Having recovered from a brief and rare spell outside of the top 25 rankings, the No. 20 Duke Blue Devils (19-6, 8-4 ACC) now seek a fourth consecutive victory over the No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 ACC) in Wednesday night’s rivalry renewal at Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
The Blue Devils rebounded from an uncharacteristic 1-4 slide that saw them plummet out of the Associated Press poll for the first time since 2007, and they’ve now won four straight overall including the last two against then-No. 13 Louisville and seventh-ranked Virginia.
But the true test comes in the first matchup of the season with the Tar Heels. Duke has taken the last three meetings including last year’s regular season finale 84-77 at the Dean Dome, and five of the last six overall.
Sophomore guard Grayson Allen leads the Blue Devils and ranks second in the ACC with 20.6 points per game, but last season he played a total of 15 minutes and scored nine points against the Tar Heels.
Though Allen does have more experience than freshman guard Brandon Ingram, who’s showed promise with 17.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game but has yet to feel the energy and fury of a rabid Tar Heels crowd.
Duke’s fall from the national perch was largely attributed to the loss of senior forward Amile Jefferson to a broken foot in December. Jefferson was averaging 11.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game he got hurt, and he stood as the most experienced and top returning scorer from last year’s national title team.
Behind leading scorer and senior forward Brice Johnson, North Carolina’s also recovered from a minor slide and looks to roll its last two victories into Duke.
Johnson poured in 19 points and snagged seven rebounds while going 9-for-12 from the field in North Carolina’s 85-64 drubbing of unranked Pittsburgh. As a team the Tar Heels also went 8-for-15 from three-point range, with guard Marcus Paige leading the way with three deep connections and 15 points.
Start Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
LIve Online: Watch ESPN
Betting Odds: North Carolina -6.5
Over/Under: 162.5 points
Prediction: North Carolina over Duke, 80-70