Duke basketball, North Carolina set to embark on historic matchup

Duke basketball (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Duke basketball is taking on North Carolina in a historic matchup. 

It’s an extended version of an old adage: if the Duke basketball team hosts the North Carolina Tar Heels (11-6, 6-4 ACC) and no one is around to see it, does it really happen?

That’s the feeling between the fanbases of the struggling Blue Devils (7-6, 5-4 ACC) and Tar Heels as the two bitter rivals will play in front of no fans on Saturday night, and the meeting will be the first time since 1960 that neither team is ranked in the Associated Press Top-25.

It will be the third consecutive matchup against Duke that North Carolina is not a ranked team, but the last time these two teams faced each other was the last “normal” college basketball game for both programs.

The Blue Devils and Tar Heels are coming off of bad road losses against Miami (FL) and Clemson, respectively, and doubt surrounds the chances either team is selected for the NCAA Tournament.

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North Carolina’s streak of nine straight appearances in the Big Dance would have been snapped last year if a tournament was held as Duke’s streak of 24 straight appearances is seriously in jeopardy.

It’s strange to say, but both teams need wins to try and carve a spot in March Madness, and despite the poor records and questionable performances, this game always delivers.

However, will it still deliver without fans?

Watching every game from an empty Cameron Indoor Stadium this season has felt very strange, but the matchup with North Carolina will undoubtedly be the creepiest and strangest basketball game many at home have watched.

North Carolina still poses serious matchup problems for Duke basketball

Given the struggles of both teams this season, North Carolina seems to have a clear advantage in the paint and should exploit it.

Roy Williams’ team has forwards Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot as its top two scorers, combining to average 22.4 points per game, while freshman big man Day’Ron Sharpe is fourth on the team in scoring at 9.6 points per game.

The one area all three players struggle in is at the free throw line, none shooting above 64.9-percent.

Duke does not start a traditional center, rather playing small-ball with Matthew Hurt at power forward and Jalen Johnson at center.

Bacot and Brooks are both listed at 6-foot-10 and Sharpe at 6-foot-11 while Williams also has seldom-used five-star freshman Walker Kessler, a former Duke target, at 7-foot-1 coming off the bench.

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Hurt and Johnson are both listed at 6-foot-9 while five-star freshman Mark Willams, who has played well of late, is the Blue Devils’ tallest player at 7-foot but struggled earlier in the season with strong, physical big men in his limited minutes.

Williams will be needed on Saturday night to provide quality minutes for Mike Krzyzewski, and it will be his biggest challenge yet.

To try and combat North Carolina’s strength in the post, Duke must win the guard battle with Jordan Goldwire, DJ Steward, Wendell Moore, and Jeremy Roach.

Carolina also has young guards in RJ Davis and Caleb Love, but if Duke cannot keep pace with the Heels’ big men and loses the guard battle, it could get ugly in Durham.

Duke needs a win desperately for its NCAA Tournament chances, and it has to defend its home court against a rival. There is very little margin for error left for the Blue Devils after their loss to the Hurricanes.

Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00pm EST (ESPN) inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.

PREDICTION: Duke 81, North Carolina 75

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