Duke and North Carolina will battle for the 252nd time Saturday afternoon when they face off at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill. Our Evan Kolin, Winston Lindqwister, Conner McLeod, Michael Model, Glen Morgenstern, Derek Saul and Shane Smith break down their predictions for the latest iteration of the Tobacco Road rivalry. Who do you think will come out on top?
Evan Kolin: Duke 84-72
It’s hard to ignore the obvious—this Tar Heel squad is the worst North Carolina team in years, even with Cole Anthony. But it’s not like Duke has been particularly impressive over the last month, either, particularly on the road. I expect this contest to remain close throughout the first half and much of the second, with the Blue Devils’ superior talent emerging in the game’s final minutes. Cole Anthony simply won’t have the stamina to compete with a Tre Jones-Jordan Goldwire defensive tandem all night, while Jones rekindles memories of his older brother with a series of clutch late-game buckets.
Winston Lindqwister: UNC 83-81
I’ve had a bad feeling for weeks heading into this year’s first iteration of Duke vs. North Carolina, and the last two weeks haven’t alleviated any of my concerns. The Blue Devils have a bad habit of starting slow, and I don’t see that changing come Saturday. In a rivalry game where rankings and stats have historically gone out the window, Duke likely won’t survive a rocky opening half. Although the focal point of North Carolina’s offense will certainly come from Anthony, I’m more worried about the Tar Heels’ Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot, a pair of bigs who could easily abuse a weaker Duke interior defense.
Conner McLeod: Duke 79-63
After watching North Carolina fail to score a field goal in its first 13 minutes of play against Georgia Tech at home, I lost a lot of confidence in the Tar Heels’ ability to make perimeter shots and create offense without Anthony. Anthony will make the matchup against Duke a lot more competitive due to his gravity on the court, but the tandem of Goldwire and Jones should be enough to limit the damage, leaving the rest of North Carolina’s backcourt to flounder. Brooks may have a good game against Duke’s relatively weak interior defense, but the Tar Heels have continuously shown that Brooks’ contributions don’t mean anything come crunch time when opposing teams can pack the paint and dare them to shoot, and miss, from outside.
Michael Model: Duke 76-71
Anthony had little incentive to return to North Carolina after missing 11 games with an injury. Two battles against Duke on college basketball’s biggest stage, however, will give the young star a chance to make his case for the top slot in the upcoming NBA Draft. Anthony’s been inefficient in his two games since returning, but the Tar Heels kept it close against Florida State on the road and they’ll certainly be hungry for a statement win to stop the downfall. The Blue Devils need to snap consecutive slow starts, but I expect the leadership of Jones, interior presence of Vernon Carey Jr. and the big-game stardom of Cassius Stanley will be too much for the Tar Heels to overcome in the end.
Glen Morgenstern: Duke 85-73
Yes, this rivalry defies all logic. Yes, I am aware of the history of these two teams. It doesn’t matter—if a superstar like Anthony can’t save North Carolina against ACC bottom-feeders, the Tar Heels are a lost cause, Dean Dome be damned. And don’t forget about Wendell Moore Jr., who just returned from injury. Moore has served as a valuable piece for the Blue Devils since his return.
Derek Saul: Duke 84-75
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Much has been made about the showdown between Jones and Anthony, but the real deciding factor may be between the teams’ bigs. Carey and Brooks have been their teams’ most consistent offensive options all season, and the Tar Heels’ key to victory may lie in their superior strength inside. North Carolina may win the rebounding battle, but Duke’s superior talent will lead the Blue Devils to a victory in enemy territory.
Shane Smith: Duke 86-68
Some may say that Duke-UNC games will be close no matter the quality of the teams, however, this is a different kind of Tar Heel team that won’t be able to keep up with an on-par Blue Devils squad. North Carolina’s offense runs mainly through star guard Cole Anthony, and with Jones’ elite perimeter defense, Duke shouldn’t have any problems causing havoc on defense. Look for Stanley to provide some key buckets in addition to Carey’s usual dominance for an easy Blue Devil win.