Tonight’s showdown between Duke and North Carolina won’t be for the out right ACC regular season title, but it’ll still have a lot of implications for the NCAA tournament as well as the ACC tourney. Duke is looking for a regular season sweep of North Carolina after winning February 13th 73-68. Duke is 4-2 since their last meeting while UNC is riding a six-game winning streak.
Roy Williams has his UNC squad peaking at just the right time, as they have assured themselves a spot in March Madness, racking up six straight wins after losing to Duke earlier this year. They have only beaten one top 25 ranked team (UNLV) this year, but have been competitive in all of their eight losses except for a lopsided blowout in Bloomington back in November. The team has slowly learned to play together as the season has dragged on, and they currently are ranked 2nd in the country in assists per game with 17.6.
Duke lost two nail biters to the hands of Maryland and Virginia in February, but now has senior forward Ryan Kelly back into the lineup and he has contributed mightily. Kelly scored 36 points on March 2 against Miami, and Duke will rely on him as they prepare for the NCAA tournament.
In UNC and Duke’s last meeting at Cameron Indoor Stadium it quickly looked like UNC was going to come in and run away with the win. They started fast, leading for the first 26 minutes of the ball game. But poor shot selection and poor free throw shooting (13 of 23) led to Duke coming back for a 73-68 victory. P.J. Hairston scored a career high 23 points and Reggie Bullock contributed 15 as well, but they couldn’t overcome Duke’s Quinn Cook and Mason Plumlee.
Now that Duke has inserted Kelly back into the lineup, UNC will have to pick its poison on who to really focus on defensively. Rasheed Sulaimon, Cook, Plumlee and Seth Curry all have been a leading scorer this season in at least one game, and any of them could go off offensively in Chapel Hill. UNC forward James Michael McAdoo is playing through a bulging disk in his back, which will limit him physically, but he is still listed to start.
Since P.J. Hairston had his big night against Duke last time, he has become a full-time starter for the Tar Heels. He’ll look to perform as well or better than last time and try to send off teammate and senior Dexter Strickland with a win against their neighbor and bitter rival. Strickland is playing for the last time at the Smith Center, and he also is the lone scholarship senior on UNC’s squad.
In terms of ramifications for the ACC tournament this evening, if UNC wins they will tie Duke for 2nd place in the conference. If Duke wins and Miami loses this evening to Clemson, they will share the ACC regular season title. If Miami wins and Duke wins then Duke will be the outright 2nd place finisher. Both UNC and Duke have earned first-day byes in the ACC tournament.