Not much has gone North Carolina’s way the past couple of months in an unexpected tumble for a team that has seemingly occupied a spot in the top-10 rankings nationally every week for decades.
One cure for the Tar Heels’ troubles would come Saturday night if they can conquer No. 7 Duke in a matchup of intense rivals at Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“I’ve been very fortunate I haven’t had to do it very often,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of being such an overwhelming underdog.
Duke (19-3, 9-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) is a game out of first place in the loss column. North Carolina (10-12, 3-8) is just a half-game out of last place.
North Carolina won two of three meetings last season, though the Blue Devils claimed an ACC Tournament semifinal.
For the Tar Heels, this is an opportunity to put aside the misery of the season by playing in a showcase event.
“If you can’t get up for this game, you shouldn’t be playing,” North Carolina forward Garrison Brooks said.
One of the premier matchups could be Duke sophomore guard Tre Jones and North Carolina freshman guard Cole Anthony.
Duke has used some multiple defensive schemes at times and that can make a difference.
“I think just switching it up,” Jones said of the value of going to a zone set-up.
“I respect his game a lot,” Anthony said of Jones.
Anthony will be in his third game back since missing almost two months because of knee surgery. The Tar Heels have lost their past two games, with Anthony the leading scorer in both.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who’s in his 40th season at Duke, reached another milestone this week. He holds an all-time record in ACC games (regular season and tournament) of 500-200. Of the wins, an ACC-record 188 are road victories.
When the Blue Devils defeated Boston College 63-55 on Tuesday night, it marked just the second time this season they scored fewer than 70 points — winning both times.
Duke trailed for much of the game, with Krzyzewski concerned that his team was perhaps looking ahead to the North Carolina matchup.
“They didn’t listen to me, so they’re in trouble with me,” he said. “I’ve warned them for two days about it.”
Duke had only one 3-point basket in 15 attempts in the Boston College game. That came by Joey Baker with 7:33 remaining, extending the Blue Devils’ streak to 1,081 consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer for the second-longest string in the country.
Duke freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. has 11 double-doubles, including in three straight games. He averages team-leading marks in points (17.8) and rebounds (9.0).
North Carolina has a pair of post players, often with Brooks and Armando Bacot in the starting lineup. They’ll be tasked with keeping tabs on Carey.
Both teams will have a considerable number of players participating in their first Duke-North Carolina affair.
Aside from Carey, freshmen Cassius Jones, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore Jr. play key roles for the Blue Devils. Anthony, Bacot and Jeremiah Francis are North Carolina freshmen, while graduate transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce factor into the rotation for the Tar Heels.
“I feel that’s a huge reason people go to Duke or UNC, because of the rivalry,” Bacot said.
–Field Level Media