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. First up are the benches:
At full health, this Duke team has the potential to go 10 or more players deep, an impressive display of the roster’s depth. With typical starter Dariq Whitehead injured, the Blue Devil bench consists of graduate students Jacob Grandison and Ryan Young, sophomore Jaylen Blakes and freshman Jaden Schutt.
Young and Blakes have both started at points throughout the year, but with the return of the previously-injured Jeremy Roach and the development of Dereck Lively II, they have lately been relegated to the bench. Similarly, Grandison has picked up big minutes, though he has not yet recorded a start. Head coach Jon Scheyer has given Schutt, on the other hand, sporadic time, and most recently, the guard saw the floor early in Duke’s blowout win at Georgia Tech.
The first two off the bench, if Whitehead remains inactive in Saturday night's game, are typically the graduate students. Young, a transfer center from Northwestern, has been an efficient post-scorer and rebounder for the Blue Devils, averaging 8.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. When Lively struggled early in the year, Scheyer relied on Young to produce. In the same vein, Grandison, a former Illinois player, has seen minutes in a veteran scoring role. Known for his shooting, as he is 33.9% from three this season, the Oakland, Calif., native will be needed in the rivalry matchup.
In a backup point guard role, Blakes has taken a substantial step forward in both his scoring and defensive abilities. On the season, he is averaging 4.4 points in 17.2 minutes per game. Blakes’ ability to play a full-court press is an asset for Scheyer’s team, and he has bothered opposing guards all year. The Somerset, N.J., native has seen his minutes decline lately after facing a nose injury, but he is more than likely to see the floor in Saturday night’s matchup.
Finally, if the pattern of inserting players off the bench into the game continues, Schutt may hit the court. However, his inexperience in league play and size may limit his effectiveness against a physical North Carolina squad. If he gets minutes, look for the 6-foot-6 player to produce in a spot-up shooting role.
North Carolina’s bench consists of two major pieces: Junior forward Puff Johnson and sophomore guard D’Marco Dunn. The two are North Carolina's only bench players averaging more than 10 minutes per game with 15 and 12.6, respectively.
Although injury kept Johnson out of the Tar Heels' N.C. State and Syracuse matchups, expect the forward to return to action at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Moon Township, Pa., native has been an asset for second-year head coach Hubert Davis. The junior shoots 36.8% from three and averages 4.1 points per game. Although not an elite scorer, Johnson is an experienced wing who knows the rivalry. In Davis’ system, expect Johnson to play a role.
Finally, Dunn is yet another of North Carolina's returning players, and he has increased his workload in the 2022-23 season. Although averaging just 3.5 points per game, Dunn has the ability to score in bunches, as demonstrated by his best game in a Tar Heel uniform, when he poured on 14 points against Louisville in North Carolina’s 80-59 win. Dunn’s defensive ability and efficiency of keeping the ball, with just four turnovers on the year, has earned him minutes in his sophomore season.
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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