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Sunday March 26th

Preview: UNC men's basketball looks to wrap up regular season with win over Duke

UNC junior guard Caleb Love (2) dribbles the ball during the men's basketball game against Duke on Feb. 4, 2023 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. UNC lost 63-57.
Buy Photos UNC junior guard Caleb Love (2) dribbles the ball during the men's basketball game against Duke on Feb. 4, 2023 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. UNC lost 63-57.

To close out the regular season, the North Carolina men’s basketball team will welcome the Duke Blue Devils to the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday night.

Since dropping its eighth conference game of the season, UNC has churned out three consecutive victories, including a critical win over then-No. 6 Virginia in late February. With the Tar Heels teetering on the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble, many players have voiced an increased sense of urgency to win games down the stretch.

“As soon as we started to care about winning, and like nothing else, that’s when we really turned the corner,” graduate forward Leaky Black said. “I feel like with our backs against the wall these last two weeks, it feels like it's a different team out there.” 

Here are three keys for North Carolina to secure its second Quad One win of the year and even the season series against Duke.

Use outside shots to create space

As of late, North Carolina has appeared to find its touch from beyond the 3-point line. 

The Tar Heels have knocked down 24 triples at a 47 percent clip in their last two contests. Graduate forward Pete Nance and Black combined for 11 threes against Virginia and Florida State. Their ability to become viable threats from downtown has helped open up North Carolina’s offensive flow.

“(Shooting) has really made a difference,” senior center Armando Bacot said. “When you can knock down shots it just opens up the paint and I get more one-on-one looks. (Defenses) can’t shrink the floor as much, and Caleb (Love) has more driving lanes.”

In the rivalry's first contest, Duke players tasked with guarding either Black or Nance could be seen defending off the ball with at least one foot inside the paint. If UNC’s pair of graduates can stay true to their recent trend from distance, the Tar Heels should be able to widen the court on the offensive end and garner respect from Blue Devil defenders. 

Play into Duke's Dereck Lively II 

In the team’s first meeting, first-year center Dereck Lively II rejected a career-high eight shots — the most-ever in a UNC-Duke game.

Lively’s blocks came in a variety of ways, from swatting away Bacot turnarounds to denying straight line drives by junior guards RJ Davis and Love. Bacot said that shielding Lively off with physical leverage could help the Tar Heels regain their inside presence.

For head coach Hubert Davis, finding more efficient ways to attack the Blue Devils down low will require relentless attack. He hopes doing such can help the Tar Heels improve from taking only three free throw attempts in the year’s first rivalry bout.

“(Lively) is a great shot blocker, and he does a terrific job of alerting shots,” Davis said. “We have to be persistent and still attack the basket. We have to continue to attack the basket the same way that we did in the first game and also find some different ways.”

Account for new — and evolving — faces

Since the team’s first meeting, Duke has reinserted a key piece back into its rotation.

First-year wing Dariq Whitehead was sidelined earlier this year with a lower leg injury. Since making his return against Virginia, the former five-star prospect has established himself as a viable threat from 3-point land, connecting on a dozen triples across Duke’s last six games.

Tyrese Proctor's game has also evolved in the past month and has played a key role in the Blue Devils’ five-game winning streak. The first-year guard has scored in double figures in the last three contests, including a 12-point outing against Louisville that saw Proctor drill four 3-pointers.

Combining the improved play of both first-years, along with the continuing development of Duke’s young talent and an influx of new and improving faces, will have to be accounted for by the Tar Heels defensively.  


@dthsports |

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