The Heels have had a couple separate slumps this season, but looked like the team they should be Sunday vs Pitt. Duke meanwhile seems to have found a working formula of late, arriving on a four game win streak, thanks most recently to some Grayson Allen late-game heroics vs Virginia.
The numbers though don't add up for Duke in this one. You could make a case that they've got the two best players on the court heading into tomorrow with Allen and Brandon Ingram (I know full well that UNC fans are shouting Marcus Paige! and Brice Johnson! into their computer screens right now), but beyond that, it's a relatively steep drop off. Playing 6 guys with a dollop of Chase Jeter just won't be enough vs the deep talent and experience of the Tar Heels. Ingram's an unsolvable problem, but the other guys on this team can be accounted for.
Carolina's issue often seems to be their level of interest and subsequent effort, but I can't imagine that'll be in play tomorrow. I expect big things from Paige and Johnson in their last home games vs the Blue Devils. I also expect guys like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks to be the ultimate difference. They'll bully the Blue Devils down low.
It's been Duke's world in this rivalry in recent years, and based on what both teams have coming in next year on the recruiting front, it figures to be Duke's world in the near future too, so North Carolina better grab while the grabbing's good this season.
Duke wins if: Luke Kennard decides to catch fire alongside typically big games from Ingram and Allen.
UNC wins if: Every other scenario.
Prediction: UNC 85-77
NGOZI EKELEDO'S PREVIEW AND PREDICTION:
Both of these teams are coming into this matchup hot for different reasons. For Duke, Grayson Allen's buzzer-beater vs. UVA saved the day last Saturday and capped off a week full of ranked wins that the Blue Devils really needed. Those performances also helped Coach K's squad return back into the rankings just in time for this rivalry showdown.
For UNC, last week's win vs. Pitt came in part as the Heels' response to some "haters" on the media airwaves. You've got to think, too, that Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige have a bitter taste in their mouths from last season's pair of rivalry losses to the eventual National champs.
Both teams have these motivating favors going into the big game, but ultimately, I'm giving the edge to the home team. I think playing for pride on your home floor against your biggest rival, seeking revenge for last season's losses, and the Tar Heels' depth will help UNC grab round one of this rivalry bout.
JOE MAZUR'S PREVIEW AND PREDICTION:
With Miami nipping at their Tar Heels, UNC can't afford a slip up.
Six ACC games are left and North Carolina has a one game lead in the standings.
A regular season title is there for the taking. Carolina will be highly motivated given they were on the wrong side of a sweep last year.
Prediction: UNC 91-81
CHARLIE MICKENS' PREVIEW AND PREDICTION:
UNC has too much size in the post: Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks. Rebounding could be a problem for Duke.
Duke has talent, but UNC is the most experienced team here. Duke's Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram can score, but may have to shoot lights out to win.
UNC depth will be an issue for Duke in the second half, who only plays six players.
Too much depth, too much size, UNC should win at home, but you never know! It's a rivalry!