With Duke men's basketball set to take the short trip down Tobacco Road for Saturday night's battle in Chapel Hill, the Blue Zone has you covered with some can't-miss prop bets:
Duke (-3) at North Carolina
First off, allow me to affirm one thing: North Carolina has earned this line with its recent success, regardless of how the rest of the season has gone. It has been an undeniable rollercoaster ride for head coach Hubert Davis’ Tar Heels in the first year of the post-Roy Williams era, but here we are in early February, and this team is 16-6 with a four-game winning streak to its name. The 2.5-point line feels a bit short for a game between a top-10 squad and an unranked one, but North Carolina is talented, finding ways to win and—despite all of its challenges—will be on its home floor Saturday night with a chance to take over first place in the ACC. Plus, this is Duke versus North Carolina, and both teams have a funny way of always rising to the occasion.
Now, let me explain something else: Duke should—and in all likelihood will—cover this line with relative ease, although the game will also likely end up closer than the average fan may predict. Not only is there a wide disparity in overall talent and depth between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, but North Carolina still hasn’t quite overcome its shortcomings on the defensive end. It’s those same defensive issues that are the primary reason behind North Carolina’s 1-4 against the spread record as an underdog this season, and seeing how little the Tar Heels have improved on the less glamorous end—their scoring defense ranks 13th in the ACC—I fail to see how they can overcome a Duke side whose three losses all came against staunch, determined defenses that made the Blue Devils look vulnerable in the halfcourt.
Duke isn’t a slam dunk. No team in any game in this rivalry ever is. But I’m not ready to buy into North Carolina’s recent success, especially against a team of Duke’s caliber. The Blue Devils, once again, will cover this line with relative ease.
Pick: Duke -3
Over/Under 151 points
It’s easy to side with Duke in the section above, but it’s certainly trickier to pinpoint at what pace these two teams—by and large unfamiliar with one another, from star players to head coaches—will put points on the scoreboard. It’s definitely worth noting that there’s a recent precedent for the over: all four matchups over the last two seasons have gone over, and by a margin of 24.3 points at that.
Still, I have a hard time leaning that way ahead of Saturday’s matchup in Chapel Hill, mainly because I believe in Duke’s ever-growing defensive identity—take a look back at Monday’s lockdown performance at Notre Dame—and because the Blue Devils have looked a little less comfortable on offense in hostile road environments this season. Whether you buy into it or not, road splits do matter when it comes to point totals, and Duke had to work harder for buckets in road losses to Ohio State and Florida State.
The Blue Devils should have enough, as I wrote earlier, to pull through for the win, but it might be enough to keep this rivalry under the total for the first time since 2019.
Pick: Under 151
Paolo Banchero over/under 1.5 3-pointers made
The Blue Devils are at their best when star forward Paolo Banchero is, especially in big-time matchups like this one. The six-time ACC Freshman of the Week rose to the occasion against both Kentucky and Gonzaga, so it’s a fair assumption to say he won’t shy away from the spotlight in the Dean Dome Saturday night. But for Banchero to play his controlled, powerful game and lead the Duke offense, he likely won’t have to do much from long range. The 6-foot-10 forward is a capable 3-point shooter, but with his 31.8% mark on the season, he would likely need five or six attempts from beyond the arc to cash the over on this prop bet. I don’t imagine that’s the game plan for head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad here.
Pick: Under 1.5 3-pointers made (-210)
This article is part of The Chronicle's Rivalry Edition. For more content, click here.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.