Then there was one… one last game in the regular season that is. And for UNC that means the return match up against their arch-rival, this time in Durham. With tip off being at 9:00 p.m. EST, televised by ESPN, #14 North Carolina (23 & 7 ~ 13 & 4 ACC) will take on #4 Duke (23 & 7 ~ 12 & 5 ACC), with plenty at stake for both programs. For the Tar Heels winning this game mean their first sweep of the Blue Devils since 2009 and keep their double digit winning streak going into the post season. While for the host squad the last thing they want to do is to go into the ACC Tournament on a two game slide, which would also all but negate Duke the possibility of a one seed in the Big Dance.
Speaking of the conference post season tournament, as I wrote in All Sports Discussion, the grid lock at the top will all be solved this weekend, but if Carolina wants to be higher than a fourth seed they have to win tonight. A loss will put them in that slot, meaning, if all goes according to seeding, they would have to face Virginia to make it to the tournament’s final. With Duke looking to steal the last one seed and with Carolina being looked at anywhere from a three to a five seed, winning as many games possible before Selection Sunday would help both of the program’s stocks.
But now back to the game at hand. Not much has changed from the first match up between these two programs. Duke will be looking for its points to come from the outside, while for UNC it will be looking for their classic “inside-out” game. For the Blue Devils it’s going to be on Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood to lead the team, on the other hand for the Tar Heels they will look for both junior power forward James McAdoo and sophomore combo guard Marcus Paige to be the torch bearers. Just like I said in the preview of the first game, the duo that is able to put their imprint on the game more will go a long way in deciding tonight’s winner.
While most of the big time players on both sides of the ball have to be tired, both physically and mentally, coming into this game, beginning with UNC that has Paige and McAdoo averaging 30+ minutes per game. Plus four other Heels are playing 20 or more minutes, and with the exception of fifth year senior Leslie McDonald, who has played 21 games, the rest have played in every single regular season game. For Duke it’s the same thing, as a trio, Parker, Hood and Quinn Cook are all playing over 30 minutes. While another trio of Blue Devils are averaging 20+ minutes per match up. But none of this will matter as this is a rivalry and the last game of the regular season, as well as both teams being able to rest some before having to jump into the conference tournament.
Head coach Roy Williams said this about his players on the subject…
“I think mentally you just, ‘Gosh, you have to take a deep breath.’ You realize now is when we really get to start having some fun. So we try to talk about that a little bit, but they’ve got to handle it,”
Without a doubt major contributions from Paige and McAdoo will be needed in order for Carolina to be competitive in this game, but others Heels will need to step up as well if Carolina wants to come out of Durham with a victory. My two choices for this game are sophomore power forward Brice Johnson on the offensive side as well as guarding the rim, and sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto with an all around game. If both of these second year players can go above and beyond their expectations UNC has a good chance at winning this game.
In the first game in Chapel Hill North Carolina was able to come from an eleven points deficit to win. I doubt that will be the case in Durham and that means the Heels have to keep it close for the whole game if they wish to be able to take down the program from eight miles away a second time this season. Keeping the score close and not allowing Duke any runs will also keep the fan base from going nuts, which can not be underestimated when it comes to the Cameron Crazies. The only way I see this happening is for Paige, who has not been scoring as much of late, to be effective for both halves, while for McAdoo to stay out of foul trouble.
What more can be said about this game? For both teams a win would be nice, each for their reasons already stated, for the fan base the win would give them the bragging rights. Neither program is going to be devastated by a loss tonight, but could somewhat be hurt by it come Selection Sunday. North Carolina comes into this one riding a 12 game winning streak, but has not played as sharp of late. Duke arrives tonight after a surprising loss to Wake and only 2 and 2 after in their last four games. North Carolina has had some head scratching losses this year, but seems to have always risen up for the big time games in the spotlight. Duke has beaten SU when it was number one just a few games back and has not lost back to back games since 2009. North Carolina has been excellent against Top 10 teams, with the exception of Syracuse. Duke has not lost at home this season, being 16 and 0 so far. While some might think that the newly arrived Orange will become a rivalry game for the Blue Devils, anyone that knows anything about this conference it will always be the two shades of blue that will be the true rivalry in the ACC.
The Vegas insiders have North Carolina has a seven points underdog in this one I say that is a bit too high. While I still see Duke pulling this one out, 68 to 64, I do not see the home team covering. If the pick I made was to be correct, and all hold their seeding, it would make the ACC Tournament pretty interesting, giving SU/Duke round three and UNC a chance at avenging their worst loss in conference play this year. On a side note, while I do not follow the women’s game as much as I should, tonight in Greensboro, tip off 7:30 p.m. EST, UNC and Duke will be going at it as well in the semis of the ACC Tournament.