The greatest rivalry in all of college sports is set to tip off, as the battle of Tobacco Road gets underway on Saturday. Thirteen miles is all that separates the North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils.
The matchup between these two storied programs is not as highly anticipated as in seasons past due to the struggling play of both teams.
Both of these teams come into this game not ranked in the Top 25, and it’s the first meeting between the programs as unranked opponents in nearly 50 years. With a combined 11 championships, describing this season as a disappointment for both programs would be an understatement.
Plagued By Inconsistency
Coming off an ugly loss to a struggling Clemson team, the Tar Heels are looking to get back on track against rival Duke. Even with a roster this talented, head coach Roy Williams has struggled to find any sort of consistency with this team.
Only three Tar Heels are averaging in double figures: Armando Bacot (11.9 points), Garrison Brooks (10.5), and Caleb Love (10.3), which is not a typical scoring output for a Tar Heels team. Taking care of the ball has been an issue this season for Love, as he leads the conference in turnovers with 3.3 per game.
North Carolina is the more balanced team with a much deeper bench, but the issue for this team is that it lacks a star player or that go-to guy that can get it a bucket late in games. The advantage the Tar Heels have is they have always been an exceptional rebounding team on both ends of the ball.
Against an undersized Duke team, the Tar Heels should be able to get easy shots at the rim, but the question remains will this group put forth the effort? In a game as big as this one, it’s easy to believe so.
Every Game Is Important
No excuses should be made at this level of basketball, but due to COVID-19 issues in the early going, the Blue Devils have had setback after setback this season and have struggled to find any sort of consistency. Many thought after two consecutive wins that this team had somewhat started to figure it out, but after dropping a game to a Miami Hurricanes team that sits in the bottom tier of the ACC, it would seem it’s just going to be that kind of year in Durham.
Duke basketball has enjoyed a number of years with some great one-and-done players coming through the program. Despite bringing in four five-star recruits prior to this season, Duke has really been up and down with production from this roster.
What is the difference between this year and previous years? It’s all about the experience with the upperclassmen.
There is no denying Duke relies heavily on sophomore forward Matthew Hurt (18.8 points, 7.5 rebounds) and freshman forward Jalen Johnson (12.1 points), but this team needs more contributions from other areas. Freshman guard DJ Steward (13.5 points) has shown flashes of being really good, but inconsistent play continues to follow him.
Johnson is only seeing around 23 minutes a night, which is way down from what coach Mike Krzyzewski is used to seeing his stars play. It’s safe to say this is a down year for the level of talent in Durham, and a run to NCAA March Madness gets less and less possible each game.
Betting Preview and Pick
Duke will look much better in this game than it has all season, but we can also expect the same from the Tar Heels in a game that should feature high levels of play from both of these programs.
Duke freshman big man Mark Williams was quiet to start the season but has received more court time of late. Williams is an elite, athletic big man, and his size, along with his ability to protect the rim on the defensive end, is going to be needed in a matchup that features a team full of big man depth.
North Carolina is the better team with more talent than Duke and a superior bench. The hiccup for the Tar Heels has been effort.
Having no fans is going to impact a high-level game like this, but both teams should be locked in because of the hatred that comes with this storied rivalry that always makes college basketball news.
North Carolina is bigger in the frontcourt and elite when it comes to gobbling up rebounds, which creates more possessions. Duke continues to struggle to find an identity or rhythm to put anything together.
Expect a high-scoring affair, and the winner of this game to find its footing moving forward.
When making your college basketball picks, give the 1.5 points and take the Blue Devils.