Scouting the Opponent: No. 3 North Carolina's veterans and versatility will challenge No. 7 Duke men's basketball

Guards Jeremy Roach and RJ Davis will battle again in the Duke-North Carolina rivalry.
Guards Jeremy Roach and RJ Davis will battle again in the Duke-North Carolina rivalry.

For the first of two scheduled regular-season matchups, the No. 7 Blue Devils will drive a few miles down Tobacco Road to take on the No. 3 Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. The Blue Zone is here with a preview of the squad the hosts will be fielding. 

North Carolina has some key players that are propelling its season thus far, so let’s take a look at the third-ranked Tar Heels. 

First up on the docket is a familiar face, senior guard RJ Davis. Davis has been a staple of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry for a number of years, and his campaign this season has been arguably his best. Davis is averaging 21.5 points per game, along with shooting at a 40.6% clip from behind the arc. His statement came against Wake Forest earlier in January, when he dropped a career-high 36 points. Davis is the classic archetype of a pure scorer. He can and will put up shots from just about anywhere past half court, capable of changing games with deep shots and causing quick swings when he gets hot. While his size may be lacking at just 6-feet, Davis makes up for it with his speed. Look here, as he scores from all three levels of the court in an impressive performance against the Demon Deacons. 

That said, Davis is just half of a potent backcourt duo for the Tar Heels. Freshman Elliot Cadeau, who reclassified and joined the team after his junior year of high school, has largely lived up to expectations after being named the ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year. Cadeau, more of a pass-first point guard, serves as an excellent complement to Davis’ scoring ability. He earned his starting spot just five games into the season, and has held it since. Cadeau is averaging 3.7 assists per game, including a career high of 10 against Tennessee Nov. 29. While he’s not a consistent shooter, Cadeau is a playmaking floor general who can find open shooters and create opportunities for his teammates. Playing with someone who is as adept at finding the basket as Davis, Cadeau has fit perfectly into head coach Hubert Davis’ scheme. Here is a great example, as he drives towards the bucket before kicking the ball out for an open RJ Davis 3-pointer.

Merging the guards and forwards is Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan, who has been a key addition on the wing. Standing at a slightly taller 6-foot-5, Ryan is more versatile than either of the starting guards. He can post up from the wing, and is especially strong scoring from off-ball motion. Ryan has averaged 10.9 points per game and 30% from deep. He may not be as flashy as some of his fellow Tar Heels, but has had a solid season and helped to connect the rest of the team. 

Next up is forward and fellow transfer Harrison Ingram, who has been strong for the Tar Heels after spending the first two years of his collegiate career at Stanford. Ingram is another versatile player who could feasibly slide into a guard role if need be, although he spends most of his time for the Tar Heels at the power forward. Ingram is a capable shooter from deep, with the size and athleticism to play in the post and battle above the rim. He has shot 40% from behind the arc this season, and tacked on 8.8 rebounds. One area where Ingram has been especially strong defensively is steals, as he leads the team — along with Davis — with 28 total steals. That is in large part due to his defensive versatility, where he can realistically guard the 1-through-4 positions. Here, he uses his size to battle from the corner into the post for the bucket, followed by a smooth 3-pointer.

Now of course, one would be remiss to talk about this North Carolina team without its grizzled veteran, Armando Bacot. The graduate center has been a consistent starter since the beginning of his freshman season in 2019, and has become one of the most iconic Tar Heels of the modern era. Bacot fits well into the classical archetype of a bully-ball big man. Strong and athletic, he is one of the best rebounders in college basketball and has proven himself to be a force on the interior. He averages 9.9 boards, along with the second-highest average scoring clip on the team at 13.4. Bacot is not a flashy scorer, but he is consistent. His team can count on him to be an excellent presence inside, generating second-chance opportunities and dominating other centers. Here is  a clip from last year, where he forces his way inside for the strong bucket.

Beyond the starters, the Tar Heels have some significant talent coming off the bench. Combo forward Jae’Lyn Withers is another versatile forward who can stretch the floor with his shot, and sophomore Seth Trimble is a speedy guard who can drive to the basket or knock down a triple. 

The reality here is that this is a much-improved North Carolina team from last year. Transfers and incoming freshmen have made the Tar Heels one of the strongest groups in the country, and one that will match up much better with Duke. Bacot no longer has to worry about now-NBA center Dereck Lively II on the interior, and the versatile combo guards and forwards will prove to be a defensive challenge for Blue Devil freshmen guards Caleb Foster and Jared McCain. This matchup in Chapel Hill was always going to be a challenging one, but anything can happen in rivalry games. 


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