With the wind of an 11-game winning streak in their sails, the 13th-ranked Blue Devils head behind enemy lines Thursday evening for an all-important ACC matchup at No. 17 North Carolina. Before the 8 p.m. tipoff, our beat writers make their predictions.
Em Adler: North Carolina 56-52
There is a tendency in premier ACC matchups for the game to end up with a very low score. Just ask the Tar Heels: Against their last three big in-conference opponents (Miami, Notre Dame and N.C. State), they have combined for 120, 110 and 103 points, respectively. Were the Blue Devils playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium, I’d pick Duke. But dealing with Alyssa Ustby and Deja Kelly and the crowd at Carmichael Arena is the kind of challenge these Blue Devils have yet to rise up and overcome
Leah Boyd: Duke 52-47
The team that has the better first quarter wins. Duke and North Carolina have both been plagued by slow starts in recent appearances, mostly because the shots just aren’t falling. Duke scraped by Clemson because of hot 3-point shooting late, but junior center Kennedy Brown will have to be more of a contributor to the offense if the Blue Devils hope to take over against these tougher conference opponents. Duke’s defense is also consistent enough to stop North Carolina from getting hot late, which is how the Tar Heels pulled ahead of N.C. State Sunday.
Franck Djidjeu: Duke 61-57
Duke has bridged the gap between itself and many of its ACC rivals this season, and North Carolina is no exception. The Blue Devils enter this game with the third-ranked defense in the country, holding their opponents to just 50.4 points per game. The Tar Heels are certainly a formidable offense, but the fact that Duke has been able to hold every ACC opponent to below 60 points is evidence that it can shut down anyone on any given night. Despite North Carolina riding a three-game win streak, Duke steals this away game and remains undefeated in-conference.
Ana Young: Duke 64-62
No. 13 Duke has the strength, size and skill to beat the Tar Heels, a team that it faced in two of its worst losses last season. Though No. 17 North Carolina returns its elite backcourt of Kennedy Todd-Williams, Kelly and Ustby, Duke is a primarily defensive team that has just one loss on the season. The Tar Heels may have a 12-5 record, but they have also taken down top-ranked teams including No. 7 Notre Dame and, most recently, No. 20 N.C. State. This contest should be a tight race, but I think this once-in-a-blue-moon Duke team will come out victorious.
Dom Fenoglio: Duke 65-62
In a game between two teams that are red-hot, this game may very well come down to the final moments. That gives an edge to the Blue Devils, who are shooting 76.4% from the line compared to the Tar Heels’ 68.7%. Expect the Duke defense to make North Carolina uncomfortable throughout the game, but with four Tar Heels averaging double digits, it is hard to see Duke holding its opponent under 60.
Martin Heintzelman: North Carolina 58-56
This is going to be a tough game, maybe the toughest of the season for Duke thus far. Both teams are flaming hot right now, but I think the Tar Heels will take it in a nail-biter. They are coming off of a major double-digit win against N.C. State, and while Duke has played well lately, it struggled with slow starts against Clemson and Georgia Tech in their last two wins. Look for North Carolina to pull ahead early in the first half and hang on to its lead late. Expect neither team to score much, as both squads have stellar defenses.
Ranjan Jindal: North Carolina 59-57
As well as the Blue Devils have played all season, this may be the toughest road test for Kara Lawson’s bunch. North Carolina has played extremely well as of late, winning three straight against tough conference opponents. Even though Duke is leading the conference in scoring defense, the Blue Devils have had the tendency to get beat off of the dribble in recent games, and the Tar Heels have an elite backcourt who have played together for multiple years. I expect this to go down to the wire, but I give the edge to the home team.
Sophie Levenson: Duke 60-54
Duke is on a winning streak that it is not ready to give up. The Blue Devils have been able to take out feisty competitors, including rival N.C. State in Raleigh when the hosts boasted a No. 6 spot in the AP Poll. Duke’s last three games have all ended in victories by margins of 10 points or more: These games are not decided on lucky shots or an easy conference schedule. Though a matchup in Carmichael Arena will certainly be tough, it does not quite wield the power to end an 11-game winning streak.
Garrett Spooner: Duke 62-54
The Blue Devils have had no issues on the road so far this year, taking down then-No. 6 NC State, among others, en route to a 3-0 away record in ACC play. Now, North Carolina will be Lawson’s toughest matchup. After a four-game losing streak that started in late December, the Tar Heels have caught fire led by Kelly. In what will certainly be a raucous environment in Chapel Hill, the Blue Devils will silence the crowd through relentless defensive pressure and an excellent Celeste Taylor game.
Mackenzie Sheehy: Duke 62-56
It’s no secret that the Blue Devils’ high-pressure defense has been a staple of their system this year. Duke has the ability to shut North Carolina down and force the home team to make mistakes throughout the game, but the Blue Devils’ offense will have to be consistent to beat a Tar Heel team that just took down No. 7 Notre Dame 10 days ago. A win will require big-time performances from the likes of Taylor and Elizabeth Balogun while also getting lots of points off the bench. If the Blue Devils can pair offensive production with their signature defense, such a dangerous combination will be hard to beat.
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.
Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.