Well, here we are. In one of the more forgettable Duke seasons in recent memory, it is time to take on the rivals from down the road, North Carolina. Finding wins has been tough in the ACC this year, but for both UNC and Duke, the importance of this game goes way beyond bragging rights. Both teams need this win to keep tournament hopes alive. Let’s take a closer look at who could be the difference makers for each side:
Jalen Johnson, F, Duke
Jalen Johnson has been an integral part of Duke’s success this season. Johnson missed some times earlier this season dealing with an injury, but since his return, he has continued to prove why he remains in the lineup. He averages 12.1 points per game, along with just under two offensive rebounds per contest. The offensive end of the floor has proven the difference-maker for Duke, as the Blue Devils have only lost one game when putting up 75 or more points.
Coming up against a North Carolina team that features a few imposing big men, Johnson’s size and versatility could be a huge turning point for the Blue Devils. It is likely that Garrison Brooks will match up with Matthew Hurt, leaving Johnson with Armando Bacot. Bacot posts a defensive rating of 96.3 per 100 possessions, which means that Jalen Johnson should have himself a field day. If he succeeds in taking advantage of this matchup, Duke should be able to pull off this crucial win.
Caleb Love, G, North Carolina
A former five-star recruit and No. 2-ranked high school point guard in the country, Caleb Love has been inconsistent at best for the Tar Heels. His shooting percentage is just 30.4%, yet he still finds the volume to average over 10 points per contest. He takes over 11 shots per game, allowing him to capitalize on at least a few attempts. So, when he’s on, he could be really dangerous. In his best outing this season, Love put up 20 points on nearly 60% shooting against Wake Forest. For a Duke team that has found themselves struggling to stop guards— Miami’s 3-point shootout, for instance, gave the Blue Devils fits—a good night from Love could mean a long night for the Blue Devils.
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.