8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Duke -7, Over/Under: 161.5
The final Weekend of the College Basketball Regular Season is upon us, which means that the NCAA Tournament is literally right around the corner, and what better way to get prepped for March Madness than with the sport’s greatest Rivalry, as the Ninth-Ranked North Carolina Tar Heels make the short trek to Durham to face the Fifth-Ranked Duke Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor Stadium. For a team that was coming off a Six-Game Winning Streak, last week wasn’t necessarily a good one for North Carolina (22-8, 11-6 in ACC), who after the swirling reports of their Program’s association with an FBI Probe into the sport in regards to the shady underbelly of Recruiting, saw their run halted in heartbreaking fashion in a 91-88 loss at home to Miami, on Senior Night no less. Trailing from the word go, the hosts spent the entirety of the affair climbing their way back, falling behind by as many as Sixteen Points early in the Second Half, before managing to cut the deficit to Three Points with less than a minute to play. Feeding off the energy of his final home game at Chapel Hill, Senior Point Guard Joel Berry (18.2 PTS, 40.8% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 3.1 AST, 1.0 STL, 19.7 PER) calmly dribbled down the court and knocked down a clutch, contested Three-Pointer to square the score away with just 4.1 Seconds remaining. Surely, Overtime was inevitable, right? Well, the Hurricanes had other ideas, as Ja’Quan Newton frantically dribbled the ball down the right side of the court, letting it fly from over 30-Feet, sinking the Game-Winning Trey in the most stunning turn of events. Seriously folks, this was eerily similar to how the Tar Heels lost the 2016 National Title Game to Villanova. Then again, that final dagger withstanding, it’s not like Roy Williams’ charges did much of anything to slow down Miami on Tuesday Night, as the visiting side shot a blistering 54.8% from the Field, including 11-of-22 from Three (50.0%), with six different players scoring in double-figures. Berry, for his troubles, was on fire throughout the contest, scoring a game-high Thirty-One Points on 11-of-17 Shooting (64.7%), including 5-of-8 from Downtown (66.7%), while Cameron Johnson (13.1 PTS, 44.4% FG, 35.7% 3FG,4.6 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.6 STL, 19.0 PER) added another Twenty Points on 7-of-10 Shooting (70.0%), including 3-of-5 from beyond the Arc (60.0%) in Thirty-Three Minutes off the Bench. They’ll have to put the disappointment of a spoiled Senior Night behind them as they travel to Durham, looking to pull their first Regular Season Sweep of their Arch-Rivals since the 2008-2009 Campaign in which they won the National Championship. When these two teams met earlier in the term, North Carolina overcame a 49-45 Deficit at Intermission, and some poor shooting, to put together an imperious Second Half in which they outscored the visitors 37-29 in route to a resounding 82-78 victory. With all the talk of how perimeter-oriented this team has become this year, they ultimately overcame their foes on the strength of good, old-fashioned hard work, annihilating the Blue Devils on the Offensive Glass, outrebounding them 17-9. This in turn allowed the Heels to overcome an otherwise dismal 39.0% Shooting, granting a whopping Seventy-Seven Total Field Goal Attempts, or in other words, fifteen more than their counterparts. So in this case, maybe quantity trumps quality, right? Either way, Williams’ perimeter-oriented squad rolled up their sleeves and went to work, with the aforementioned Johnson accounting for Thirteen Boards all by himself, while Luke Maye (17.9 PTS, 51.5% FG, 46.2% 3FG, 10.2 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.0 STL, 1.2 BLK, 26.0 PER) and Theo Pinson (9.9 PTS, 46.9% FG, 23.3% 3FG, 6.0 REB, 4.8 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.6 BLK, 18.4 PER) added another Fifteen collectively. It was impossible not to come away from that night impressed at how these kids managed to bully the considerably larger Devils around the rim, but it just goes to show that size isn’t everything when it comes to rebounding, for anticipation and positioning still have a lot to do with it. Offensively, the Starting Lineup accounted for all but Four of the team’s Points, with the aforementioned Berry and Kenny Williams (11.2 PTS, 48.1% FG, 41.0% 3FG, 3.45 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.1 STL, 16.6 PER) combining for Forty-One Points, with the latter knocking down 6-of-12 from distance (50.0%), tying the School Record set by Hubert Davis all the way back in 1992.
