Duke at North Carolina, Part 1

Duke (19-4, 6-2) at North Carolina (20-3, 7-1), 9:00 PM, ESPN/ACC Network/ESPN3

Harrison Barnes (right) is going to be a tough defensive matchup for Duke now that Kyle Singler (left) has graduated.

There are a lot of reasons that this is the best rivalry in sports, most of which are intangible. But here are some anyway: in 22 of the last 31 years, either Carolina or Duke has been in the Final Four. In seven of the last 31 years, either Duke or North Carolina has won a national championship (including four of the last 11 years). In that same span, Carolina and Duke have faced off 50 times and 22 have been top-ten battles (tonight makes 23 of the last 51). North Carolina holds a slim 12-10 edge in that span. This is the 133rd straight meeting with at least one team ranked in the top 25 and in 50 of the last 66 meetings, both teams have been ranked. At least one of the two teams has been ranked in 150 of 153 meetings since the ACC was born in 1953-54.

Duke needs to win this one to keep pace with Florida State and have a chance to pass the Seminoles when they go to Tallahassee February 23. A North Carolina win would allow the Tar Heels to be in great position to win the league if Florida State should falter even once. North Carolina is entering a very tough stretch though, hosting Virginia on Saturday and traveling to Miami next Wednesday. Miami desperately needs that win, and Virginia could catch Carolina on an emotional rebound. Duke has Maryland and N.C. State at home, both of which will be eager to knock off Duke in Cameron now that the Blue Devils have shown that’s possible. Every other team in the ACC will be aching to knock off one of these two teams down the stretch for a “resume” win but tonight, it’s all about what it usually is for these two: fighting for the ACC regular-season crown and NCAA tournament top-level seeding.

Stat to watch: The offensive glass. North Carolina is 17-0 when out-rebounding their opponent and 3-3 when it is out-rebounded, but more importantly Carolina is 14-0 when it has more offensive rebounds than opponents and 4-3 when their opponent has more. North Carolina has found itself in battles this year when it can’t keep opponents off of the offensive glass. UNLV, Kentucky and Florida State combined for a 39.1% offensive rebounding percentage against Carolina (all other opponents combined for 26.2%). Carolina has held some pretty good rebounding teams off the glass (Miami, which had 20 offensive boards at Duke, had just five against Carolina; N.C. State had just six offensive rebounds) but Maryland’s 13 were Carolina’s second-most allowed in ACC play. Carolina has held four ACC opponents to just 30 offensive rebounds in the Smith Center while pulling down 53 themselves.

Duke is 11-1 when it out-rebounds an opponent and 8-3 when being out-rebounded. The Blue Devils have been pretty good on the offensive glass, rebounding 34.6% of their misses on the road and 35.7% at home. The Blue Devils have averaged 12.5 second-chance points on the road and 12.3 at home. Duke has actually rebounded better on the road, allowing 35.7% offensive rebounding percentage in league road games compared to 37.5% at home. But defensive rebounding has been a problem for Duke all year and it showed against Miami as the Blue Devils allowed 20 offensive rebounds to the beefy Hurricanes. They are going to have to be disciplined and box out the Tar Heels, because North Carolina will miss its first shot quite a bit but they average 15.4 points off of offensive rebounds in ACC play.

Most important players: Seth Curry, Duke and Harrison Barnes, North Carolina. Harrison Barnes showed how good he can be at times defensively last year with his work on Kyle Singler, holding the former Duke star to 11-of-45 shooting (24.4%) and 2-of-17 from three, letting him average just 9.7 points. He also helped force him into seven turnovers. Unfortunately, it tired him out so much that he shot just 16-of-40 (40%) and 4-of-13 from three himself. Singler did a nice job on Barnes as well, particularly in the first meeting in Durham where Barnes had just nine points on 3-of-8 shooting and was a virtual non-factor on the offensive end. But Singler isn’t there anymore, and there’s talk of the 6-foot-4 Austin Rivers or the 6-foot-5 Andre Dawkins guarding Barnes. Duke slowing Barnes is key to this game for them. Barnes is hobbled with an ankle injury right now (which showed in his season-low 25% shooting from two-point range against Maryland), but as usual, he came through late and made big baskets from Carolina. Before his ankle injury, he was averaging 18.5 points on 49.4% shooting in ACC play. He has averaged 15.5 on 33.3% shooting in the last two games with the ankle tweak.

Seth Curry was the star for Duke against North Carolina last season, averaging 17.7 points in three games on 58.1% shooting (11-of-21 – 52.4% – from three). He added 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and four turnovers in 33.0 minutes. The only reason Duke was in the game in Chapel Hill last year was Curry’s efficient 20 points on 13 shots (6-of-11 three’s). So it’s probably terrible news for North Carolina fans that the junior is starting to find his rhythm offensively. He had a team-high 22 points against Miami, his most since December 30th, on 7-of-13 shooting (4-of-7 from three). He also had four assists, three steals and no turnovers in 39 minutes. But in Duke’s other three losses, he had 25 points combined on 9-of-29 shooting (31%) and 4-of-17 from three. Curry struggled guarding Kendall Marshall at times last year, but Tyler Thornton will likely help some with that. And if Curry finds himself guarded by Marshall, as he was often last year, he should be able to take advantage of that matchup as well. But if he no-shows, Duke may have a tough time.

Random stat(s): When the first Duke-Carolina game of the year is at North Carolina, the Tar Heels are 0-4 under Roy Williams so far. The last time Carolina won the first matchup of the year at home was February 5, 1998. …. Duke is generally pretty good coming off of losses, but under Roy Williams, Carolina has faced Duke in those circumstances five times and is 3-2 in those games.

(The following stats come from the excellent Duke Basketball Statistical Database): For Duke, the usual suspects hold individual game highs for Duke vs. UNC, except for one: Kevin Billerman, who has the record for most assists against the Tar Heels (14). …. North Carolina has a random one, too: most blocks in a Carolina-Duke game? The 6-foot-6 Danny Green (2006-09), with seven in Durham in 2008. … Most offensive rebounds against North Carolina in a game? It’s a tie between Elton Brand, Shane Battier and…Erik Meek (each had 7).


For my prediction, check out Part 2.


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