For the 243rd time, Duke will take to the floor against North Carolina in another rendition of the Tobacco Road rivalry as the Blue Devils look to make it two straight wins at home and move closer to the top four in the ACC. The Blue Zone takes a look at a player from each team who could be the difference-maker in the game.
Duke: Forward Harry Giles
It has been almost two months since Giles first made his debut for the Blue Devils, and aside from a pair of double-digit scoring performances in early January, the freshman has not lived up to the usual expectations of a top-ranked recruit. Giles has only played more than 20 minutes once thus far and is averaging just 4.6 rebounds per game. But against the Tar Heels—who boast three talented low-post players in seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks as well as freshman Tony Bradley—Duke is going to need its first-year big man to make an impact.
Although graduate student Amile Jefferson has started every game since returning from a right-foot bone bruise, the Philadelphia native's injury is not entirely healed, and at just 6-foot-8 and 205 pounds, freshman Jayson Tatum does not have the size to match up with North Carolina's big men. The trio all measure at least 6-foot-9 and weigh at least 240 pounds, meaning that Giles' size could pave the way to additional minutes come Thursday. The 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 17.2 points per 40 minutes and would be an offensive weapon for the Blue Devils to add to an already potent arsenal that includes Tatum and Luke Kennard.
That being said, Giles' ACL injury has limited him defensively. Teams have taken advantage of his limited mobility, exploiting the freshman in pick-and-roll with quick guards that can blow past and either get easy baskets or get fouled. Giles is averaging 8.6 fouls per 40 minutes—a rate that is simply not sustainable if Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski expects to have one of his best bigs consistently on the floor. For Giles to make a difference against the Tar Heels, he will have to not only score the ball, but prove he can limit the visitors from controlling the paint as they have in recent matchups with the Blue Devils.
North Carolina: Forward Isaiah Hicks
With Hicks, Meeks and Bradley, it is simply a matter of picking your poison if you are a Tar Heel opponent. Although Meeks is North Carolina's leading rebounder at 9.4 boards per game, Hicks is the Tar Heels' top low-post scorer with 12.8 points per game, and the senior adds 5.6 rebounds a night of his own. After emerging as a crucial role player for North Carolina last season en route to earning ACC Sixth Man of the Year honors, Hicks has started all 25 games this season, playing the third-most minutes of any Tar Heel.
At 6-foot-9, Hicks is the smallest of the North Carolina big men, but also the most offensively-minded. The Oxford, N.C., native shoots 61.0 percent from the field and better than 80 percent from the charity stripe, and going up against a Duke team that has struggled to protect the painted area, he could give the home team fits in Thursday's game.
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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."