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Wednesday February 1st

Preview: Three questions regarding UNC's wings against Duke

<p>Senior forward Leaky Black (1) guards an Appalachian State player at the game on Dec 21, 2021 at the Dean E. Smith Center. UNC won 70-50.</p>
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Senior forward Leaky Black (1) guards an Appalachian State player at the game on Dec 21, 2021 at the Dean E. Smith Center. UNC won 70-50.

The North Carolina men's basketball team will have its hands full when it welcomes Duke to the Dean E. Smith Center this Saturday, as the Blue Devils boast a number of talented swingmen that have the potential to break the game wide open.

Here are three questions for UNC’s wings as they prepare for the highly-anticipated rivalry matchup:

How does Leaky Black match up against Duke’s wings?

Senior Leaky Black’s defense and playmaking ability have been commended this season, but his Achilles heel has been his shooting.

His low number of field goal attempts have allowed teams to leave Black open in the corner and send help defense down low, but his latest performances may force opponents to rethink this strategy.

Black has scored 23 points over his last three games, including shooting 3-5 from three against Virginia Tech last week. In comparison, Black was 2-10 from behind the arc in his previous 17 games. If he can continue his hot hand, Black could draw defensive attention and alleviate some of the pressure off his teammates.

On the other side of the ball, Black has frequently drawn the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter players, and this trend will likely continue against Duke.

His obvious matchup options are forwards Wendell Moore Jr. and AJ Griffin. Moore — who played with Black at Cox Mill High School in Concord — is averaging north of 15 points per game while shooting 40.8 percent from deep.

Griffin is a newcomer to the Duke lineup, but has already had some notable performances such 22-point games at Louisville and Wake Forest and a 15-point game against Syracuse. Like Moore, Griffin is a threat from behind the arc – over half of his attempted field goals this season have been threes – and is also competent at getting to the basket.

Can Kerwin Walton get his mojo back?

After earning a starting spot and leading the team in three-point percentage last year, Kerwin Walton's sophomore campaign has been less than ideal.

Walton's minutes have seen a considerable decrease under new head coach Hubert Davis, and despite a promising start in November with 10 made 3-pointers on 26 attempts, his numbers have dropped off a cliff since.

Teams seem to have recognized him as a shooting threat and adjusted accordingly, and Davis has also drawn up fewer plays specifically for Walton. With a new-look, small-ball roster where most of the team's players can hit a three, there’s no need to go to the same person every time for a shot from deep.

Following an early-season stretch when Walton played 10 minutes or less in four straight games, he has slowly regained his footing by playing more than 10 minutes in seven of the last eight contests, giving him the opportunity to be a potential difference maker against the Blue Devils.

Will Puff Johnson break into the rotation?

One of the more fun storylines in UNC’s up-and-down season has been the return of sophomore Puff Johnson, who returned to the court against Georgia Tech earlier this month after nursing injuries for most of last season.

Johnson could be poised for more minutes with the recent absences of redshirt sophomore guard Anthony Harris and sophomore forward Dawson Garcia. UNC recently announced that Harris would be unavailable for the rest of the season, while Garcia missed the last two games to return home and deal with an illness in his family.

Johnson played 14 minutes against Wake Forest on Jan. 22, but finally had his big moment against Boston College later in the week. In just four minutes of play he dove for loose balls, forced a backcourt violation and ripped a rebound out of the hands of a defender to score under the basket.

Against N.C. State on Saturday, he played a season-high 17 minutes, notching eight points and six rebounds.

If Johnson continues to play with the “energy, effort and toughness” that Davis has harped on throughout the season, he very well could earn more consistent minutes going forward.

@LucasThomae

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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