ChronChat: Score predictions, MVP picks and more for Duke men's basketball's UNC showdown

The Chronicle's senior beat writers' predictions for Saturday's showdown in Durham.
The Chronicle's senior beat writers' predictions for Saturday's showdown in Durham.

Before North Carolina takes the trip down to the road to face Duke, The Chronicle's beat writers are here to make their score predictions and more.

Who will win Saturday, and what will the final score be?

Jonathan Levitan: Duke 74-70

For as good as Duke has been at home—Jon Scheyer’s team is 10-0 in Cameron Indoor Stadium—the last team to beat the Blue Devils in Durham was North Carolina, and it was a North Carolina team that looked a lot like this.

Duke has the defensive chops and—more importantly—the proper defensive matchup to quell Armando Bacot and the Tar Heels. Even with Caleb Love and RJ Davis in the backcourt, North Carolina is a poor 3-point shooting team, which bodes well for a Blue Devil squad that prefers to hang back and rely on its length on the less glamorous end of the floor. That defense, plus your usual dosage of Kyle Filipowski, could be enough to put Duke over the edge.

Micah Hurewitz: Duke 76-68

In spite of the close score in the Blue Devils’ latest game against Wake Forest, I truly believe that Duke is beginning to play its best, most complete ball of the season. Tyrese Proctor has taken a step up in his role leading the offense, Jeremy Roach is back and healthy and Filipowski has been as consistent as ever. The Blue Devils are even shooting the ball better from 3-point range, connecting at 39.3% over their last four games (that mark would put them ninth nationally over the course of the season). Never mind Lively beginning to hit his shots at the rim alongside a larger output on the glass and defensive end. The Blue Devils heating up—combined with the home-court favor they have enjoyed all year and North Carolina’s struggles shooting the ball—has them primed for a win.

Sasha Richie: Duke 72-65 

This Duke team has undeniably had its struggles. Ditto for North Carolina. While by some metrics either team has righted the ship, if this game is played a million times, each team wins half a million. So, much like a coach deciding who gets the ball on a crucial final possession, I’m riding the hot hand. Over the past three games for both teams, the Blue Devils’ true shooting percentage (60.3%) is ten points higher than North Carolina’s (50.2%). To be sure, both those stretches include two wins and a loss, and there are myriad other factors to consider like team defense and pace. However, pretty much all things being equal, in a game of rates, I’ll take the team currently scoring at a significantly higher rate.

Alex Jackson: North Carolina 75-68

Duke comes into this game with home-court advantage, but North Carolina has something perhaps even more valuable: experience. Not only did the Tar Heels return most of their starters, they all know what it is like to beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. With Bacot in the paint, Lively is going to have his hands full defensively, and although he is the man for the task, I worry about his fouling, which has been a problem all year. If Lively has to sit, Bacot will feast on Ryan Young and Duke will be in trouble.

Jake Piazza: Duke 84-79

Everything is trending in the right direction for Duke. Proctor is playing his best basketball of of the year, Roach has rediscovered his groove and I am liking what I have seen lately from the tandem of Dereck Lively II and Young. I know the Tar Heels have the experience and the last (two) laughs from last year, but this game is going to the Blue Devils.

Max Rego: North Carolina 83-76

These two teams are separated by just four spots in KenPom (Duke at No. 30, North Carolina at No. 34) and are playing their best basketball of the season, despite lingering concerns—the Blue Devils’ loss to Virginia Tech is still fresh, and the Tar Heels blew a winnable home contest to Pittsburgh just two nights ago. Expect this to be an all-out battle for 40 minutes, with Proctor and Davis setting the table for their respective backcourt companions, Roach and Love, to feast. In the end, Bacot will get Lively and Young into foul trouble, and Love, the closer, will hit another backbreaker against the Blue Devils to ice it. 

Andrew Long: North Carolina 74-72

This time last year, Duke stormed into Chapel Hill and smacked the unranked Tar Heels by 20, then got crushed at home in Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game before a heartbreaking loss in the Final Four. Duke-North Carolina games always deliver, no matter how good either team is, and despite the fraught paths both have endured this season, it would be foolish to expect any difference here.

Predicting a Tar Heel victory has less to do with my confidence in them or my lack thereof in the Blue Devils. Rather, I just have a gut instinct that despite a thunderous student section stuffed to the brim and an unbeaten home record, winning here would just be on-brand for North Carolina. The game will ebb and flow and it will go to the wire, but when the dust settles I think I trust Davis’ spoilers to crash the Cameron party once again. Barely.

Rachael Kaplan: North Carolina 76-71

If the Tar Heels had beaten Pittsburgh Wednesday, my pick might have been different. However, they are coming to Cameron Indoor with a chip on their shoulder and revenge in their eyes. Disregarding its four-game losing streak from November and early December, North Carolina has come out firing the game following a loss, beating Wake Forest 88-79 and Louisville 80-59. The Tar Heels are on the rebound, and that does not bode well for a Duke team that just barely escaped Wake Forest Tuesday night. If Dariq Whitehead does return, he still won’t be at 100%. Without a consistent shooter, the Blue Devils will struggle to keep up with Davis and Love. While I do think they will keep it close, they just have not proven they can consistently pull out tough wins.

