A lot has changed in the UNC and Duke backcourts since these two teams last met. Between both programs, only two guards in the rotation have seen action in the historic matchup before. The other six will be welcomed to the rivalry in an uncharacteristic, fanless way.
So far this season, both teams have found varying degrees of success inside, while their young backcourts have been spotty at best. First-years RJ Davis and Caleb Love had major turnover problems early for the Tar Heels, while Duke's young guards have struggled to settle in.
UNC will look for a complete performance from Love, who seems to be finding a rhythm after improving his shot selection and assist-to-turnover ratio. The Tar Heels themselves just made it over the hump in recent games, finally getting their assist-to-turnover ratio to just under one on the season.
North Carolina will also look to redshirt first-year Anthony Harris and first-years Davis and Kerwin Walton, all of whom have shown flashes of potential this season. Harris, fresh off a season-ending injury, brought a spark to the Tar Heels, adding great court vision and another threat from the outside. He averages over three points in just over nine minutes per game.
Before Harris’ return this season, UNC relied on Walton as its lone consistent outside threat, with both Davis and Love struggling from beyond the arc. The shooting guard is averaging just over 42 percent from 3-point range this year, and the Blue Devils will have to be careful not to leave him open on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Meanwhile, Davis has provided UNC with consistent play off the bench since head coach Roy Williams changed the starting lineup. Davis averages just under nine points a game and has become a consistent scorer for the Tar Heels.
Duke is also forced to rely on its first-year guards, who have struggled for rhythm within the inconsistent 2021 schedule. First-year Jeremy Roach has had issues with controlling the game and turning the ball over, similar to his North Carolina counterparts.
His teammate, DJ Steward, has proven to have breakout potential, averaging over 13 points a game and hanging 19 and 21 points on Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, respectively. The Tar Heels are likely to be a tougher matchup, but an electric performance from Steward would present a challenge for the UNC defense.
Both teams will look to their sole contributing upperclassmen in the backcourt for leadership. For North Carolina, senior Andrew Platek will try to provide an offensive spark with his shooting, while Duke's Jordan Goldwire will look to set the tone on the other end with his aggressive brand of defense.
The young guards from both teams, though, will be aiming to etch their names in the historic rivalry that has proved a kingmaker in recent years, with last-second buzzer-beaters from Austin Rivers and Tre Jones in the last decade.