It's gameday in Durham as Duke and North Carolina are set to tip-off at 9 p.m.
The Chronicle's men's basketball beat writers Andrew Beaton and Brady Buck sat down to discuss what might happen tonight:
Andrew Beaton: Brady, UNC has really struggled lately but anything can happen in this rivalry, right? Can the Tar Heels really make something happen at Cameron Indoor tomorrow night?
Brady Buck: When Duke and UNC collide, you can throw any preconceived notions about either team out the window. Granted they have been wildly inconsistent this year and underwhelming on the road, but the Tar Heels have as much sheer talent as anyone in the country and they need this game more than Duke does. You have to think they'll rise to the occasion against their hated-rivals.
To keep it close against the heavily favored Blue Devils, Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams will need big performances from his three best players—in my opinion—James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston. Don't you think?
AB: I agree and McAdoo has the athleticism to give Duke fits.
But to me, if North Carolina wants to compete against upper-echelon teams, Marcus Paige really needs to push the ball and embrace control of that offense. He's averaging a respectable 4.5 assists per game for a team that is second in the nation in that stat with 18.0 APG, but he has the potential to do much more.
And for him, the battle isn't only on the offensive end. He'll spend much of the game going up against Duke point guard Quinn Cook, who beyond Lorenzo Brown is probably the second best floor general in the ACC.
BB: The battle between Cook and Paige promises to be one of the most critical matchups of the night. Paige has struggled at times this year due to his slight stature and inexperience. Cook, meanwhile, has been terrific for Duke running the show offensively. For me, Duke's biggest advantages in this game are at the point guard and center positions with Cook and Mason Plumlee.
The one-on-one matchups at the two through four positions are closer to draws. North Carolina's wings could present problems for Duke. Hairston and Bullock both stand at 6-foot-5 or better and are capable scorers on the perimeter. Rasheed Sulaimon has to bring his A-game defensively for Duke. And UNC's Dexter Strickland is known for his defensive prowess and has the ability to slow down Seth Curry.
North Carolina wants to get up and down as evidenced by an average scoring output of 78.3 points per game. I'm expecting the Blue Devils to try and make this more of a half-court game and prevent the Tar Heels from pushing the tempo to get comfortable in a track-meet style of game that they want.
AB: The question is, can Duke generate good 3-point looks in halfcourt sets? It seemed like they found that rhythm against Florida State and N.C. State, but that didn't hold true against Boston College. North Carolina is definitely more athletic than Boston College, though home and away seems to have made such a difference in ACC play this year.
Cook said yesterday when talking with the media that although the key is slowing UNC down, Duke knows it has the ability to push the ball two. It'll be interesting to see how he mixes it up, and as we've seen this year, Cook likes to run up and down the floor whenever he can.
Ultimately, though, I see Duke pulling out an 84-74 victory... winning comfortably but not covering the big 11-point spread favoring the Blue Devils.
BB: I like Duke 84-72, so we both like the Blue Devils dropping 84 points. Great minds think alike.