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Key Three: Duke basketball vs North Carolina

One of the best rivalries in sports is on tap Wednesday night when No. 20 Duke hits the road to take on No. 5 North Carolina. The Blue Devils will look to use stellar play from Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen to overcome a more deep and experienced Tar Heel team. Here are three keys to the game: 

Beat the bigs

If there is one place where the Tar Heels have a clear advantage over the Blue Devils, it is down low. North Carolina head coach Roy Williams utilizes five bigs in his regular rotation, with each measuring in at 6-foot-8 and 200 pounds or more. Sophomore Justin Jackson, juniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks and seniors Brice Johnson and Joel James account for over 60 percent of their team’s scoring offense and nearly 70 percent of their team’s total rebounding.

What does that mean for Duke? Without senior forward Amile Jefferson, the Blue Devils have a significant lack of depth in the low post and against some the ACC’s bigger and more physical teams, they have struggled on the glass. Against the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils will need a big time performance from center Marshall Plumlee and Ingram—who will almost certainly be matched up against a player bigger than him during the game. Some key minutes off the bench from freshman Chase Jeter could alleviate the stress that North Carolina's size will put on Duke and give Plumlee enough time to rest. 

Take advantage of a suspect Tar Heel defense 

The Blue Devils have been held to 63 points or less just four times this season—three of which were losses to Kentucky, Clemson and Syracuse. The other, of course, was Saturday’s dramatic win against Virginia, but otherwise, Duke has had one of the nation’s most prolific offenses this season. Led by a trio of backcourt scorers in Allen, Luke Kennard and Matt Jones—as well as Ingram—the Blue Devils rank second among all ACC teams in scoring with an average of 83.4 points per game—good for 13th in the nation.

Duke's offense will be put to the test against a much maligned Tar Heel defense that has struggled for much of the year. North Carolina allows around 70 points per contest, a figure that rises to 76 points in the Tar Heels' four losses. Perhaps the biggest weakness of the North Carolina defense is the biggest strength of the Blue Devil offense. The Tar Heels have struggled to defend the three this season and rank just 12th in the conference in terms of 3-point field goal defense. If even one of Duke's perimeter threats can get hot early from beyond the arc, the Blue Devils could jump out to a fast start on the road. 

Weather the early storm 

In the last six Tobacco Road rivalry matchups at the Dean Dome, Duke is 4-2, proving that when it comes to the greatest rivalry in college basketball, home court advantage doesn't mean as much as many think. But considering the Blue Devils' youth, things could be different come Wednesday night.

Four of Duke's seven normal rotation players are freshman and Allen played just 15 minutes in last year's two matchups combined. If the Blue Devils can match North Carolina's intensity right out the gates, the team should be able to settle in a bit more and play freely in the biggest game of the season. 

Duke also has serious momentum entering Wednesday’s contest, just having taken out a pair of ranked opponents at home. The Blue Devils are looking to extend their win streak to five games and move into the top four in the conference and to do that the team will have to hang within striking distance until the final minutes of the game. If Duke can rise to the occasion and make one or two key plays down the stretch once again, the Blue Devils could emerge with an impressive road victory. 

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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