Ahead of the Blue Devils' latest marquee battle against No. 8 North Carolina, our men's basketball beats make their predictions for the outcome of Wednesday evening's contest:

Conner McLeod

Winning Team: Duke

Score Prediction: 87-72

Leading scorer Duke: Zion Williamson

Leading scorer UNC: Cameron Johnson

X Factor player: Kenny Williams

MOP: Zion Williamson

Item to watch for: How Coby White deals with Tre Jones’ ball pressure 

I think it will be very hard for North Carolina to compete with Duke down low, and if Tre Jones plays the kind of defense he has been playing all year long, North Carolina leading scorer Coby White will have a difficult time getting good shots off. One of Duke’s weaknesses, defending the 3-point shot against experienced teams, can be exploited by the likes of snipers Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams who have proven their consistency from beyond the arc. However, unless North Carolina figures out how to stop the terrific trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, Cameron Indoor Stadium will be a tough place for the Tar Heels to come away with a victory.

Derek Saul

Winning Team: Duke

Score Prediction: 87-79

Leading scorer Duke: Zion Williamson

Leading scorer UNC: Coby White

X Factor player: Nassir Little

MOP: Zion Williamson

Item to watch for: If Luke Maye can keep up with Duke’s athleticism 

While the same can be said about nearly every team in the nation, I simply do not think that North Carolina has an answer for Zion Williamson. Nassir Little is no slouch of an athlete himself, but I foresee a 30-point or more effort from Williamson, who scores at will when fed the ball. As long as Duke’s perimeter defense holds up—which I expect it to behind the likes of Tre Jones and Cam Reddish—I expect the Blue Devils to take care of business Wednesday.

Michael Model

Winning Team: Duke

Score Prediction: 92-87

Leading scorer Duke: Cam Reddish

Leading scorer UNC: Luke Maye

X Factor player: Marques Bolden

MOP: Zion Williamson

Item to watch for: Can Duke match North Carolina on the perimeter? 

The Blue Devils have come out strong offensively in big games this season and I expect Zion Williamson and co. will be ready for what will most likely be their lone shot at the Tar Heels in Cameron. This should be an offensive showdown with Duke and North Carolina both sporting top-five scoring offenses and elite 3-point threats with Cam Reddish and Cameron Johnson, respectively. While the Blue Devils will need to be efficient from the field, the key for Duke will be on the interior. If Williamson and Marques Bolden can utilize their size advantages to dominate the paint and clean the glass, North Carolina will have trouble slowing down the rolling Blue Devils.  

Mitchell Gladstone

Winning Team: Duke

Score Prediction: 89-79

Leading scorer Duke: Zion Williamson

Leading scorer UNC: Coby White

X Factor player: Cameron Johnson

MOP: Zion Williamson

Item to watch for: Does North Carolina try to go small, and if so, how does Duke counter? 

All season long, I’ve felt as if teams can defend, they will have a shot to beat North Carolina. Per KenPom.com—and my eyes, if we’re being honest—Virginia, Michigan and Kentucky are among the 10 best in the nation. Louisville, currently 18th in defensive efficiency, isn’t a slouch either on that end. The Tar Heels don’t have enough consistent offensive weapons outside of Coby White, and I have no doubt that Tre Jones is going to give White fits, making things tough on North Carolina’s offense to get going. I think the Tar Heels get their points, but mostly just because of the pace at which this game will be played, and Duke wins relatively comfortably on its home floor.

Hank Tucker

Winning Team: Duke

Score Prediction: 95-88

Leading scorer Duke: R.J. Barrett

Leading scorer UNC: Cameron Johnson

X Factor player: Tre Jones

MOP: R.J. Barrett

Item to watch for: If Duke’s lack of depth can survive the pace of the game 

In a game that appears destined to be an up-and-down shootout, with both Duke and North Carolina in the top 20 in the nation in tempo, I think the Blue Devils will have a little too much offensive firepower for the Tar Heels to handle, especially at home. R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish could all erupt against North Carolina’s inconsistent defense, and I expect Tre Jones to force freshman Coby White into at least a couple live-ball turnovers leading to easy transition buckets. But this won’t be an easy victory by any means—if the Tar Heels get hot from the perimeter, they’re capable of beating anybody anywhere.

Winston Lindqwister

Winning Team: Duke

Score Prediction: 82-77

Leading scorer Duke: Zion Williamson

Leading scorer UNC: Coby White

X Factor player: Cam Reddish

MOP: Zion Williamson

Item to watch for: How does North Carolina plan on keeping Zion out of the paint? 

Although this year’s batch of Tar Heels boasts the same high-tempo, glass-crashing identity of past North Carolina teams, the Tar Heels critically lack a dominant inside presence like Kennedy Meeks or Brice Johnson. Unfortunately for North Carolina, an already weakened porous front court will have to find a way to stop Zion Williamson. Although Garrison Brooks and Luke Maye have been solid on interior defense, neither of them match up well with a freight train like Williamson, likely forcing double or triple teams and leaving the perimeter open for R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. However, the Blue Devils must stay wary. Coby White and Cameron Johnson have exploded as one of the most dangerous backcourt duos in the NCAA. If Duke struggles to clamp down on perimeter defense and fails to stretch the floor well enough to let Williamson go to work, the Blue Devils may be left with a bitter taste in their mouth and another letdown home loss.

This is part of our extensive preview coverage for this year's first meeting between Duke and North Carolina. Check out more of our content here, including top games of this season and historically for the Blue Devils and breakdowns of the matchups at every position Wednesday night.