Duke hosts North Carolina Saturday at 6 p.m. in 2021's first rendition of the Tobacco Road rivalry. Our beat writers make their predictions for the primetime matchup.
Evan Kolin: Duke 74-70
Both teams enter this contest coming off heart-wrenching losses and in desperate need of a victory to bolster their NCAA tournament odds. And while there may be no Crazies in the building Saturday night, I still see the Blue Devils defending their home floor. Duke will struggle on the boards against North Carolina’s flurry of big men, but in the end, Matthew Hurt will pace the offense throughout and Jalen Johnson will take over in crunch time en route to the Blue Devils’ fourth straight win against the Tar Heels.
Shane Smith: Duke 85-79
I’m going to assume that Duke’s questionable loss to Miami had at least a little bit to do with the young team looking ahead to a big matchup with Carolina. So hey, if that’s the case, then the Blue Devils should be ready to play. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad will have tough defensive matchups with the Tar Heels’ interior scorers, but it will be just as tough for Garrison Brooks and Day’Ron Sharpe to check Matthew Hurt outside the arc and Jalen Johnson in transition. In a close one, I’ll give the edge to the “home” team.
Glen Morgenstern: North Carolina 68-66
Even though the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels seem evenly stacked, neither side boasts a spark plug like Zion Williamson or Cole Anthony. Both Duke and North Carolina have struggled to shoot the ball this season and will continue to do so Saturday evening. This one’s a toss-up, but the Blue Devils have failed to close out games in crunch time. I’m guessing the Tar Heels take this iteration of the rivalry by the slimmest of margins.
Derek Saul: North Carolina 73-69
I see this game as a true toss-up. You don’t need me to tell you that these are two flawed teams, as their records tell you enough, but both Duke and North Carolina have major holes offensively: the Blue Devils can’t get any sort of consistency in terms of scoring and the Tar Heels are downright dreadful at shooting the basketball. Ultimately, I think North Carolina’s burly bigs dominate inside and the Tar Heels get just enough outside shooting to eke out a win on the road.
Conner McLeod: Duke 70-64
Sure, Duke isn’t having an ideal season. But the Tar Heels aren’t as scary for the Blue Devils as it may seem at face value. Garrison Brooks may still have his day, as Carolina big men are prone to have against Duke, but Jordan Goldwire and DJ Steward are going to give North Carolina’s guards a difficult time getting to the rim. Duke’s offensive weaknesses will show their head against the Tar Heels, keeping the game close. However, at the end of the day, Matthew Hurt will drag the Blue Devils to the finish line, as his unguardable face up game will still be at full power.
Jake Piazza: Duke 68-63
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
While a mere glance at each team’s overall record would definitely point toward a North Carolina win, there’s more to this story. The key matchup is going to be whether the Tar Heel bigs or Blue Devil forwards can make more of an impact, and I’m going to ride with Matthew Hurt, Jalen Johnson and Wendell Moore Jr. Duke won’t win the battle of the boards, but the versatility and athleticism of the three aforementioned players will be too much for North Carolina to handle.
Max Rego: North Carolina 76-71
Like most meetings between these two programs, Saturday’s contest figures to come down to the wire. The Blue Devils showed a lot of promise in wins against Georgia Tech and Clemson, but the loss to Miami earlier this week certainly raised some serious questions. On the other hand, I think the Tar Heels have clearly improved in ACC play, and their advantage inside with Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe will pose issues for Duke on the glass. In a hard-fought battle, North Carolina edges past the Blue Devils in Cameron.
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle and The Daily Tar Heel's annual rivalry edition. Find the rest here.