The final Saturday of the college basketball regular season presents great opportunities for teams vying for spots in the NCAA Tournament. The North Carolina Tar Heels potentially have the most to gain during their season finale with the Duke Blue Devils.
Currently, the Tar Heels (24-6, 13-4) are projected as a third seed in Jerry Palms’ NCAA Tournament bracket. With a win, the Tar Heels will earn at least a tie for the ACC regular season title. A victory would also keep the Blue Devils (22-8, 11-6) from completing the season sweep. More importantly, the Tar Heels would become a viable candidate for a No. 1 seed if they ACC regular season, and tournament titles. As we’ve seen, top seeds have never lost in the first round of the big dance.
Even with the conference race on the line, North Carolina’s visit to Duke will still be about bragging rights. It will be about payback. It will be about getting revenge for a game they gave away earlier in the season.
In the first meeting, the Tar Heels suffered a 74-73 defeat in stunning fashion. They were in control of the game until they stopped using Brice Johnson. Early on, Johnson was unstoppable, finishing the contest with 29 points, and 19 rebounds. However, the Blue Devils’ comeback was spearheaded by Johnson’s disappearance in the final 10 minutes.
Shooting has really been an issue for the current group of Tar Heels. Overall, they shoot 48 percent from the field this season. However, the Blue Devils held North Carolina to 42.9 percent in the first meeting. The main culprit was their 3-point accuracy. Normally, the Tar Heels are the worst in the ACC at 29 percent. They hope to hit that rate on Saturday. Their 1 for 13 effort in the home loss was inexcusable. If they settle for double digit attempts again, the Tar Heels will play right into the Blue Devils hands.
With Duke continuing to play a shorthanded roster, it will be intriguing to see the Tar Heels push tempo defensively. In the first meeting, Matt Jones suffered an ankle injury, and Duke was playing with five players for most of the game. However, the Tar Heels didn’t use their depth, and press Duke into mistakes. Instead, the Blue Devils looked like the fresher team in the second half.
The Blue Devils have a clear advantage from beyond the arc. They outscored North Carolina by 18 points from 3-point range. It directly offset the Tar Heels’ rebound advantage. However, Duke didn’t settle for a bunch of threes. Grayson Allen led the Blue Devils with 23 points, but he only hit one shot from deep. Meanwhile, Allen got to the free throw line 10 times. For the Tar Heels to win, they must keep Allen out of the paint.
Tip off is set for 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.