Chapel Hill, NC – Regarded as one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports, the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels will add another chapter on Saturday, as the two teams close out the regular-season against one another at the Smith Center.
Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils are still in the hunt for a conference crown, although they will know if that is still the case by the time they take the floor in Chapel Hill, as Miami-Florida plays Clemson earlier in the day and can clinch the outright conference crown with a victory. Still, third-ranked Duke needs to focus on the task at hand, coming into the finale with wins in two straight and four of the last five games, following Tuesday's 85-57 blasting of Virginia Tech.
It took some time for Roy Williams' Tar Heels to hit their stride, but UNC is playing as well as any team in the conference heading down the stretch. North Carolina is currently in third place in the conference standings, just a game behind Duke at 12-5, thanks to six straight wins, including Wednesday's 79-68 road win at Maryland.
This marks the 236th meeting in this classic rivalry. North Carolina holds a 132-103 series advantage, but Duke has won six of the last eight meetings and is seeking the regular-season sweep after a hard-fought 73-68 win in Durham on Feb. 13.
Now back to full strength, the Blue Devils flexed their muscles at both ends of the floor against Virginia Tech this week, draining 51.7 percent from the field, including 11-of-23 from behind the arc in the lopsided win. Seth Curry led four Blue Devils in double figures with 20 points, thanks in large part to five 3-pointers. Ryan Kelly poured in 18 points in the win, while Mason Plumlee and Quinn Cook finished with 14 points each.
Duke recently got Kelly back on the floor and his presence as a long-range threat will open things up the rest of the way. Curry and Plumlee have been there all season long and are quite the inside/out combo. Curry is shooting .439 from behind the arc (79-of-180) and is tied for the team-lead in scoring at 17.0 ppg with Plumlee, who is converting 58.5 percent from the floor. The 6-foot-10 senior has really flourished in a star role this year, averaging 10.2 rebounds per game (second in the ACC). Kelly (15.0 ppg), who missed significant time due to injury, takes pressure off both Plumlee and Curry, as he shoots a scorching .531 from beyond the arc. Cook (12.6 ppg) and Rasheed Sulaimon (11.7 ppg) continue the scoring onslaught for the Blue Devils.
North Carolina possesses the offensive talent to match Duke in a shootout, coming into this finale averaging a hefty 77.8 ppg (14th nationally). A trio of scorers fuel the attack, led by sophomore James Michael McAdoo, who may not have shown the consistency some thought he would this season, but still comes in as the team's top scorer (14.6 ppg) and rebounder (7.8 rpg). Reggie Bullocks (14.4 ppg) and P.J. Hairston (13.6 ppg) can fill up the basket as well and have combined for 143 of the team's 224 3-pointers on the year. Dexter Strickland (7.9 ppg) and Marcus Paige (7.6 ppg) add limited scoring, but both are over the century mark in assists this year.
UNC clinched a bye in the ACC Tournament with an impressive road win at Maryland this week. Hairston led the way with a game-high 22 points. Bullock posted a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while McAdoo struggled a bit with 10 points, on 3-of-11 shooting from the floor.