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Analysis: Talented group of wings headline UNC-Duke matchup

UNC graduate Leaky Black (1) dribbles the ball in front of an agitated Boston College coach during the men's basketball game between UNC and Boston College at the Dean E. Smith Center on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. UNC beat Boston College 72-64.

Although the North Carolina and Duke men's basketball teams boast strong play at the guard and frontcourt positions, both sides have found production from their talented group of wings.

A position group known for its versatile skillset, here is a look at how the wings will impact Saturday's rivalry matchup.

North Carolina

Leaky Black

Black is the backbone of the Tar Heels’ defense and is often the player who is given the toughest defensive assignments. Although senior big man Armando Bacot will likely be tasked with slowing down center Kyle Filipowski, Duke's leading scorer, Filipowski's perimeter-oriented style of play will likely enable Black to draw some defensive work for North Carolina. 

While Black is much more known for his defensive prowess — averaging 1.6 steals per game — he is quietly in the midst of the best offensive season of his career. Although he is only averaging seven points a night, his playmaking and knowledge of team's offense has helped the team remain productive on that end of the floor.

Puff Johnson

The Tar Heels’ sixth man is not relied upon to shoulder the offense, but he has proven to be an effective scorer, particularly from deep in his best showings.

After bursting onto the scene in the national championship by scoring 11 points, Johnson has been productive when he has seen the floor this season. Despite battling knee soreness for most of the year, the junior has drilled 37 percent of his 3-point attempts and scored in double digits three times.

Tyler Nickel

The 6-foot-7 first-year hasn't seen much time for the Tar Heels this season — averaging 6.6 minutes per game — but he's made an immediate impact when he has taken the floor.

While playing 12 minutes in UNC's recent win over Syracuse on Jan. 24, Nickel drilled a triple and emphatically blocked a shot off the glass. As Virginia's all-time leading high school scorer with 2,909 career points, Nickel has the ability to be a high-volume scorer when given the opportunity.


Dariq Whitehead

Whitehead came into Duke with lofty expectations, tabbed as the No. 2 overall player in the class of 2022 according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. His time at Duke, however, has been plagued by injuries.

Whitehead required surgery after fracturing his right foot in practice during the preseason, causing him to miss Duke’s first three games. Most recently, he sustained a lower leg injury during Duke's Jan. 23 game at Virginia Tech.

Before his latest injury, Whitehead had assumed a starting position for the Blue Devils and began working toward the level of play expected from him in the preseason. By posting a season-high 18 points in Duke’s win over Boston College, Whitehead showed that he can be a marksman from deep. 

While he still struggles with consistency from beyond the arc, Whitehead's ability as a scorer is one of Duke’s biggest offensive assets when he is healthy.

Mark Mitchell

Mitchell is a lanky 6-foot-8 forward with the ability to put the ball on the floor and slash to the basket. He has been an effective scorer for Duke off the bounce with an ability to finish around a crowd of defenders in the paint, en route to averaging 9.1 points per game through 22 outings.

Despite shooting 39.4 percent from three, the team’s best 3-point percentage, Mitchell seldom shoots the long ball, having attempted only 33 threes this season and making 13. Against a UNC defense that frequently allows shooters to get hot, Mitchell could be an intriguing X-factor on Saturday.

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Jacob Grandison

A 24-year-old graduate transfer from Illinois, Grandison brings a veteran presence to the largely inexperienced Blue Devils team. He is known for being a 3-point specialist, particularly from the corners.

Grandison’s minutes usually vary depending on the matchup, although Whitehead's recent injury may force head coach Jon Scheyer to give the veteran more minutes.


@dthsports |