Duke and North Carolina will renew perhaps the most heated rivalry in college basketball on Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, when the two ACC powers meet for the first time this season.
Both programs are enjoying strong seasons with the NCAA tournament a month away. In the latest AP Poll, Duke (22-3, 9-3 ACC) is ranked No. 4 in the country and North Carolina (18-7, 8-4 ACC) is No. 15. The storied rivalry has been dominated by Duke in the last few years. In their past 10 meetings, Duke has beaten UNC seven times. Last season, the rivals split the season series.
Duke is led by freshman center Jahlil Okafor, who is projected to be one of the top picks in this year’s NBA Draft. Okafor has averaged 18.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Senior guard Quinn Cook has added 14.8 points per game, shooting 45 percent from the field and 39 percent from deep.
UNC has had a more balanced attack. Their leading scorer has been junior guard Marcus Paige (13.9 ppg), but junior forward Brice Johnson (12.5 ppg) and sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks (12.4 ppg) aren’t far behind.
Neither squad has had much trouble scoring this season. Duke has averaged 80.3 points per game (No. 8 in the country) while UNC has averaged 78.7 (No. 17). There is no reason to believe that the matchup won't be a fast-paced affair.
North Carolina will look to bounce back from recent setbacks. They just lost to unranked Pittsburgh 89-76 on Friday and have moved to 8-4 in conference play after starting out 7-1 in the ACC. The Heels allowed the Panthers to shoot nearly 65 percent from the field. Head coach Roy Williams will expect a better defensive performance against the Blue Devils.
On-the-court struggles aside, the university has also dealt with the heartbreak of losing legendary coach Dean Smith, who died last week after a battle with dementia. Williams told reporters after the Pittsburgh game, that "my world has been spinning in a different way than it normally does," after learning he lost his friend and mentor.
The Tar Heels enter the contest having lost three of their last four games, while Duke have won five games in a row. The Blue Devils dominated Notre Dame, 90-60, in their last home game, avenging a 77-73 loss to the Fighting Irish on Jan. 28. Legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski surpassed 1,000 wins this season, the first coach in NCAA history to reach the milestone.
The rivalry has a long, storied history. The first matchup took place 95 years ago on Jan. 24, 1920 in a far more defensive battle than what will likely take place this week. UNC held off Duke, 36-25.
Prediction: North Carolina will likely do a better job of defending in the interior, and should prevent Okafor from having a big game. However, Krzyzewski has too many weapons at his disposal and could potentially run away with a win if Cooks gets hot.
Duke over North Carolina, 77-70