightly either. His team will come prepared to attack every weakness of the Tar Heels, and the Blue Devils intend to bolster up an interior presence with or without their best player.
You can expect the game to be close down to the final minutes, as Duke pulls away late with a four-point victory. But most of all, you can expect most of what I just said will be wrong.
But that's precisely what makes the UNC-Duke rivalry great.
Duke 95, UNC 91
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