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Three points: Limiting turnovers, post presence essential for Duke men's basketball against North Carolina

Jeremy Roach pulls up for a jumper during Duke's win against N.C. State.
Jeremy Roach pulls up for a jumper during Duke's win against N.C. State.

On Saturday, Duke finishes its regular season with a trip to Chapel Hill in a matchup against North Carolina. The Blue Zone is here with three keys to a Blue Devil win: 

Take care of the ball  

A major component of Duke’s recent success has been its ability to limit turnovers. In back-to-back losses to Miami and Virginia Feb. 6 and Feb. 11, the Blue Devils turned the ball over 21 and 22 times, respectively. Since then, the team has had less than 10 giveaways in three of its five games. However, all three of these games came at home, where the Blue Devils had the support of their fans. In Saturday’s game at the Dean Dome, the hostile crowd will factor into the turnover equation. Inevitably, Duke will make mistakes on account of the raucous environment, and it will be up to guards Tyrese Proctor and Jeremy Roach to refocus the offense. While Proctor has taken control of the point, slowing down the game may play more to the strengths of Roach, whose prowess in the pick-and-roll proved essential in the Feb. 4 matchup against North Carolina. In that game, Roach had the ball in his hands for most of its final minutes, scoring the game’s final four points. When the Blue Devils get knocked down or need someone to make a play, look for the captain to take over. 

Disruptive defense 

Duke has held its opponents to an average of just 64 points on 41.2% shooting this season, and the 57 points North Carolina scored in its February loss at Cameron Indoor was its lowest scoring total of the season. This was in large part due to the Blue Devils limiting the Tar Heels to just 7-of-27 from three and center Dereck Lively II totaling eight blocks. The freshman was the standout player of the game, outbattling senior center Armando Bacot in the post and dissuading any North Carolina player from driving into the paint. If Lively repeats this performance, the Tar Heels will have to rely on the play of their perimeter threats. While North Carolina is shooting just 31.2% from three this season, should shooters Caleb Love or RJ Davis get hot from deep, the team can go on a run quickly. Therefore, if Duke hopes to sweep the season series against the Tar Heels for the first time since 2019-20, it must ensure that neither player gets comfortable offensively. 

Finish strong  

On the other side of the ball, battling through contact and getting to the free-throw line are essential for Duke’s success. Last time around, the Blue Devils made 11 free throws to North Carolina’s two. In a six-point contest, this made all the difference. In addition, since the Tar Heels only have eight players averaging at least 10 minutes per game, getting key players into foul trouble would completely disrupt their game plan. 

Finishing strong also refers to Duke’s season overall. With ACC tournament seeding still up in the air, Saturday’s matchup against North Carolina is paramount to Duke’s playoff hopes. A win would give the team a massive momentum boost ahead of the postseason, while a loss would damage the possibility of a double-bye. On the flip side, the Tar Heels have even more to play for. Currently sitting on the bubble, a loss would likely bump them out of the NCAA tournament, barring a conference tournament win. So, while neither team is ranked for the second time this season in the Tobacco Road Rivalry, the matchup holds both teams’ fates in its grasp. If the Blue Devils hope to end their season on a high note, they will need to ride their current hot streak into Chapel Hill and close the book on North Carolina’s season in enemy territory. 

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