The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday February 5th

Preview: How UNC men's basketball can even the season series against rival No. 4 Duke

Graduate forward Brady Manek (45) drives baseline in the Dean Smith Center during the UNC men’s basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. Duke won 87-67.
Buy Photos Graduate forward Brady Manek (45) drives baseline in the Dean Smith Center during the UNC men’s basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. Duke won 87-67.

The Duke Blue Devils will host the UNC men's basketball team on Saturday in a rematch from the team's February matchup. After the 20-point loss from the last outing, the Tar Heels are looking to offer a different display.

The Duke men’s basketball team is 26-4 and currently ranked No. 4 in the nation. The Blue Devils have won 20 games by 10 points or more, and their losses have been close – each by no more than five points.

But regardless of preexisting stat lines, a “battle of the blues” is never predictable. The Tar Heels will enter Saturday’s matchup with a 22-8 record, hungry for a rivalry win and a chance to pad their resume before tournament time rolls around. 

UNC will travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium for Saturday’s game, which also happens to be Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last one at home. This means the Cameron Crazies will be crazier than ever.

An 87-67 loss just a month ago, combined with a stadium full of Duke fans, makes the Tar Heels the clear underdogs.

March 5 could be just the beginning of the madness, but UNC will have to be aggressive in (at least) three ways in order to beat the odds.

Having an aggressive first half

The Tar Heels cannot dig themselves into a hole.

In the last matchup between UNC and Duke, the Blue Devils were up 23 just 10 minutes into the first game, and up 11 at halftime. The Tar Heels were shooting below 30 percent from the arc in the first half, and while they managed to improve to 63 percent in the second half of the game, it was too late. 

From the perimeter, UNC and Duke have almost identical shooting percentages: 37.4 and 37.7, respectively. However, UNC will need to find its 3-point mojo early on if the team hopes to remain competitive.

If the Tar Heels can get shots to fall early, they’ll have a chance to turn the pressure back on the Blue Devils, rather than handing them a relaxed celebration.

Being aggressive on the boards

UNC averages about eight more rebounds per game than its opponents. However, the Tar Heels were critically out-rebounded 40-24 in their last matchup against Duke. The Blue Devils tallied nine second-chance points, while the Tar Heels had just two. 

UNC junior forward Armando Bacot leads the ACC in rebounds, averaging 12.7 per game, but the last matchup he was out-rebounded 10 to five by Duke first-year Paolo Banchero, who is tied for fourth in the ACC for rebounding. 

Bacot and graduate forward Brady Manek will need to fight for the inside spot against Duke big men. Taking control of the boards will be key if UNC hopes to shut down Banchero and 7-foot Mark Williams.

Last matchup, UNC held Williams to nine points – slightly below his average. However, when a team can shoot almost 50 percent, giving them more than one chance is dangerous.

Being aggressive in the paint

It’s hard to stop a 7-foot and 6-foot-10 duo like Williams and Banchero. In the last matchup, UNC held them both to fewer points than their averages, but the Tar Heels were still outscored 36-26 in the paint.

Without Dawson Garcia, UNC will heavily rely on Bacot and Manek inside. In February’s game, Manek led the team in scoring, putting up 21 points. However, 18 of these points were from behind the arc, and one was a free throw, meaning he managed just one basket inside.

If Bacot and Manek can play their part in the paint, the pair could give the Tar Heels the edge and take some pressure off of the guards to make contested jumpers and long threes.

Defensively, aggression inside will allow the guards to focus on their own outside defense, such as stopping Duke first-year AJ Griffin, who buried the Tar Heels last game with his career-high 27 points.

@dthsports |

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