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Duke vs. UNC preview: Wings

Mark Mitchell has the Blue Devils' third-highest scoring average with 9.1 points per game.
Mark Mitchell has the Blue Devils' third-highest scoring average with 9.1 points per game.

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 and backcourts. Up next are the wings:

With freshman Dariq Whitehead ruled questionable with a leg injury, fellow freshman Mark Mitchell remains Duke’s lone starting wing. Mitchell averages 9.1 points per game, which is the team's third-highest point average, but his greatest impact on the game lies away from scoring. For the Blue Devils to come out victorious against the Tar Heels, they will need Mitchell’s defense and rebounding.

The Kansas City, Kan., native has started all 22 games for Duke this season and often has the task of guarding the opposing team’s best player. Perhaps his best game came against Iowa Dec. 6, when he had 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and held Kris Murray, who averages 20.6 points a game, to just eight points. 

What makes Mitchell so effective as a defender is a combination of his length and relentless hustle. The 6-foot-8 wing excels at disrupting jump shots with his long wingspan, and his feet are quick enough to recover on drives. Most importantly, rarely a game goes by without Mitchell diving to the floor. Whether the freshman is grabbing a loose ball, an offensive rebound or a steal, the highly touted recruit is not afraid to get scrappy. 

On the offensive end, Mitchell is Duke’s statistically most efficient regular scorer outside of big men Ryan Young and Dereck Lively II, who take nearly all their shots close to the basket. While Mitchell has only 13 triples on the season, he has shot 39.4% from deep, which is the best mark on the team.

While the defensive focus will surely be on Bacot in the post and Caleb Love on the perimeter, Mitchell’s likely matchup with graduate student Leaky Black should not be overlooked. The North Carolina forward averages just 6.8 points per game and plays a complementary role for his team's offense. That is not to say he should be taken lightly: Black is a fourth-year starter and has far more experience than the vast majority of the Duke team. In his career, he has started in seven games against Duke, which is more than the entire Blue Devils’ starting lineup.

Black is a talented defender with a team-high 34 steals, meaning that Mitchell will need to be especially careful with the ball on offense. Moreover, in the last meeting between the two squads, the Concord, N.C., native hauled in six offensive rebounds. Duke cannot afford to give the Tar Heels that many extra possessions, and it will be up to Mitchell to box out his man. If Duke can control this matchup and limit any extra chances for North Carolina, the rest of the game may become easier. 

Just as important to the Blue Devils’ game plan is keeping Mitchell out of foul trouble. If Whitehead is ruled out, Mitchell going to the bench would likely mean that graduate student Jacob Grandison would take his place. While the Illinois transfer is a weapon behind the arc, Duke would lose a step defensively that North Carolina can surely take advantage of.  

Therefore, the status of Whitehead is something to keep an eye on as game time approaches. If he is cleared to play, it would likely be in a reduced role, but he has shown flashes of greatness this season. Additionally, his presence would take a load off Mitchell and give the freshman forward some rest. 

Freshman center Kyle Filipowski will likely guard the other Tar Heel wing, Northwestern transfer, Pete Nance. The North Carolina player averages 11 points per game, and he enters Saturday fresh off back-to-back double-digit performances against Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Filipowski matches up well with Nance when it comes to length, but the Duke star will need to stay wary of the senior's ability to knock down the three. In his season-high 28-point performance against Portland, Nance drained five triples. 

The wing matchups will come down to experience against talent. Two of the Blue Devils’ brightest freshmen are tasked with going up against fifth-year players who have a strong feel for the game. Luckily for Duke, Mitchell goes by the nickname “Easy” on account of his comfort for the game. Saturday night will not be easy in any sense, but for Duke to come out on top, Mitchell will need to live up to the name.

Dom Fenoglio | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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