The No. 3 Blue Devils will close out the regular season against the Tar Heels at the Dean Dome tonight at 9 p.m. Duke had a shot of earning a tie of the ACC regular season crown with a Miami loss and a win against UNC, but the Hurricanes beat Clemson earlier today. A loss would drop the Blue Devils into a tie with North Carolina for second place in the conference, though the Blue Devils have secured the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament.
Here are the three key's to tonight's game:
Dealing with North Carolina's small lineup
The Tar Heels have been a completely different team since coming through Cameron Indoor Stadium last month. Since Duke edged North Carolina 73-68, the Tar Heels have rattled off six straight victories. Perhaps the biggest reason the small lineup has been so effective is the play of sophomore P.J. Hairston. In the seven games since his playing time increased, Hairston is averaging 17.6 points per game. Prior to that, Hariston was averaging only 11.8 per contest. With North Carolina playing small, 6-foot-11 Ryan Kelly will be forced to guard defenders out on the perimeter. How Duke manages to contain the Tar Heel shooters will be a key in deciding who wins this game.
Ryan Kelly's fatigue
Given the way he's played it's easy to forget that Kelly missed 13 games and has only been back for a week. At times against Virginia Tech Kelly was clearly gassed and while he'll be getting stronger every game back, chasing around wings all night certainly won't help Kelly's case. When Kelly spoke to the media yesterday he elaborated on how he plans to play when he's tired, noting that he won't settle for quick shots but rather continue to play his game. However, defensively Duke may not be able to rely on Kelly for over 30 minutes. Perhaps tonight Duke will increase its use of a four guard lineup with only one of Kelly and Mason Plumlee on the floor. Or they may even dip into their bench and let Amile Jefferson or Alex Murphy try their hand at containing Carolina's wings.
Which Rasheed Sulaimon will show up?
After catching fire and pouring in 27 points against Boston College back on February 24, Sulaimon has a total of 16 points in his past three contests. What's more, Sulaimon was relegated to the bench for the second half of the Virginia Tech game on Tuesday. The freshman guard has shown that he can be a lethal two-way player for the Blue Devils, but at times this season he seems to lose his mojo. With perimeter threats up and down the Tar Heel lineup, Sulaimon will be counted on to contain a guy like Reggie Bullock while also providing double-digit points at the other end of the court. If Sulaimon fails to do so, expect to see a lot of Tyler Thornton.
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