With the first of this year's Tobacco Road matchups between Duke and North Carolina drawing near, the Blue Zone is here to preview each positional battle ahead of Saturday night's tipoff. First, we take a look at both teams' backcourt:
Since the start of the season, Duke’s backcourt has shown flashes of brilliance in some of the games, while in the most recent stretch, Jeremy Roach’s hot streak, combined with Trevor Keels being sidelined by a leg injury has made it one of the team’s biggest enigmas. To square off North Carolina next weekend, the duo will need to achieve consistency while keeping their big game performances strong.
After a rather ordinary rookie year, Roach began the season by sharing point guard duties with junior captain Wendell Moore Jr. While Moore struggled with streakiness during ACC play, Roach’s most remarkable performances came during the recent winning stretch, where he recorded a total of 24 assists with only 3 turnovers. Roach’s breakout before the rivalry matchup will give confidence to Duke’s offense next Saturday, as his ability to step up as the team’s floor general can both add dimensions to the game and effectively limit the team’s turnovers during crucial possessions. His shot stability, however, will still be a question as he is only shooting 41.8% from the field, a sign that he will need to take advantage of his playmaking over taking the shots.
Keels, on the other hand, has seen great chemistry playing with Roach since their time at St. Paul VI High School. Despite being sidelined with a leg injury since the loss at Florida State, he's been making progress, though their is still no official timetable for his return. Although he has also been plagued with inconsistencies throughout the slate of ACC games, Keels has used his tough and athletic frame to his advantage, as he has been able to dribble and finish inside the paint to the tune of 11.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, playing a key role in Duke’s backcourt offense.
On the other side of the court, RJ Davis and Caleb Love have both seen increases in production and consistency this season. After struggling during their rookie campaigns, both Davis and Love have improved their shooting splits, raising their 3-point percentage to well over 40%. Splitting their roles as floor generals, Davis is averaging 13.7 points and 3.3 assists, while Love is averaging 15.3 points and 3.4 assists per game. The pair's chemistry, coupled with their breakout performances, have made North Carolina’s backcourt highly effective in both spreading the floor and controlling the pace of the game.
While their numbers may seem similar to one another, Love has flashed his scoring explosion this season, putting up seven 20-point games. It’s important to keep in mind that despite shooting an abysmal 31.6% from the floor last year, Love averaged 21.5 points during the two previous matchups against Duke, sinking 15 of his 28 shot attempts. The former five-star recruit from St. Louis, Mo., was heavily pursued by Duke until it landed Jeremy Roach, who will compete in his third matchup against Love shortly. Duke needs to contain the backcourt duo in order to avoid a 3-point storm that proved to be its weakness in this matchup a year ago.
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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