It's North Carolina vs. Duke. This should be a highlight of every college basketball fan's week.
Let's break down some of the matchups — individual, and otherwise — that you'll see tonight.
Coby White vs. Tre Jones
Two of the best freshmen point guards in the country go head-to-head for the first time tonight. They have this in common: they're both awesome. But their styles are completely different, which makes this a fascinating matchup.
Jones is a throwback. The classic "floor general" is trending towards obsolete these days, but Jones reminds us how valuable a competent floor general can be. Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish would be putting up numbers with or without Jones, but they're much better as a result of playing with him. His 4.5:1 assist to turnover ratio is pristine, and while he's not an ace shooter, Jones is so smart cutting without the ball that he's not a spacing liability. His 119.8 offensive rating ranks second on the team, behind Williamson and ahead of Barrett and Reddish.
And Jones is arguably the best point guard defender in America, which is what makes the White assignment so crucial. White is a modern shot creator — a 6-5, score-first dynamo who can finish at the rack or dust you with a mean stepback 3. He's averaging 15.7 points and 4.3 assists per game on 38 percent shooting from 3.
We can classify White's defense as 'fine.' You don't really notice him on that end, which is good. But when UNC has the ball, keep your eyes on these two. Jones is a hound, constantly in the opponent's jersey while managing to avoid foul trouble. White is going need to win this battle — perhaps decisively — in order for the Tar Heels to win the game.
That's a tall task.
Zion Williamson vs. Luke Maye (and others)
The potential Williamson vs. Maye matchup might make you a bit queasy at first glance if you're a North Carolina fan. But in Maye's defense, who is equipped to guard a generational talent like Williamson?
The truth is, few college basketball teams have an answer that doesn't involve throwing three guys at him and praying the kickout 3 to a wide open teammate rims out. That's why Barrett's 3-point shot is so important; he's streaky from out there, and he's often the logical candidate to sag off of. Barrett made six of them against Virginia, and even though the Hoos played objectively well that night, they had no chance as a result. But if you go look at Barrett's shooting numbers in Duke's two losses, they aren't pretty. He's shooting 33.5 percent from distance on the year.
Roy Williams may choose to start Garrison Brooks on Williamson instead of Maye, but that likely won't move the needle that much. Williamson has a size or a speed advantage over literally every college basketball player in the country. He usually has both! There's a reason he's putting up historic numbers.
The Tar Heels are going to have to stunt and recover like mad men, and hope Barrett/Jones aren't hot from 3-point range. You can't leave Reddish. Duke is a matchup nightmare for just about everyone, North Carolina included.
Cam Reddish vs. Cam Johnson
Johnson has been an assassin this season. It's rare to find a 6-9 wing with some handling ability who is shooting 51.7 percent from the floor and 47.9 percent from 3-point range on high volume. But that's Johnson. He's been one of the best players in the ACC this season.
Reddish's performance has been more up and down, but he's an ace defender when locked in, and figures to draw the Johnson assignment. They are similarly-sized, but Reddish has the athletic advantage. Johnson is craftier, and more experienced in big games. For all of those reasons, this is an intriguing matchup.
Reddish will almost certainly guard Johnson, but it's not a guarantee that Johnson will guard Reddish on the other end. That's because he's a better defender than Kenny Williams, and Barrett is more of an offensive threat than Reddish. A cross match could ensue, which could cause chaos when either team is in transition. Will Roy Williams put his best defensive option on Barrett, or use the undersized Williams on him to avoid cross-matching? Then again, North Carolina plays at one of the fastest paces in the country, so fastbreak chaos could actually benefit the Heels more than the Blue Devils.
This will be a fun game within the game.
Duke's small lineup vs. North Carolina's small lineup
Nassir Little might be too small to guard Williamson, but he's a physical freak in his own right, and should at least get a crack at him. But in order to make that matchup work, Williams would need to go small, slotting Maye at center.
It's a dangerous (the good kind) look for North Carolina. A White, Williams, Johnson, Little, Maye unit has plenty of shooting, ball-handling and athleticism. It can get pushed around on the glass, but the offensive firepower usually makes up for it. And again, if Williamson has his way with UNC's bigs during the first stretch, Williams might want to give Little some run on him.
But Duke is also capable of going small. It doesn't often, but it has worked when Mike Krzyzewski uses Williamson at center — re-watch the Louisville comeback for evidence. Duke can trot out Jones, Barrett, Reddish, Williamson, and one of Jack White or Jordan Goldwire. Marques Bolden has been solid this year, but removing a center gives Duke's stars more room to operate. UNC's best lineup may be its small lineup, but the same might be true of Duke. Is that bait Williams really wants to throw out there?
Keep an eye on which lineups both coaches are using, and who's reacting to whom. Two of the best college hoops coaches ever are going to be locked in a chess match.