Ever since Duke and North Carolina met 20 days ago in Chapel Hill, things have changed dramatically for the Tar Heels. After three consecutive losses and being on the verge of falling out of the top 25, North Carolina won seven straight games before a loss at the buzzer to Miami Tuesday night.
That said, any Tobacco Road rivalry matchup brings with it plenty of questions, and especially after the Blue Devils' Monday night defeat at Virginia Tech, there remains plenty to be answered in the regular-season finale. Here are the five biggest questions entering Saturday night's matchup in Durham:
1. Can the Tar Heels outshoot Duke's zone?
If you simply look at the numbers from the first matchup, you'd think North Carolina struggled from beyond the arc given its 33.3 percent mark. And it did—after halftime, that is.
But in the first 20 minutes, Kenny Williams drained five triples as the Tar Heels came flying out of the gates and kept pace with the Blue Devils by hitting 7-of-16 3-pointers before intermission. Since that game, Duke has tightened up considerably, only surrendering 55.5 points per contest, but all its opponents pale in comparison to the Tar Heels on the offensive end—North Carolina ranks second in the conference in adjusted offensive efficiency, trailing just the Blue Devils in the KenPom.com metric.
The key becomes whether Williams, Joel Berry II and Cameron Johnson can provide efficient offense for the Tar Heels. Theo Pinson will likely work the inside of Duke's 2-3 zone, but if shots are falling from the outside, expect North Carolina to light up the scoreboard at Cameron Indoor.
2. Who wins the battle of the boards?
Whenever the Blue Devils and Tar Heels face off, this is always the inevitable question. This season, roles are reversed, though, with Duke holding a somewhat substantial size advantage, especially with added minutes in recent weeks for sophomore big men Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier.
Three weeks ago, the Blue Devils had the advantage on the glass early and held a 21-16 lead at intermission. From that point forward, North Carolina dominated, winning 28-17 in the second half and collecting 15 offensive rebounds to tire out the Duke defense. The Blue Devils will need to lean on their big men to control the paint on both ends of the floor and capitalize on both first- and second-chance opportunities.
3. Does Grayson Allen make a final moment at Cameron?
Moments might be Coach K's favorite buzzword, but Grayson Allen has had plenty of them—especially on his home floor. From a breakout performance his freshman year against Wake Forest to a buzzer-beating shot to top Virginia his sophomore season to a pair of tripping incidents against Louisville and Florida State, Cameron Indoor Stadium has been home to plenty of highs and lows for the Duke captain.
When the Blue Devils hosted their rival a season ago, Allen produced arguably his best performance of the season, drilling seven treys en route to a victory, but the Tar Heels shut him down earlier this year. Whether or not they can limit Duke's sparkplug again could very likely determine the game's outcome.
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4. Which team will control the tempo of the game?
In an unusual last set of games for the Blue Devils, it's been defense and not offense leading the way, as Duke has chosen to slow the pace of play, averaging just fewer than 66 possessions per game. Conversely, North Carolina played games with at least 73 possessions three times in its seven-game winning streak.
If the Tar Heels have any say, they'll look to push the ball and prevent the Blue Devils from ever setting up in their zone defense. And not only that, but North Carolina's Warrior lineup—with Luke Maye as the tallest player on the floor—is built to press teams that struggle to get back down the floor and defend.
5. Does Monster Maye emerge?
In the three games between the two rivals last season, the once-unheralded Charlotte native managed only 16 points against Duke, and a few weeks back, he missed all three of his 3-point attempts, winding up with just 15. But Maye has been the Tar Heels' most dangerous weapon this season, erupting for a pair of 30-plus-point performances against N.C. State.
Still, the numbers against ranked teams have been meager at best—he's only scored more than 15 points once against a top-25 side, and the rest of his big performances in conference play have come either in defeats or against bottom of the barrel teams.
There is no perfect matchup for Maye, and if he's scoring, that makes for a lot of dangerous options that the Blue Devils will have to contend with. Although Duke's size inside could neutralize the threat of a Maye breakout performance, a big night for the junior would likely be the straw to break the camel's back.