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Duke vs. UNC preview: Backcourt

While Jordan Goldwire is not a dynamic offensive player, his impact in terms of on-ball defense and playing the passing lane is hard to understate.
While Jordan Goldwire is not a dynamic offensive player, his impact in terms of on-ball defense and playing the passing lane is hard to understate.

The Duke-North Carolina rivalry has extremely rich guard history, from the likes of legends such as Michael Jordan and Bobby Hurley to more recent NBA draftees such as Tre Jones and Cole Anthony. While this year's guards may not stack up to those names, it'll certainly be a competitive matchup in the backcourt Saturday.

For one, Jordan Goldwire has made a name for himself as a pesky defender and an overall scrappy player. Amongst ACC players, he only trails Georgia Tech’s Jose Alvarado in steals with an impressive 2.4 per game. 

Goldwire is also one of the leaders of this extremely young Duke team. Though he’s not a prolific scorer, he’s someone that head coach Mike Krzyzewski feels is reliable enough to run his system on both ends of the floor given the sheer amount of time he’s spent in Durham. There’s no doubt that Goldwire will leave everything he has out on the floor in his final North Carolina home game as a Blue Devil.

Meanwhile, DJ Steward looks to continue his solid rookie campaign with a memorable first game against North Carolina. Steward has gained Krzyzewski’s trust, starting all but two regular season games. The Chicago native has been a virtual lock to score double figures on a nightly basis, doing so in all but three appearances this season. 

If Steward is able to get to the line consistently, the Tar Heels could be in for a long night. Not every freshman can manage to shoot 85.3% from the free throw line with the volume of fouls that Steward draws. The Whitney Young product is also one of Duke's best long-range shooters, so North Carolina head coach Roy Williams will make sure to impart some caution to his players when it comes to guarding Steward away from the basket.

In the Tar Heel backcourt, freshman Caleb Love currently averages 10.3 points along with 3.1 assists per game. Love’s best game of the season came Jan. 20 against Wake Forest, in which he put up a career-high 20 points and shot 7-of-12 from the field. However, the freshman guard has proven to be quite inconsistent from beyond the arc. He’s only shooting 22.2% from three on the season, a weakness Duke can easily exploit. Look for the Blue Devils to sag off Love when he’s out in space Saturday.

After RJ Davis opened the first nine games of the season starting at the second guard spot, Williams has looked exclusively to Kerwin Walton to fill that role since the start of the new year. Walton is averaging 10.1 points per game across his nine starts, a significant uptick from his production as a bench player. He’s also shooting 42.4% from three for the season, so Duke must make sure that it guards Walton tight on the perimeter or he will make them pay.

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.

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