With UNC men’s basketball cruising through conference play, its mixed bag of experience in the backcourt has proven to be a formidable test for opponents.
Led by senior guard RJ Davis, the Tar Heels play with high intensity, even prompting former legendary Duke guards to give their flowers.
“I just like the way they play,” Jay Williams reluctantly said on ESPN in January. “It’s a fast-paced style of play — I like it. They allow RJ Davis to go.”
Davis has quarterbacked North Carolina's offense to the top of the ACC, but it's the Tar Heels’ lockdown defense that has vaulted them into Final Four contention. This defense, which ranks in the top 5 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, will need to show up in UNC’s marquee matchup against Duke.
Heading into his eighth career game against the Blue Devils, Davis will likely once again be tasked with defending guard Jeremy Roach. The 6-foot-2 senior has an explosive first step, which allows him to get a lead on his defender and opens up his arsenal of moves around the rim. From Euro steps to jump-stop floaters, Roach is at his most dangerous when he can read defenders inside the paint and quickly adjust and finish at the basket.
Coming off the bench to Davis’ aid is sophomore guard Seth Trimble. The sixth man has been a standout defender for the Tar Heels — often touted by his own teammates as UNC's toughest defender — with his intensity impacting the game outside of the stat sheet. His physicality often forces bad shots from opponents or completely takes them out of offensive possessions.
This physicality will be key against a player like Roach, who thrives off of creating space. Off-ball pressure will also be important, as Duke will often make use of slips out of off-ball screens to create catch-and-shoot looks for Roach. Although Roach doesn’t shoot the 3-pointer too often — attempting just over three per game — he’s shooting over 47 percent from behind the arc.
Tyrese Proctor, the 6-foot-5 sophomore from Australia, adds to Duke’s offensive threat in the backcourt. The combo guard facilitates the tempo for the Blue Devils’ offense; he can push the ball up the floor and attack the rim himself or create shots for his teammates, showing off these skills when Duke hosted North Carolina last season. Proctor can pose a serious threat if matched up against a smaller guard, as he uses his size and physicality to his advantage when attacking the rim.
The X factor in this rivalry matchup, however, may come down to the face-off between the rivals' first-year starting guards.