The one-on-one matchups favor North Carolina.
For proof of this, look no further than the first matchup in Chapel Hill. Duke held a lead for most of the first half and trailed by just a couple going into the locker room due to its 3-point shooting. In the second half, the Tar Heels were able to maintain a double-digit lead until a combination of heroic Duke shot making, missed free throws and turnovers led to their demise. With Reggie Bullock getting the nod at shooting guard, North Carolina started four players that were 6-foot-7 or taller, and Duke had an incredibly difficult time negating this length. The Tar Heels had a 41-31 rebounding advantage, including 14 offensive rebounds. Miles Plumlee will need to continue his recent emergence and help his brother on the backboards if the Blue Devils are to have any hope of containing Tyler Zeller and John Henson. With 23 points and 7 rebounds, Zeller was absolutely dominant in the first game, scoring almost at will in the first half. Beyond the Tar Heel advantage in the frontcourt, their best player, Harrison Barnes, is a matchup nightmare for the Blue Devils. Duke simply just doesn’t have a long, athletic swingman that is an ideal matchup for the North Carolina leading scorer. Barnes overcame a very slow start to score 25 points in the February 8th game. Early in the second half, Barnes scored on three consecutive trips, and he seemed to have some kind of realization that no Blue Devil can stop him one-on-one.
North Carolina is playing better basketball as of late.
Just from looking at results, one would conclude that Duke is playing its best basketball of the season right now. The win at the horn in the Dean Dome was the beginning of a current eight-game win streak. Take a closer look, however, and it is clear that five of those games could have been losses. The win in Chapel Hill was incredibly improbable. In a 78-73 home win against North Carolina State, the Blue Devils trailed by 20 points with just under 12 minutes remaining in the game. Although the victory on the road against Florida State was impressive, that game easily could have gone either way, despite the Seminoles shooting 39 percent from the floor and 55 percent from the line. It took overtime for Duke to outlast a struggling Virginia Tech team at home, and even cellar-dweller Wake Forest gave the Blue Devils a late scare in their most recent win. North Carolina, similarly, has not lost since Austin Rivers shocked them at the buzzer. And, in those six wins, their average margin of victory is 13 points. The stiffest challenge over that period came on the road against Virginia, where the Tar Heels gritted out a three-point victory on the road. Granted, wins are wins, but North Carolina has been convincing, while Duke has probably created more question marks than it has provided answers.
Home court advantage has not meant much in this series.
With both teams sitting at the identical marks of 26-4 overall and 13-2 in conference coming into the ballgame, it would be easy to give Duke a slight advantage since it will be on its home court. Despite what will undoubtedly be a frenzied atmosphere at Cameron Indoor Stadium, there has been no real home court advantage in this series over the last decade—just as was the case a little less than a month ago. Since 2000, North Carolina is 5-8 in the rivalry at home. Duke does boast a winning record at home, but is just 7-5 against their fiercest rivals within the friendly confines of Cameron over the same time period.
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