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Three points: Duke men's basketball eyes win in first rivalry matchup against North Carolina

Junior Wendell Moore Jr., looks to be a difference-maker at the Dean Dome.
Junior Wendell Moore Jr., looks to be a difference-maker at the Dean Dome.

Before Duke rolls into the Dean Dome for its matchup against North Carolina for the last time under head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Blue Zone has three keys to Saturday's game:

Rebounding is key

When it comes to boards, the Blue Devils have been improving. Freshman Paolo Banchero, newly named to the Karl Malone Award watch list, has made rebounding a focal point of his game as of late. He is averaging 8.3 boards per game, going over double-digits in three of his last five outings. Banchero’s frontcourt counterpart, Mark Williams, is also a strong rebounder, with double-digit boards in two of his last three games. The pair have transformed Duke’s game, turning rebounding into one of the team’s strengths with their size and physicality. Against ACC opponents, the two have feasted.

North Carolina's dominant big man Armando Bacot will do everything in his power to prevent that. The 6-foot-10 junior has come into his own this season. He leads the Tar Heels in points and rebounds, with 16.5 and 12.5, respectively. He has 13 straight games with double-digit rebounds after putting up 19 points and 22 rebounds in their win against Louisville. Bacot also had two blocks and three steals for an impressive all-around performance. To limit his production, Duke and its frontcourt will have to be more physical at the rim, limiting his offensive rebounds and second-chance points.

Who’s showing up?

Wendell Moore Jr., had a fiery start to his junior season. His triple-double against Army was only the fifth in program history. He recorded four 20-point games through December, winning ACC Player of the Week once. The new year, however, has been a different story. Moore shot 42% from the field in January, making only one of his seven attempts in the Blue Devil’s most recent win at Notre Dame. He does have two 15-point performances, against North Carolina State and Syracuse, highlighting his inconsistency. His leadership and experience, however, are crucial aspects of the team. Moore will have to demonstrate his playmaking ability and maturity in a rivalry game that many of his teammates are inexperienced in.

On the other side of the court, guard Caleb Love has excelled for the Tar Heels. He has seven 20-point games and is averaging 15.3 points per game. In their first matchup last season, Love dropped 25, making four-of-five from the arc in his Blue Devil introduction. Duke contained Love slightly better in the second game, when he only made two-of-three treys. Perimeter defense and containment will be key to stopping Love’s attack.

Feed into the rivalry

A Duke-North Carolina matchup is no ordinary game. The best rivalry in college sports is only that way because of the intensity both schools bring to it. The Blue Devils have played big games, like their victory over Gonzaga in Las Vegas, but this one’s different. This one means more—and the Tar Heels know it. North Carolina is only a half-game back in ACC standings, and after a rocky start to the season, their team is coming together. The Brady Manek-Bacot chemistry is lethal and Love is riding a hot streak. The Tar Heels are determined to continue their rivalry win streak after defeating the Blue Devils in both matchups last season.

Duke is a young team. Led by three freshmen, now that Trevor Keels has returned, the Blue Devils lack the experience and maturity of many other teams, including North Carolina. All eyes will be on AJ Griffin, Banchero and Keels, but how will they handle the pressure?

This article is part of The Chronicle's Rivalry Edition. For more content, click here.

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