Games between the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels are never anything more than competitive or intense. The two ACC powerhouses played out a thriller on February 18 that ended with Duke winning 92-90 in overtime. Both teams already have comfortable at-large bids (though there’s seeding to play for). This game is being played at Chapel Hill and the Tar Heels are looking for revenge.
On the face of it, there isn’t a tremendous amount for the Blue Devils to play for. They can’t win the regular season conference title and their seeding is already determined in the conference tournament. Sure, a road win over North Carolina might help their bid for a top seed in the NCAA tournament. However, you can bet that Mike Krzyzewski and his team’s sole focus will be on completing a season sweep of their most hated rivals.
The Blue Devils are rolling with a 10-game winning streak, but they’ve encountered a few more challenges on the road. They need overtime to get past Virginia Tech and weren’t that convincing in victories over Syracuse and Florida State. On the other hand, they did end January by beating Virginia.
This Duke team and its success depend heavily on Jahili Okafor and his offensive presence on the front court, but as the season has progressed, senior guard Quinn Cook has also emerged as a critical presence. He is averaging 21.1 points per game over the past seven games compared against a season average of 15.8. He has been taking the ball to the basket more and showing an ability to lead the team’s offense.
North Carolina will be determined not to lose a second time to their rival. However, this team has been difficult to work out all season long. They edged Louisville out by one point early on, but it’s hard to pin down a big win in ACC play besides that. The 92-90 OT loss to Duke might be their second most impressive performance and losses at Pittsburgh and at home against NC State either side of that game are representative of a Tar Heels season where Roy Williams hasn’t been able to find consistent competitiveness in his lineup.
Maybe Marcus Paige is over-discussed when it comes to the Tar Heels, but this is the time of year when guard play becomes ever more important. North Carolina needs their star player to be a star. He shot 2-11 from the field, picked up just three assists and five points in a disappointing performance in the previous game against the Blue Devils. He also struggled in the February 24 loss to the Wolfpack. Avenging last month’s defeat will probably require a better game from Paige.
Betting Preview: Duke (+1) at North Carolina
This could be a defining game for the Tar Heels, but given the way their respective seasons have turned out it’s worth playing the Blue Devils on the road here. The last game between the two teams might just have been North Carolina’s best effort against their ACC rival.
The Pick: Duke (+1) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 29-24