At 6-foot-9, 214 pounds, Duke first-year forward Matthew Hurt was expected to be a weapon for the Blue Devils, giving them a much-needed combination of length and shooting. In a lineup made up of slashers and a physical post-player in first-year Vernon Carey Jr., Hurt was a lock to be a starter from day one.
It wasn't easy-going at first — Hurt had a rough start to his first season at Duke, averaging 8.7 points through his first six games — though he played only five minutes against Georgetown in one of those games. He also had trouble finding his shot, making well under 50 percent of his field goal attempts.
Recently though, the rookie forward has started to catch his stride and has turned into a reliable contributor.
One of the biggest improvements is his 3-point shooting. Hurt has shown his ability to light it up from deep, hitting multiple threes in nine games this season, including five in a 25-point performance against Boston College on New Year's Eve.
His efficiency helps the Blue Devils to spread the floor, allowing ACC Player of the Year candidate Carey to get open looks in the paint.
If he's able to shoot the three well against North Carolina, Duke will score at a pace that'll be hard for the Tar Heels to keep up with. UNC has struggled to defend the outside shot all season, allowing its opponents to shoot 33.3 percent from deep (194th in the country) while shooting just 29.6 percent from deep themselves (327th in the country).
Hurt doesn’t only affect the game through his shooting, though. He's also a threat in the post. He's displayed a wide array of creative post moves, adding another element to his diverse game.
On the defensive end, Hurt is also strong, defending well on the perimeter and in the paint. He can stay with most guards and can hold his position in the post. Recently, he has also shown his chops as a rim protector, getting at least one block in six of his past seven games.
The Blue Devils will need him to play tight defense, as he will have to guard UNC junior forward Garrison Brooks, who is playing the best basketball of his college career. If Hurt struggles, North Carolina will try and expose that matchup and Brooks could put on another impressive performance.
UNC should look to attack Hurt on the glass, too. While Carey is there to grab the majority of the boards, Hurt hasn't seen double-digit rebounds yet this season, only going over six twice. The Tar Heels will likely need to win the rebounding battle to have a chance at an upset.
North Carolina's starting lineup of Brooks and first-year center Armando Bacot has given the team some impressive rebounding numbers. UNC is plus 8 in rebounding margin this season and should be able to use size to its advantage. Getting second-chance opportunities will be huge for a team that doesn't shoot the ball well.
Duke is clearly the favorite on paper, but if Hurt struggles on either offense or defense, UNC’s chance for an upset will significantly increase.
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