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Daniel Wilco | | March 9, 2019

Duke vs. North Carolina: Prediction, preview, TV channel

The best rivalry in college basketball returns as UNC and Duke face off for the second time this season Saturday night.

You can watch the game at 6 p.m. on ESPN, or stream it on WatchESPN.

What's at stake?

There’s a lot on the line in the second edition of the Tobacco Road Rivalry tonight, besides the fact that, you know, it’s UNC-Duke.

If Virginia loses to Louisville at home Saturday, the Tar Heels can capture the outright ACC regular season title with a win against Duke. A loss would put Virginia, Duke, and UNC in a three-way tie for the title. If Virginia wins, UNC will have to win to share.

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UNC-Duke preview

The biggest question heading into the game is the same one that Duke has faced in every game since the last time these two teams faced off: Will Zion play?

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has said that Williamson is doubtful to return in time for the game, which obviously leaves a massive hole in the Blue Devils roster.

If Zion doesn’t play, can Duke fill that gap?

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The Blue Devils are the seventh-best offensive rebounding team in the country. But in the five games without Zion, Duke has collected 27 percent fewer offensive boards per game (9.4 compare to 12.9). They’ve also turned the ball over 23 percent more (15.2 compared to 12.4) and forced 37 percent fewer turnovers (9.8 compared to 15.4). Add that all up, and there’s 12 extra possessions per game that the Blue Devils are down in Zion’s absence — a huge difference-maker, even not factoring Zion’s scoring ability in.

Let’s take a look at some more stats before continuing:

  UNC Duke
Record 25-5 26-4
AP Rank 3 4
Points per game 86.8 84.6
Opponent points per game 73.1 67
Strength of schedule 12 9
Field goal percentage 46.8 48
3-point percentage 37.3 30.9
Rebounds per game 43.8 41.9
Assists per game 19.4 16.1
Steals per game 7.4 9.6
Turnovers per game 13.5 13

You can see that one of the biggest areas UNC holds an advantage in is 3-point shooting.

UNC is the 46th-best 3-point shooting team in the country, hitting 8.9 a game at 37.3 percent. They’ve had some unreal outings this year, hitting 16 against Virginia Tech and Wake Forest and 13 against Gonzaga, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Clemson. And then there’s been the games like Louisville (where they went 3-for-22), and the first matchup with Duke.

North Carolina had its worst performance of the season from 3-point range in at game, going a miserable 2-for-20 (10 percent). Cameron Johnson — who is averaging 2.7 3-pointers per game while shooting 48 percent this year — was 0-for-4.

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Usually a 2-for-20 shooting performance does not lead to a 16-point win. But without Zion and with Marques Bolden playing sub-par, the Tar Heels scored 65 points in the paint at Cameron. 

That brings us to our first key matchup: Luke Maye vs. RJ Barrett.

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This isn’t a completely fair comparison, as neither will likely be guarding each other, but they both carry a similar burden Saturday night.

If Zion doesn’t play, the onus will shift to Barrett, who has been phenomenal this year. The freshman has averaged 26.2 points per game in Williamson’s absence, including tying his career high of 33 against North Carolina in round one. He’s also never scored fewer than 13 points on the year. It’s almost a guarantee at this point that Barrett will score 20 against the Tar Heels, but keep him 

Maye has also been critical to Carolina’s success. The senior was 13-for-20 inside the arc against Duke in February, scoring 30 points and picking up 15 rebounds. He’s been on a tear lately, averaging 16.8 points and 13.6 rebounds over the past five games. If UNC is going to get a post-game going, it will start with Maye. 

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The other major matchup of the night will be between the two freshman point guards: Tre Jones and Coby White.

Against Boston College, Coby White officially passed Michael Jordan in points scored during their freshman seasons.

The 6-5 guard is the only UNC freshman to ever tally three 30-point games in a season and can be the Tar Heels most unstoppable force when he gets going. Or, he can be completely shut down and become a liability.

In the first matchup with Duke, White went 3-for-14 for 9 points, with six turnovers and just three assists in 28 minutes. You can thank Jones for that.

Jones has proven himself as one of the best defenders in the country. He’s forced 2.1 steals per game (second on Duke only to Zion)

Also has the highest assist percentage for the Blue Devils, assisting on 23.9 percent of all of Duke’s field goals while he’s on the court.

In the first game against UNC, however, the Tar Heels let Jones run free on offense, and he took the bait. He was 1-for-11 from the field (including 1-for-6 from 3-point range) — his worst performance in a game this season where he’s played more than 15 minutes. With Duke’s high-powered lineup, Jones won’t ever be a star scorer (he’s averaging 8.7 points per game), but if he can shut down White and focus on distributing rather than scoring, he’ll give Duke its best chance to pull off the road win.

UNC-Duke prediction

Duke has struggled mightily without Zion. It got blown out at home against UNC, lost to Virginia Tech on the road, then needed a last-second basket not to fall to survive an 11-18 (4-13, ACC) Wake Forest team, 71-70. If Coach K isn’t playing mind games and Williamson does sit out, Duke will need to shut the Tar Heels down inside and hope for some terrible outside shooting to beat their rivals on senior night. SCORE PREDICTION: UNC wins, 91-85

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