After a home win Tuesday night against Florida State, Duke is just a victory away from a double bye in next week's ACC tournament. But to earn it, the Blue Devils will have to knock off No. 5 North Carolina on the road—something Duke has done in four of its last five visits to Chapel Hill. As rebounding will likely be a key part of the Tobacco Road rivalry once again, The Blue Zone takes a look at a pair of big men who could sway the contest in their team's favor.
Duke: Forward Amile Jefferson
Since the Philadelphia native suffered a right-foot bone bruise in mid-January, he has yet to get entirely back on track from an offensive perspective. Jefferson scored in double figures just three times between Jan. 21 and last Saturday, but found his groove against the Seminoles. Shooting a perfect 6-of-6 from the field—something he had never done on six or more field-goal attempts—the 6-foot-9 forward finished with 14 points and just two turnovers in 31 minutes.
Against a Florida State frontcourt which features two seven-footers, Jefferson was also crucial defensively. The graduate student tallied 11 rebounds, four blocks and a steal to lead a Blue Devil defense that was dominated for 56 points in the paint during the teams' first matchup earlier this season. Against the Tar Heels in February, Jefferson struggled to score—getting just two points at the charity stripe—yet managed to help Duke win the battle of the boards, 31-30, against the nation's best rebounding team.
With five North Carolina forwards averaging at least 4.5 boards per night, Jefferson is going to need help from his teammates. But given that freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden combined for just seven minutes Tuesday, it is unclear how much Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski will rely on them come Saturday. Ultimately, it is likely to come down to whether or not Jefferson can set the tone and put up double-digit points for the fourth time in the last five games.
North Carolina: Forward Isaiah Hicks
The last time Duke took on the Tar Heels, we expected that Hicks had the potential to push North Carolina over the top and give the visitors their second straight win in Durham. The senior was a last-minute scratch due to a strained hamstring, however, forcing North Carolina to start Luke Maye instead. Without their second-leading rebounder and most efficient shooter, the Tar Heels struggled to grab control of the game—never leading by more than five points.
This time around, though, Hicks should be a full-go and is part of North Carolina's three-headed frontcourt monster that could give the Blue Devils fits. The Tar Heels put up 34 of their 78 points in the paint during the mid-February contest, but in his last few games, the Oxford, N.C., native has really struggled to score.
On Senior Night, expect the 6-foot-9 forward to come out firing and make an impact from the start. Hicks has beaten Duke just once at home during his North Carolina career—playing just five minutes in that win three years ago as a freshman—and will probably have family in the stands for his final game at the Dean E. Smith Center. If Hicks can assert himself, the Blue Devils very well may have trouble down low.
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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."