Who will be Duke's leading scorer?

Richie: Kyle Filipowski 

Since 2022 faded into a memory and the Blue Devils rang in the new year by getting squashed 84-60 at N.C. State, Filipowski has been the leading scorer in all but two of Duke’s games. In the two he played second fiddle in—Boston College and Wake Forest—he tallied 15 and 16 points respectively, which would have been plenty in other games to earn him the leading mark. There is no reason to flout recent history here and predict anyone else. Even on slow days, Filipowski finds a way to either get buckets, get to the line or both. Plus, with Lively and Young doing the dirty work down low against Bacot, Filipowski will have more room to cook. 

Rego: Jeremy Roach

Such disrespect dished out to the captain here. Health-wise, Roach is as spry as he looked before suffering that toe injury against Purdue in November, and it has paid off in the form of three efficient performances in his last four. Now that Proctor is entrenched as the primary ball handler, the Virginian is freed up to do what he does best—attack downhill and knock down pull-up jumpers. Roach often plays his best when his best is required, and Saturday will be another example of that. Plus, Filipowski is likely to have a tough time inside with Bacot anchoring the paint.

Who will be North Carolina's leading scorer?

Long: Caleb Love

Scheyer’s unbeaten home streak has already been threatened a few times by excellent guard play—think Wake Forest’s Tyree Appleby or Miami’s Nijel Pack—and against a Tar Heel unit that usually rises to the occasion in Cameron Indoor, this could well be the case again. Love is a big-game player with the ability to hit clutch buckets down the stretch, and as Saturday’s contest winds into the closing moments, both teams will need an X-factor to push them over the line. Love’s 22 points at Cameron Indoor last year and 28 points in the Final Four prove that he has that capacity. It only seems fitting, then, that the junior guard shows up Saturday, with yet another chance to crush Duke’s spirits on the table.

Kaplan: Armando Bacot

Simply put, Duke’s perimeter defense is too good and Love’s shooting too inconsistent for North Carolina to rely on his offense. The Tar Heels will lean on their all-time leading rebounder to do just that. Bacot has been North Carolina’s best player this season. He has an ACC-leading 13 double-doubles, a stat that ranks him fourth in the nation, and has hit the double-digit point mark in every game he has played more than one minute of. Cameron Indoor may be a hostile environment for opposing teams, but Bacot has been there before. He led his team in scoring in last year’s regular-season finale with 23 points, and while Filipowski and Lively are talented, Bacot still has the advantage in the post. 

Who will be the game's MVP?

Jackson: Caleb Love 

Love has never shied away from big moments. The guard is lethal from deep and when he is hot, you might as well hit the parking lot early. Last year, Duke saw firsthand what a full-steam Love can do. For North Carolina to win this game, which I think it will, Love is going to need to repeat his past performances. The junior now walks into Cameron Indoor for the third time in his career and the experience that comes with it. Love won’t be rattled in the away environment and, as we saw with Wake Forest’s Appleby, a confident guard can have a big night on Coach K Court. 

Levitan: Dereck Lively II

Say what you will about Lively’s slow start to the season, but the 7-foot-1 freshman is playing his best basketball as a Blue Devil. No, he is unlikely to be Duke’s go-to scorer—Lively averages 4.4 points per game—but if he is up to the task defensively against Bacot, that changes the whole complexity of a game that is supposed to run through the Tar Heels’ star big man. And if he can do it while staying out of foul trouble? That might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

What big question will decide the game?

Hurewitz: Will Duke's bigs be able to control the paint?

Filipowski and Lively against Pete Nance and Bacot. Rookies against veterans. Both sides have their undisputed double-double machines, though North Carolina’s was less of a surprise entering this season with preseason ACC Player of the Year honors. Like in last year’s matchups, foul trouble is certainly something to watch when these two teams dog with each other down low and fight for rebounds, but while their stars are on the floor, all eyes will be on the painted areas where the battle will ultimately be decided. If Duke can stop Bacot’s tenacious rebounding tendencies and neutralize Nance’s scoring threat both inside and out, the Blue Devils may just have enough of an edge to overcome the Tar Heels. 

Piazza: Can Proctor step us as the No. 2 scorer?

Duke is in need of a second option on offense. I’m here to say that Proctor is that guy. We have seen him make tremendous strides over the last six games. The only question is, can he take another one and etch his name into the rivalry’s lore? Proctor has proven he can have a huge impact on and off the ball and with his own scoring and passing. Duke is going to need all of that from him Saturday, and if he can do it, the scoring tandem of him and Filipowski will be enough to bring Scheyer his first win as a head coach against North Carolina.

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.

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.

Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

Sasha Richie profile
Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Micah Hurewitz

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Jonathan Levitan

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Recruitment/Social Chair

Andrew Long is a Trinity senior and recruitment/social chair of The Chronicle's 120th volume. He was previously sports editor for Volume 119.


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