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Preview: Bacot and Filipowski highlight frontcourt battles in UNC-Duke matchup

UNC graduate forward Pete Nance (32) shoots the ball during UNC's game against Boston College on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2022. UNC won 72-64.

Last year’s games between North Carolina and Duke featured two dominant bigs in Armando Bacot and Paolo Banchero, with Brady Manek providing valuable shooting for UNC and Mark Williams giving Duke elite rim protection. Now, three of those four bigs are gone, with Bacot being the only frontcourt starter from those games still on his respective team.

Here's a breakdown of the newest class of big men to battle it out in college basketball's greatest rivalry:

North Carolina

Armando Bacot

To this point in the season, UNC's recently crowned all-time leading rebounder has continued to add to his standout career. 

Bacot is averaging 17.9 points per game and 11.4 rebounds while shooting nearly 58 percent from the field in his senior campaign, and his playmaking has also improved en route to recording a career-high 1.8 assists per game as of Jan. 27. 

Bacot is responsible for a lot of the Tar Heels’ offense in the low-post and in short-roll opportunities, so finding a way to stop him will be critical for the Blue Devils. Last season, Bacot averaged 15.3 points per game in the three Duke games, and his 23 points on 10-11 shooting in the regular season finale in Durham was critical in the Tar Heels pulling off the upset victory.

Pete Nance

Nance was the prized acquisition for North Carolina this off-season, as the Northwestern graduate transfer immediately filled the void left by Manek in the starting lineup.

Although Nance is not the pure shooter that Manek was, his ability to self-create off the dribble at times and be somewhat of a post-up threat has added another dimension to the Tar Heel offense. Nance has battled a lingering back injury throughout ACC play, but his 21-point output against Syracuse was his best showing since November, which may be a sign that he is starting to regain his rhythm.

Jalen Washington

Washington missed much of the non-conference schedule while recovering from a knee injury suffered in his final year of high school, but the first-year big has slowly come on as a rotation piece for head coach Hubert Davis. 

Washington’s most notable feat this season was scoring 13 points in 27 minutes against Virginia after Bacot went down. An ankle injury during shootaround before the Boston College game has limited him since then, but Washington will likely still see minutes against Duke if healthy.


Kyle Filipowski

The consensus five-star recruit has enjoyed a strong first season for the Blue Devils, averaging 15.8 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game. 

Offensively, Filipowski has a variety of moves at his disposal in the post, and his shooting splits — 28.8 percent on 3.6 attempts from deep per game — have been streaky on high volume. 

Defensively, Filipowski can switch well for his size and has decent lateral quickness, although his shot-blocking is not great for a physically imposing big man. Still, Filipowski has arguably been the best player on Duke's roster, and his offensive versatility is a scary proposition for opposing defenses.

Ryan Young

The graduate transfer played at Northwestern alongside Nance, and although he was not as coveted as his former teammate, his impact on the Blue Devils has been substantial. 

Young is a 6-foot-10 big who rebounds at an extremely high level. His offensive rebounding percentage is third in the ACC behind only Miami’s Norchad Omier and Bacot. He has also been able to turn those rebounds into efficient scoring opportunities, as he is converting 2-point field goal attempts at a 72 percent clip. 

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Young is not much of a shot-blocker or shooter, but his rebounding and finishing have been critical for the Blue Devils.

Dereck Lively II

Lively was a highly touted recruit in the class of 2022, but so far he has struggled to be as impactful as that ranking would suggest. 

Lively is averaging roughly 15 minutes per game for Duke but has only averaged 4.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He offers a lot of promise defensively as a rim protector, but his tendency to foul – he is currently averaging well over six fouls per 40 minutes – is an issue that has limited his minutes.


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