(15) UNC at (4) Duke
Time: 9 PM ET
Spread: DUKE -8.5
Betting odds c/o Bookmaker
The North Carolina Tar Heels are 18-7 and sit 4th in the ACC. Traveling to take on No. 4 ranked Duke is going to test the Heels, and college basketball oddsmakers at Bookmaker set the line 8.5 points in favor of Coach Mike Kryzewski’s team in tonight’s affair which will air on ESPN.
The Tar Heels are having a strong season, and rank No. 15 itself in the AP rankings. The team has shared the ball very well, ranking 1st in the nation in assists per game (17.6) while also proving itself to be a dominant team on the glass (2nd in the nation). However, UNC has lost three of its past four, most recently at Pittsburgh on Feb 14.
The Panthers dominated UNC in the first half, outscoring the Tar Heels 48-34, which ultimately proved to be the final difference (13, to be precise). The loss dropped North Carolina from the No. 12 spot in the rankings, despite a very strong game from forward Brice Johnson.
Johnson shot a stellar 7 of 11 from the floor while racking up 19 points and three boards in 28 minutes of play. No other Tar Heel reached double figure scoring, though Kennedy Meeks did pump in 15 off the bench, including six triples.
Marcus Paige is leading the way for UNC in scoring this season with a 13.9 point per game average, while both Johnson and Meeks average double-figures as well. Meeks is shooting 57 percent from the floor, as well. But the Tar Heels do lack depth. Outside of the starters, only two players are producing, Isaiah Hicks and Nate Britt, both of whom average six points per game. Even so, the team has no problem at al scoring the ball, averaging 79 points per game on 47 percent shooting. Those numbers may be tough to hold against the Blue Devils tonight, though.
Duke is riding a five-game win steak and hasn’t lost since Jan 28 when it dropped a contest to Notre Dame on the road. Wins over Virginia, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame (at home), Florida State and Syracuse have helped the Blue Devils improve to 9-3 in ACC play, and this will be the only ranked opponent Duke faces between now and the ACC tournament (though UNC will be faced again in Chapel Hill on Mar 7).
Freshman sensation and certain one-and-done Jahlil Okafor has not disappointed. He’s leading the Devils with 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds a game and is considered a near-lock for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Aiding the center is Quinn Cook, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, all of whom average at least 11 points per game. The Devils shoot nearly 50 percent from the floor as a team while also knocking down 38.1 percent from behind the arc, but the team is not overly dependent on the three-point shot, which bodes well for its chances in the NCAA Tournament.
Okafor had 23 points and 13 boards in the win over Syracuse Saturday (Feb 14), but he has managed 10 rebounds or more in just two of the past five games. Even so, Duke ranks No. 35 in the nation in rebounding with 37.9 per game. UNC may win the battle of the boards, but that likely won’t be enough to swing the game in the Tar Heels favor. Bettors can confidently expect the favorite to prevail, while betting the spread may be quite sticky.
This is a huge rivalry game it goes without saying, and Camden is going to be going nuts, but UNC will not go quietly. The Blue Devils are not a team bleeding with weakness anywhere, so it will require some craftiness on the part of the UNC guards to prevent entry passes to Okafor. Since the best the Tar Heels have to throw at Okafor is Kennedy Meeks (a big body, capable of bodying up until help gets there), there will inevitably be a lot of double teams thrown at Okafor.
As to how the game unfolds, that will largely depend on the accuracy of Duke’s perimeter shooters, which is typically good. But, as with any basketball game, the three-point shot is a variant method by which to rely, and the Tar Heels can seize an opportunity to steal one from a tough ACC foe if the Dukies start laying bricks early on.