Perhaps the most heated rivalry in college basketball will tip off Saturday, when Duke (27-3, 14-3) plays North Carolina (21-9, 11-6) for the second time this year, in a regular season finale at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill. The first time the two squads met this season Duke outlasted UNC in an overtime thriller 92-90 on Feb. 18.
The Blue Devils, No. 3 in the AP poll, have been hot since the dramatic win, winning four straight to lead up to the finale. The Tar Heels are No. 19 in the AP poll and have won three of four games since the loss to Duke.
If the last matchup is any indication, Saturday night’s matchup should be an exciting game. The two squads traded leads and scored in bursts, with Duke down by as much as ten in the final minutes, before the Blue Devils finally sealed the win in overtime. As the last matchup indicates, both squads have had no trouble putting up points all year. Duke is No. 4 in the NCAA in points scored at 81.2 points per game while UNC is No. 15 (78.2 ppg).
Duke is led by star freshman center Jahlil Okafor. He averages 17.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Second-leading-scorer senior guard Quinn Cook was a hero for Duke the last time they played UNC, however. He led the team with 22 points and hit the free throw that essentially sealed a Blue Devil victory in overtime. Freshman guard Tyus Jones added 22 points as well and caught fire at the end of the game to help push it to overtime. Since the win over UNC, Duke has continued their hot streak, dispatching Clemson, Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Wake Forest. They have won 10 games in a row dating back to a Jan. 28 loss to Notre Dame.
UNC has a balanced offense with junior guard Marcus Paige (13.2 ppg), junior forward Brice Johnson (12.5 ppg) and sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks (12.4 ppg) leading the way as scorers. Meeks and Johnson both scored 18 points to lead the Tar Heels in their earlier loss to Duke. UNC came into the last game on a cold streak in which they lost to a few unranked teams, including a bad defeat to Pittsburgh. Since the loss, UNC has won three of four, including a big win over ACC rival Miami. The squad did lose 58-46 to unranked NC State on Feb. 24, however.
Saturday night’s game should be a fast-paced affair and promises similar excitement to that last matchup. Both squads are playing well in the home stretch leading to ACC postseason play and the NCAA tournament. Legendary coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams will be pulling out all of the stops to try and earn a huge win. Despite their intense rivalry their is a great deal of respect between the two schools. Before the last game both teams took a moment to honor legendary former North Carolina coach Dean Smith who passed away this year.
Start time: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live stream: Watch ESPN
Prediction: North Carolina over Duke, 80-78