The 247th edition of the Duke-Carolina rivalry tips off at the Dean Smith Center Thursday night.
Duke is hoping to bounce back from a reeling loss at the hands of St. John’s last weekend while North Carolina looks to flex some muscle and get some revenge after dropping two of three matchups last year against the in-state rival Blue Devils.
Duke must play well on the defensive side of the ball while North Carolina will need to be offensively sharp, but the opportunities will be there.
Follow the action throughout Thursday night’s Tobacco Road Rivalry here:
Duke vs. North Carolina score prediction, Xs and Os preview of Thursday night’s rivalry matchup
Here are some key factors that will decide whether Duke or North Carolina prevails on Thursday night.
*Can Duke’s guards stay in front of ball-handlers?
The fulcrum of Duke’s defensive woes. Opposing guards have feasted on the Blue Devils this season — Shamorie Ponds is the latest example — and the Trevon Duval-Grayson Allen pairing has failed to offer much resistance against dynamic scorers. In losses to St. John’s and Boston College, Duke allowed a combined 63 points to Ponds and Jerome Robinson.
Despite his efficiency downturn, Joel Berry is one of the most willing off-the-dribble 3-point shooters in the country. If Duke plays man-to-man (a big if, which we’ll touch on), Berry could slice the Blue Devils apart.
Allen hasn’t been that much better than Duval defensively, but fortunately for Duke, North Carolina lacks a reliable creator outside of Berry. And as mentioned earlier, Berry has been inconsistent. He’s shooting a career-worst 39 percent from the floor and is making a modest 36 percent of his 3s.
If Duval lazes through ball screens and Berry can’t hit open shots, Duke will be fine. Even open off-the-bounce 3s aren’t easy, and a shooter lacking conviction probably won’t make them. But Berry is a generally confident dude who has perked up as of late — he scored 27 points against Clemson and is 7-for-15 from 3 in his last two games. This is a prime opportunity for the North Carolina captain to regain his 2016-17 form.
*Will Maye force Duke to abandon the zone?
Duke has fared better in zone than man this year, though neither look has exactly qualified as ‘lockdown.’ But the key to beating the Blue Devils’ 2-3 is having a guy in the high post who makes good decisions and is a threat to shoot from the elbows.
Maye checks every box. He whips canny passes all over the court; the junior is averaging 2.4 assists, an elite mark for a big man. His biggest strength is his all-around offensive polish. Maye is shooting 49 percent of the 3, but he can inflict damage from anywhere. And the 2-3 zone – particularly, Duke’s version of the 2-3 zone – is extremely vulnerable in the high post.
Allow Maye to catch at the elbow without pressure, and he can shoot, drive to the hole with a head of steam, or kick to an open 3-point shooter. If Maye plays well, he’ll serve as an inverse zone-buster – someone who does it from the paint rather than the 3-point line.