Following a narrow win against Boston College, Duke turns its focus toward arguably the biggest rivalry in college sports. The Blue Zone breaks down one player from each team that could make the difference Saturday night:
Duke: Forward Matthew Hurt
No matter the records, Duke vs. North Carolina is always a big game with high stakes and lots of pressure. Matthew Hurt has the ability to be a big-game player and, now more than ever, the team needs him to step up. The freshman star can play anywhere on the offensive end. He shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc and 49.7 percent from the field, both fourth on the team. Standing at 6-foot-9, he possesses the duality of being able to shoot from outside and score inside, making him a tough matchup for anyone on the court.
Hurt’s season has had its ups and downs, but he has nonetheless proven himself against big-time opponents. Against Louisville, Hurt dropped 16 points, trailing only Cassius Stanley in that department, while hitting three big 3-pointers and grabbing two offensive rebounds along the way. He later followed that up with 22 points in only 24 minutes against Miami.
As many teams have begun to do, the Tar Heels may game plan around Duke leading scorer Vernon Carey Jr., so Hurt may find himself in some favorable positions with open threes or easy buckets in the paint. If he can get hot from the start, he can take over the game offensively for the Blue Devils.
North Carolina: Forward Garrison Brooks
With star freshman Cole Anthony out for a majority of the season, Garrison Brooks has had to be the next man up for North Carolina. During that time, Brooks posted major numbers, dropping 35 points against Georgia Tech, 28 at Virginia Tech and 25 at N.C. State. But when Anthony returned to the lineup this past weekend, Brooks was slotted back into his normal role, which has been a big step back: 10 points against Boston College and five at Florida State. Thus, the big question: which version of Brooks will show up against Duke?
The Blue Devils’ attention will of course be on Anthony, but Brooks is an effective shooter (52 percent from the field) and will step up if Duke leaves him unchecked. Not only that, but the 6-foot-9, 235-pound junior is an aggressive player and force in the paint if you allow him inside feeds. Outside of the paint, though, Brooks has struggled, shooting 16.7 percent from 3-point range this season and 58.9 percent from the free throw line, including an 0-of-7 mark from the charity stripe against Boston College.