Meanwhile, overlooking opponents in lieu of the game’s greatest rivalry seems to be something that has afflicted both of Saturday’s participants, as Duke (24-6, 12-5 in ACC) looks to wash away the foul taste left in their collective mouths after Monday’s 64-63 upset defeat at Virginia Tech. As was the case with their Arch-Rivals the following night, the Blue Devils let an impressive 5-Game Winning Streak fall by the wayside against an inferior opponent, though that notion could certainly be debated given that VA Tech has now earned wins over ACC bigshots Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, and most impressive among them, No. One Virginia. However, what made this tie different than North Carolina’s own bluster, was how it happened. Though the contest was contended in a relatively tight window, the visiting side remained in control throughout the affair, leading 33-27 at Halftime and by as many as Nine Points with just over Five Minutes left to play. However, the Hokies’ defensive pressure eventually gained firm control, holding Mike Krzyzewski’s charges without a Field Goal for the final Seven Minutes of the game. Simply put, the visiting side could not cope with the pressure applied by their hosts, committing Eighteen Turnovers, which translated into Twenty-Four Points for their counterparts. And even with that said, it all still very nearly ended in their favor; Virginia Tech saw a potential Game-Winner fall short, only for Backup Forward Chris Clarke to collect the Offensive Rebound, and score the go-ahead put-back with roughly Four seconds left to play, before Grayson Allen’s (15.5 PTS, 42.6% FG, 36.6% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 4.5 AST, 1.6 STL, 19.0 PER) desperate heave at the buzzer failed to reach it’s destination. At the end of the day, it was clear that Coach K was anything but happy with his team’s performance on the offensive end of the court, as Duke shot just 40.7% from the Field, including a miserable 8-of-28 from beyond the Arc (28.6%), all the while dishing out just Thirteen Assists in comparison to the aforementioned litany of Turnovers. All led his side with Twenty-Two Points on 6-of-18 Shooting (33.3%), with Five Rebounds, Six Assists, Three Steals, and a Block in a particularly hostile environment, as the Hokies’ Fans chanted explicit comments every time the Senior Guard touched the Basketball, which got so out of hand that opposing Head Coach, Buzz Williams, called a Timeout, grabbed the microphone, and implored the crowd to keep it classy. However, a major takeaway from Monday’s loss was the continued return to health of Marvin Bagley III (20.7 PTS, 60.3% FG, 11.1 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.0 BLK, 30.8 PER), they Freshman Star who missed four games after suffering a knee injury in the previous meeting with North Carolina. after making he return in last weekend’s 60-44 thumping of Syracuse, the 6-11 Forward looked to be getting his legs back beneath him, totaling Twelve Points on 5-of-9 Shooting (55.6%), with Seven Rebounds and an Assist on Monday Night. He played a major factor in the aforementioned loss in Chapel Hill, putting together an impressive display before succumbing to injury, with Fifteen Points on 7-of-13 Shooting (53.8%), along with Sixteen rebounds, Four Assists, a Steal, and a pair of Blocks. there is no doubt that Krzyzewski wants him to be completely healthy for the Postseason, so keep an eye on just how many minutes he allows his prized Recruit to play. Of course, they’re going to in all likelihood need him out there patrolling the Paint lest they get massacred on the glass once more against the Tar Heels. Bagley accounted for nearly half of his team’s Rebounds (34), so it would lead one to believe that Duke would be at an even greater disadvantage if he were to play limited minutes. And that’s where Coach K’s other highly recruited Big Man can make a difference, as Wendell Carter Jr. (14.3 PTS, 57.6% FG, 9.5 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.8 STL, 2.2 BLK, 29.3 PER) has been absolutely essential to his team’s success thus far, particularly with he fellow Frontcourt Mate on the Bench; Carter, who was one of the individual players named in the aforementioned FBI Probe, averaged 16.3 Points on 46.8% Shooting from the Field, along with 10.5 Rebounds, 3.0 Assists, and 3.0 Blocks while Bagley was sidelined with the knee injury, and scored Ten Points on 4-of-7 Shooting (57.1%), including 2-of-3 from Three (66.6%), with Five rebounds, and Assist, and Two Blocks in the previous meeting with North Carolina.