At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Duke and North Carolina meet for the second time this season, this time down the road in Chapel Hill. Before the regular-season finale tips off, The Chronicle's beat writers make their predictions.
Jonathan Levitan: Duke 78-75
It's hard to pick against Duke right now, so I won't. If this is your first time watching the Blue Devils and Tar Heels since Duke took a Feb. 4 thriller in Durham, allow me to fill you in on what matters: Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season, both teams need this one something awful and the rest of us should be in for a treat Saturday evening.
That may sound like an oversimplification of this game's many potential ramifications, but in the Tobacco Road rivalry, things often are deceptively straightforward. On a technical level, I have my eye on Duke center Dereck Lively II — I think his outlook remains promising after his defensive masterclass in the last meeting. Add it all up, and my call is Blue Devils in a close one.
Micah Hurewitz: Duke 81-75
The first matchup of the year was a defensive showdown — or rather, both teams just struggled to make shots as they both shot under 40% from the field. A higher-scoring matchup is in store for the regular-season finale, and there is no arguing with the fact that this is one of the higher-stakes Duke-North Carolina games in recent years. The Blue Devils, on their five-game winning streak, have looked better and better as the pieces fall into place at the right time. The Tar Heels need a resume-building win, and will certainly be playing like it. But as Lively continues to grow his defense and the Duke backcourt sharpens, the matchups for Armando Bacot, Caleb Love and RJ Davis are only tougher than they were back in February at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It’ll be a close one, but Duke is ending its season with a win.
Sasha Richie: North Carolina 73-69
If bracketology is any indication, Duke has proven itself the superior team. But this is the Tobacco Road rivalry and the worst North Carolina teams can beat the best Duke teams, and vice versa. With a home atmosphere and a taste for redemption on their side, the Tar Heels, in my opinion, are likely to pull it out, even if they are the less cohesive team.
North Carolina is playing its best basketball of the season, and Nance figures to be a far bigger factor in this second matchup than he was in February. The stakes for the home team are much higher. The Blue Devils are a lock for March; the Tar Heels, not so much. This leaves us here: North Carolina has far too much to lose — more than Duke has to gain — and will play like it. The Tar Heels have all the pieces, and they will finally click into place.
Jake Piazza: Duke 83-79
I wrestled quite a bit with my pick in this one, but I ultimately can’t pick against Duke considering how cohesive its basketball has been over the last five games. The Blue Devils have an assist-to-turnover ratio of greater than two in three of their last five games, and in the two games they fell short of that mark (Syracuse and N.C. State), players stepped up in big moments to get the job done. Overall, I’m high on Duke’s stock across the board, but in particular, the play of Jeremy Roach and Tyrese Proctor has been nothing short of remarkable over the last month. Roach has fully stepped into his role as captain and closer, and Proctor’s comfort level initiating offense is noticeably different now. I know the Tar Heels are red-hot, but the Blue Devils are going to grab their second win of the season in the rivalry.
Max Rego: Duke 79-67
Down the stretch of the first meeting between these two teams, the Blue Devils had a clear plan of attack — space the floor, and let Jeremy Roach work off the dribble. As for the Tar Heels, they too often do not get Bacot, clearly their best player and still one of the best bigs in the country, involved enough. On the season, Love and Davis have attempted 132 and 52 more shots than Bacot, respectively, a glaring red flag. With that, expect Proctor to control the pace, Roach to stay aggressive and Lively to again hold his own inside against Bacot. It will not be the 14-rebound, 8-block masterpiece he put together Feb. 4, but the Philadelphia native will still alter the outlook of the contest on both ends. Duke is simply the more cohesive and efficient unit in this one and will head into Championship Week riding high.
Alex Jackson: Duke 71-65
Duke is definitely the better team, but it struggles on the road and North Carolina has a lot of fight. There is no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a battle for 40 minutes, and while Duke has gotten a lot better at jumping out to quick starts, I struggle to see that holding the Tar Heels down. There is a decent chance the Blue Devils find themselves playing catch-up for a large part of this contest, but Scheyer has grown as a coach, and the team, as a whole, has gotten more sound in each aspect of its game to pull away down the stretch. Duke can bounce back from its abysmal 3-point shooting performance against N.C. State., putting my focus on foul trouble and free throw shooting as keys to this game on both sides.
Andrew Long: Duke 69-62
On one hand, I think Duke is a far better, far more cohesive, far more defensively resolute team than North Carolina. But on the other hand, Love and Bacot both have big games in them, and the Dean Dome is rarely a kind place to play for the Blue Devils. As is often the case for this rivalry, where tactics and form fly out the window, I think this game is ultimately decided by which team’s motivation is stronger. Should Duke lose, its five-game run ends unceremoniously just as the season’s climax approaches, but should it win, the Tar Heels are most likely couch-bound for the Big Dance. My gut tells me that consistency breeds consistency, and in the last few weeks, the Blue Devils have been better and more consistent. Duke takes the series for the first time since 2019-20 by a smidgen.
Rachael Kaplan: North Carolina 77-74
The Tar Heels have everything on the line — aside from revenge for their earlier defeat, their NCAA tournament hopes may just rest on the regular-season finale. Duke is riding a five-game win streak, but four of those were on home turf and the lone road trip was against a Syracuse team that didn’t really show up. While I do think this is a better Blue Devil team than it was a month ago, this game is always special. Duke is due for a down game and if North Carolina gets hot, all bets are off. Love is shooting 37% from three since the first matchup, and a good night from the arc against the Blue Devils’ inconsistent offense is all that it would take.
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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 Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.
Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.