It seems that big men commanding the court are a common theme among the UNC and Duke basketball teams, and the team that controls the paint usually comes away with the victory in the rivalry matchup.
This season, both teams have been bolstered by their stellar frontcourt play, which opens up space for shooters to knock down shots comfortably from deep.
Armando Bacot, a 6-foot-10-inch junior, leads North Carolina in scoring at 16.3 points per game. Although the streak came to an end in a win against Boston College on Jan. 26, his 10 straight double-doubles marked the program's largest such streak since Billy Cunningham accomplished the feat in the 1964-65 season.
Bacot also leads the ACC in rebounds, averaging 12.1 for the season. His 57.4 percent from the field ranks him fifth in the conference.
With a sturdy build, Bacot is strong near the basket and fights for the inside slot. He is a good finisher and has developed a number of post moves that have allowed him to increase his scoring average.
Bacot has had some help in the frontcourt from a couple of towering transfers: 6-foot-9-inch graduate forward Brady Manek and 6-foot-11-inch sophomore Dawson Garcia.
Manek averages 13.0 points per game and Garcia averages 9.0, making them two of the top five scorers on the team. Both players are second and third on the team in rebounding, averaging 5.6 and 5.5 per game, respectively.
Garcia’s lanky build allows for good blocking opportunities, and he is decent from behind the arc, knocking down 37.5 percent of his triples. Manek has also been a capable marksman from deep, shooting 37.6 percent on 5.2 attempts per game throughout his career.
While sophomore guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis will have the ball in their hands frequently, UNC will likely rely on its frontcourt to make big plays, both offensively and defensively.
Duke, too, is heavily reliant on its big men. First-year Paolo Banchero was the 2021 Preseason ACC Player of the Year, and he has lived up to the title. The 6-foot-10-inch forward averages 17.6 points, ranking him sixth in the conference. He has scored 20 points or more eight times thus far in some of the team's toughest matchups.
Banchero will be difficult to cover as he has the skills of a guard – shooting, dribbling and quickness – but the size and strength of a big player.
Beyond Banchero, Duke will look to sophomore center Mark Williams. At 7-foot-1-inch, Williams is a huge threat near the basket. He averages 10.1 points and leads the ACC with his 68.8 field goal percentage, while serving as a defensive anchor with conference-leading 3.2 blocks per game.
Although graduate student Theo John averages just 11.7 minutes per game, the 6-foot-9-inch Blue Devil is another dangerous player that is versatile and impressive near the rim. At 242 pounds, he can fend off drives and set solid screens.
Though the Tar Heels will head into the matchup as underdogs, their big men can help them for a potential win. As important as offense is, shutting down Banchero and Williams could be the most essential ingredient for the Tar Heels to finish on top.
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