Game Preview: Duke Blue Devils vs North Carolina Tar Heels

Brian HoraceGame Previews, General InformationLeave a Comment


Duke (19-4, 7-3)


North Carolina (17-7, 6-5)

When: Feb. 8 | 8:00 PM (ET)
Where: Dean E. Smith Center - Chapel Hill, NC

Watch Live: ESPN

Both the Blue Devils and Tar Heels are very much in need of a win Thursday. Neither team has been as advertised in the pre-season. Duke at 19-4 was set to be team with enough talent to steamroll competition but a lack of leadership, a void in that department has made the Blue Devils vulnerable. While Duke still holds a spot in the top ten their hold on that spot is tenuous at best. An unexpected loss to St. Johns in Madison Square Garden was seen by most as an embarrassment - not for simply losing (St. Johns has battled top tier teams all season long and played them tough if not closely) but for how they performed as a unit.  X's and O's wise this team was prepared but mentally in stages they appeared to be checked out. Despite a furious comeback that fell short, there were long stretches of the game where they did not respond to coaching. Coach K described the effort as "unacceptable" and "disgusting".

The Tar Heels have had their own set of problems, despite being one of the older teams in the ACC they have also clearly lacked in the leadership department as well. Losing several home games, including to Wofford despite having seniors like Joel Berry at the point and Theo Pinson playing big minutes the Heels have struggled much like Duke to be consistent. The Heels sport a record of 17-7.

but this is Duke - Carolina...

The atmosphere is just different for this game. UNC comes in as a much more experienced team than Duke but the Blue Devils boast an advantage in talent. Will Coach Roy Williams be able to light a fire under his Tar Heels or will Coach Mike Krzyzewski be able to refocus his young Blue Devils and finally put together a masterpiece at both ends of the floor. 

The Tar Heels may have an edge in this game on the perimeter if current trends continue. For Duke to compete in a raucous environment like the Dean Dome, the backcourt has to step up - in particular Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. Allen on the offensive end and Duval on both the defensive end and the offensive end in terms of valuing the basketball. The edge in experience definitely is tipped in favor of UNC with Berry and Johnson both being seniors and Kenny Williams a junior. Duke should have the advantage in the frontcourt with their dynamic duo of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. UNC is ranked 2nd in the nation in total rebounds and Duke is ranked 17th. UNC is known for being a very strong offensive rebounding team under Roy Williams and this season they lead the ACC in offensive and defensive rebounds as well as assists. Duke will have to reverse course from what they did in the St. Johns game, where they were slow to 50 - 50 balls and played tentative at times.

Being able to contain Luke Maybe both offensively in terms of scoring and keep the junior power forward off the board will severely limit what the Tar Heels can do. The catalyst for a lot of what UNC does offensively is triggered, however, by Theo Pinson. Pinson leads the team in assists and is the swiss army knife for this UNC team. Containing his ability to create off the drive is crucial and will put an immense amount of pressure on Joel Berry to shoulder the load offensively. That could play very much into Duke's hands.

A Grayson Problem

Duke's leading scorer all year has been Marvin Bagley III, who is averaging 21.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. His backcourt mate Wendell Carter Jr. is averaging 14.4 and 9.6 a game. The problem for Duke has been getting consistent scoring and consistent ball handling from the backcourt. The majority of turnovers, and lately Duke has has a lot of them, were committed by their main ball handlers. Gary Trent Jr. has scored recently at a very high clip and that along with the consistency of the frontcourt players has kept Duke from losing more games than they have. The issue is that not only are they not getting consistent offensive production from Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval but that they are compounding the situation by gifting defenses shoddy passes, mental mistakes and overall poor floor games. At this point its hard to tell if these issues are a lack of cohesion, chemistry or just a bad mix of personnel but they are manifesting themselves in ways that Coaching has not been able to overcome.

Grayson Allen has been a controversial figure in Duke lore, as a senior it almost seems like he's been in Durham for 7 years instead of 4. As fiery as Allen is on the floor this season he has seemed to be more mouselike than monster. If this continues as it has for m most of the season then Duke is in trouble. This is a team very much in need of a leader. Now, as a fan it's very easy to put the pieces of this conundrum where they logically seem to fit and say well Grayson is a poor leader so Duke is struggling. That, to me, seems like an oversimplification. Experience alone does not make one a leader. The ability to impart knowledge, to be able to wrangle, to be able to communicate - all of these are important traits but who is to say that Grayson, just because he's been there longer than anyone naturally has these traits? I've heard others mention that perhaps being the sole experience on this team is the problem. Grayson is the only captain this Duke team has - that in and of itself is a huge responsibility that is usually a shared one. I'm not signaling this as a death knell for this Duke team as some others are, just simply pointing out that there is clearly a void and not one that Duke can fill. It will be up to the rest of this team to grow and grow at a rate commensurate with the abridged timeline Duke is working with.

A Fan Problem

For those that think that Duke's ship has sailed, that there is no more need to play any more games because Duke has no shot - why do you even watch sports? Perhaps you should be in Las Vegas since you clearly have some sort of crystal ball that the rest of us don't have. Sometimes I can't tell if the pessimistic Duke fandom want to be proven right or wrong, in any event if you have that sort of confidence in your predictions please put money on it and detail us all on how that goes for you. You are clearly in the wrong line of work.


  • Overall: 246th meeting; North Carolina leads, 135-110

  • In Durham: Duke leads, 54-47

  • In Chapel Hill: North Carolina leads, 62-35

  • At neutral sites: North Carolina leads, 26-21

  • Current streak: Duke, W1

  • Coach K vs. North Carolina: 45-40

Quick Facts:

Projected Starting Lineups:


F Marvin Bagley III
F Wendell Carter Jr.
G Gary Trent Jr.
G Grayson Allen
G Trevon Duval


North Carolina:

F Luke Maye
F Theo Pinson
G Kenny Williams
G Cam Johnson
G Joel Berry

Lineup Comparison:

First NameLast NamePointsReboundsAssistsStealsClass
GaryTrent Jr.
MarvinBagley III21.411.21.61.0Freshman
WendellCarter Jr.
Duke FT Percentage
North Carolina FT Percentage
Duke Scoring Average
North Carolina Scoring Average
Duke FG Percentage
North Carolina FG Percentage
Duke 3pt Percentage
North Carolina 3pt Percentage

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