After taking care of Syracuse in the quarterfinals, Duke continues ACC Tournament play against North Carolina in the semifinals, hoping to avoid its third loss to the Tar Heels. The Blue Zone looks at three aspects of the game that could be crucial for the Blue Devils in securing a victory:
Zion finally gets an extended taste of the Tobacco Road rivalry
After a shoe explosion held him out of all but 30 seconds of Duke's two regular season matchups with North Carolina, Zion Williamson will finally have a chance to partake in one of the greatest rivalries in sports.
Williamson looked like a man possessed in his return Thursday evening, and put together his most impressive stat line of the season, with 29 points, 14 rebounds and 5 steals on a perfect shooting percentage.
If Williamson provides anywhere close to this level of production on Friday night, the Blue Devils will be in good position to avoid a season sweep to the Tar Heels. North Carolina burned Duke inside in each of the first two contests, especially in its 88-72 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium, when the Tar Heels scored 65 points in the paint. With Williamson—the Blue Devils' leader in defensive rating, blocks per game and steals per game—back in the fold, North Carolina will not dominate the paint against Duke as they did earlier this season.
An unlikely hero emerged in the second iteration of the 2018-19 Tobacco Road rivalry: Kenny Williams. On his Senior Night, Williams put up a season high 18 points and four 3-pointers. The Elizabeth City, N.C., native was active on the defensive end as well, drawing numerous offensive fouls from driving Blue Devils.
Although Williams' strong performance on March 9 may have been an anomaly, Duke can't afford for a role player like Williams to go off Friday. The trio of Cameron Johnson, Coby White and Luke Maye are hard enough to slow down, and a repeat effort from Williams will make it a long night for the Blue Devils.
Secure the one seed
Duke and North Carolina are playing for more than an ACC title and bragging rights tonight.
While nothing can be guaranteed, the Blue Devils will be in prime position for a one seed in the NCAA tournament with a win tonight. Should Duke lose, it will almost certainly be looking at a two seed come Selection Sunday. The Tar Heels face a similar seeding situation, and a victory tonight will nearly guarantee a one seed for Roy Williams' crew.
A loss for the Blue Devils would be borderline disastrous—North Carolina would sweep the season series, the ACC title would be lost, and their NCAA tournament chances would be worsened. Additionally, Duke could be in danger of bringing home no hardware, as they did last year.
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