Film room: Duke men's basketball needs to limit star North Carolina trio

Jeremy Roach is Duke's only returning starter from last season's Final Four run.
Jeremy Roach is Duke's only returning starter from last season's Final Four run.

Duke men’s basketball takes on North Carolina at home Saturday. Ahead of this pivotal matchup, the Blue Zone is here to provide film insights:

At 16-6, the Blue Devils are heading into the final stretch of the regular season. The young team, which has had its share of ups and downs this season, has the chance to grab a statement win against North Carolina. Saturday marks another chapter in the historic Tobacco Road rivalry, as Duke seeks to earn vengeance over North Carolina for the two biggest losses of its prior season.

The Tar Heels have been inconsistent following their preseason status as championship favorites, but recently have hit their stride, winning 10 of their past 13 games. Aside from graduate student Brady Manek, North Carolina returned all of its starters from last season’s Final Four run, which includes three dangerous pieces the Blue Devils must contain in order to achieve victory.

For the last three seasons, the Tar Heels have been led by Armando Bacot, who has averaged 17.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game this season. The senior’s efficiency explains his high scoring total; he has made a remarkable 56.6% of his field goal attempts. Bacot’s 6-foot-11, 235-pound frame helps him feast on shots near the rim, driving up his scoring output. Watch as Bacot effortlessly sinks a putback jumper over two N.C. State defenders to earn an and-one:

Third on the team in scoring average is junior guard RJ Davis, a talented and efficient scorer at the line and from behind the arc. If Bacot is contained in the paint, the Blue Devils will still have Davis’ shooting range to worry about. The White Plains, N.Y., native is averaging 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists while making 36.1% of his treys. Against Wake Forest on Jan. 4, Davis had one of the best games of his career, scoring 27 points and sinking five threes. Here he is hitting a stepback 3-pointer over Daivien Williamson to put the cherry on top of this performance:

The last of the Tar Heels’ big three is guard Caleb Love, who is a large x-factor for North Carolina’s matchup against Duke. Despite his legacy-altering three in the Final Four to beat the Blue Devils, Love has regressed in his efficiency from deep. While the junior averages a strong 16.5 points per game, he has made just 28.6% of his threes. Of course, he’s still bound to make a few of his outside shots due to high volume, but his aggressiveness with these shots can be to a fault. Against Louisville on Jan. 14, Love scored 10 points and nabbed five steals, but missed all seven of his three-point attempts. Many of these shots were somewhat spaced from the arc, and even moderate contests by the Cardinals on his shots proved effective. Watch Love’s final missed trey of the game, a shot that was likely more difficult than it needed to be given the two defenders around Love and his distance from the three-point line:

Despite Love’s struggles from the three-point line, the Tar Heels’ primary trio, complemented by graduate students Leaky Black and Pete Nance, have largely played well. In 11 games of conference play, North Carolina is second in the ACC in points per game. With an offense capable of scoring in the paint and behind the arc, Duke will have to utilize strong, involved defense in order to hold the Tar Heels in check.

If the Blue Devils' perimeter defense, which has held opponents to a great 30.1% mark from three, can keep Davis and Love in check, who will contest rebounds and paint shots by Bacot? Enter Duke’s freshman centers Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively II. The former averages 6.8 defensive rebounds per game, while the latter has notched five games with at least three blocks. Against Miami, Lively had five blocks in the second half alone. Here’s his first block of the period, a rejection against the glass that sends him and Filipowski to the floor:

In order to get the better of Bacot, Lively and Filipowski will likely need to play their strongest games yet on the defensive end to lower the Tar Heels’ scoring and offensive rebounding capabilities. Duke’s offense must capitalize on missed shots from North Carolina’s star trio to beat its fierce rival at home for the first time since March 2020. The young roster may still have unanswered questions heading into a pivotal stretch of the year, but the Blue Devils stand to gain respect and vengeance for last year’s losses with a home win against the Tar Heels. 

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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