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Three points: Rebounding battle, stadium energy to play key roles for Duke men's basketball against North Carolina

Duke heads into Saturday's matchup looking for a season sweep against North Carolina.
Duke heads into Saturday's matchup looking for a season sweep against North Carolina.

In the final game of the regular season for both teams, Duke and North Carolina meet Saturday on a historic day at Cameron Indoor Stadium. With the game's highly-anticipated tipoff getting close, the Blue Zone presents three keys to a Blue Devil victory:

Attack the glass

In each of their four losses this season, the Blue Devils have done a good job rebounding defensively, but have not had impressive offensive rebounding numbers. In those four games, the team logged an average of 2.7 defensive rebounds for each of their offensive ones, a statistic that should not be overlooked. A rivalry matchup as intense as Duke against North Carolina will undoubtedly be physical, and in a gritty fight like this one, every point could make the difference between a win and a loss. Rebounding aggressively on offense and earning the opportunity for second-chance points could swing the stakes in Duke's favor.

Silence the stars

Much of the Tar Heels’ recent success can be attributed in large part to two players: Brady Manek and Armando Bacot. The frontcourt duo has made up the bulk of the team’s offense, combining for a whopping 112 points over the course of the last three games, an impressive 46.3% of the team’s total scoring in that span. 

Bacot’s impact goes far beyond his scoring line, though, and the Blue Devils must be prepared to minimize the impact that an all-around player like him can have on the game. The junior from Richmond, Va., has racked up an impressive 23 double-doubles this season, tied for most in a single season in program history, and has recorded at least ten rebounds in 24 different games, the most ever in a single season at North Carolina. As a well-decorated player experienced in rivalry games, Bacot has what it takes to excel in this matchup.

While Bacot dominates the paint, Manek is lethal from 3-point range. The forward led the Tar Heels in scoring in this season’s first rivalry matchup, connecting on 6-of-10 shots from downtown. His production from beyond the arc has not leveled off during the past three games, with 43.6% of his points coming from beyond the arc. If the Blue Devils are to sweep the Tar Heels this season, they will have to focus on silencing this duo.

Harness the Crazie energy

The energy in Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday evening is not to be underestimated. After COVID-19 prevented fans from attending the 2020 rivalry matchup, the Cameron Crazies will no doubt do everything they can to make a difference in this game. While the Blue Devils have done a solid job in home games this season, earning a 15-2 record in Durham, they are still a young team, and they must succeed in not only handling the pressure from the crowd, but harnessing it. The Tar Heels are coming into Cameron with everything going for them—they currently own a four-game win streak with stars Manek and Bacot heating up—and must not be underestimated either. For the Blue Devils to best the Tar Heels at home, they must use everything to their advantage, including the energy in the stadium to build up momentum throughout the game and close out the regular season with a victory.

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