As this year’s first edition of the Tobacco Road Rivalry approaches, the Blue Zone looks at each of the positional battles between Duke and North Carolina prior to Saturday night. Previously, we looked at the benches. Next up are the backcourts:
While the forwards in this rivalry might dominate the headlines, with Duke freshman Kyle Filipowski and North Carolina graduate student Armando Bacot each leading their team in scoring, the guards are extremely talented and have the potential to make a key impact in this contest.
It has been a roller coaster season for the Duke backcourt, as junior captain Jeremy Roach has missed time due to a lingering toe injury. As a result, freshman Tyrese Proctor and sophomore Jaylen Blakes have received increased minutes, and both have shown flashes of brilliance. Proctor has been a bright spot for the Blue Devils over the past month, scoring double figures in five of the past six games.
At 6-foot-5, the Sydney, Australia, native has a knack for finishing over smaller defenders. Proctor is a gifted scorer at all three levels and demonstrated that prowess in the Blue Devils’ most recent victory against Wake Forest, when the freshman guard tied his season-high with 17 points, including three triples. In addition, the 18-year-old has been a key facilitator for Duke at the point guard position, dishing out a career-high eight assists in last Saturday’s win against Georgia Tech.
Roach has found his footing since returning from injury Jan. 21, and his best game was also against Wake Forest. The Leesburg, Va., native scored a team-high 21 points and was the focal point of Duke’s offense. The team captain has scored double figures in three of his last four games, each leading to Blue Devil victories.
The tandem of Roach and Proctor has been very successful as they have started together in Duke’s two most recent games. Both players are very effective in pick-and-roll situations, with the option to pull up for a jumper or feed a big down low. It will be essential for this pair to play well Saturday, as it will face an elite backcourt.
The Tar Heels have their own dynamic duo who complement each other very well. Juniors RJ Davis and Caleb Love have started together in all 22 games this season and developed excellent chemistry as a result. The second and third leading scorers for North Carolina this year have been staples for the program over the past three seasons.
Love is a flashy guard who is known for his tough finishes in the paint along with his streaky jumpshot. He has taken a step back percentage-wise with shooting from behind the arc, and is just 10-of-38 from three in the past five games. Nevertheless, the former five-star recruit is a volume shooter, and has the ability to get hot in any game. Even when Love is not connecting from deep, he can get to the free throw line and score from there as well.
If last year is any indication, he will be a crucial player for Duke to slow down Saturday. In North Carolina’s two victories over the Blue Devils last year, Love scored 22 and 28 points. However, in Duke’s lone win against the Tar Heels, the St. Louis native was held to only eight points on 3-of-10 shooting from the floor.
Meanwhile, Davis has been a rock-solid guard and has taken a big step up this season. He has increased his scoring average by 2.5 points per game and has improved nearly all of his shooting percentages in every season thus far. Davis has taken over as the primary ball handler for the Tar Heels, and in many of North Carolina’s close games this season, Davis has made big shots.
The White Plains, N.Y., native can fill up the stat sheet as well. Despite only being 6-foot, Davis is averaging 5.0 rebounds per game this season, demonstrating his grit and toughness on the court.
It will be a fun one Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and with elite guard play on both ends of the court, this matchup is primed to be a battle.
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle and The Daily Tar Heel's annual rivalry edition. Find the rest of The Chronicle's coverage here, and follow along with the full Rivalry Challenge here.
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Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.