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Rivalry Preview: A look at the guards taking the floor when UNC heads to Duke

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UNC junior guard RJ Davis (4) passes in the Dean Smith Center on Nov. 7, 2022, against the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks. UNC won 69-56.

From Bobby Hurley to RJ Barrett, the backcourt from Durham has caused problems in the Duke-UNC rivalry for decades. 

Following the loss of forwards Paolo Banchero, Wendell Moore Jr. and AJ Griffin to the NBA draft, guards have taken a larger role in head coach Jon Scheyer’s rotation this year. With the return of a familiar face from injury bolstering Duke's backcourt, here is a look at the guards who will make an impact on the next chapter of the Tobacco Road rivalry:

Duke

Jeremy Roach

Roach was the only starting member of last year's squad to return to Durham with unfinished business. Playing in all three matchups against UNC last year, he averaged over 10 points per game in those outings and was a large part of Duke’s success during the season.

Roach will make his presence felt inside the 3-point arc. His ability to drive to the basket and dish the ball to his teammates is where he finds the most success. Despite missing four games, Roach still ranks second on the team in assists.

For the Tar Heels to shut down Roach, they will need to prevent turnovers on offense and keep him from getting to the basket. Roach is also second on the team in steals, using them to create easy fastbreak buckets. North Carolina has a tendency to be sloppy with the ball and will need to clean up that part of their game against the Blue Devils.

Tyrese Proctor

Proctor's playmaking ability is his most impressive skill. Like Roach, he can also play the role of a point guard, as his 61 assists lead the team.

Containing Proctor on the 3-point arc will be the key to slowing him down. While he's made the second-most 3-pointers on the team this season, he has taken 94 attempts, the most on the squad. He holds a well-below-average 3-point percentage at 27.7 percent, but will be forced to shoot if the Tar Heels can stop him from penetrating.

Bench guards

Both graduate transfer Jacob Grandison and sophomore Jaylen Blakes have made significant contributions off the bench this year for the Blue Devils. Blakes got little experience in the Tobacco Road rivalry last season as a first-year, playing just three minutes during Duke’s win in Chapel Hill. Grandison will be playing in his first UNC-Duke game after transferring from Illinois.

Both players are averaging about 17 minutes per game but hold different roles within the offense. Grandison, the taller of the two at 6-feet-6-inches, can pass and shoot like a guard but also rebounds like a forward. Blakes, on the other hand, is quicker when driving to the basket and shoots at a 36.8 percent clip from deep.

North Carolina

Caleb Love

Love cemented his name in UNC basketball lore with his game-winning shot against Duke in the trilogy bout at the 2022 Final Four. Averaging 20 points per game against the Blue Devils, Love thrives against his crosstown rival. His 3-point proficiency is down eight percentage points from last season, but shooting the ball well against his favorite opponent will be a key to victory for UNC.

RJ Davis

Although his contributions are often overshadowed by Armando Bacot’s standout play, Davis has been arguably the most valuable player for this UNC squad. His numbers are up in almost every statistical category from last season, and he has stepped up when his backcourt mate has struggled shooting the ball. Davis has also fared well against Duke, accumulating 18 points and seven rebounds in the Final Four contest. 

Bench guards

D’Marco Dunn and Seth Trimble will be the keys to having a productive bench unit for the Tar Heels. While Grandison and Blakes generally get more minutes, Trimble’s defensive effort that he's flaunted all year will be needed to shut down the shifty guards and keep UNC in the game when Davis and Love are on the bench.

@brendan_lunga18

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