As Duke and North Carolina meet for the first time in the the 100th anniversary season of college basketball's best rivalry, the programs are trending in opposite directions. But that does not mean the stakes are any lower.
The teams have split the last 100 games in the series 50-50, and the Tar Heels (10-12, 3-8 ACC) will be desperate to salvage some meaning from a frustrating season. Beating their Tobacco Road rival would certainly bring a morale boost.
For the No. 7 Blue Devils (19-3, 9-2), Saturday's meeting represents an opportunity to start turning the momentum of the series in their favor after losing six of the last 10. It's been five years since Duke won both regular season meetings over North Carolina, and if Duke can start this season's chapter with a road victory on Saturday, it will only need a home victory over the Tar Heels on March 7 to complete a regular-season sweep in a banner year for the series.
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
- Where: Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
- TV: ESPN
Duke: What Duke lacks in the sparkle and pizzaz of a season ago when it had two of the eventual top three NBA draft picks on its roster in Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, it makes up for with defense, unselfishness and a team-wide ability to shoot 3-pointers that it lacked last year. Duke is near the top of most defensive categories in the ACC and has seven players shooting 34% or better from 3-point range after having just three last season. Freshman bruiser Vernon Carey is no Zion, but he might be the frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year as a freshman. An early-season home loss to Stephen F. Austin was a head-scratcher. But the Blue Devils have been mostly steady since in a season of upheaval across college basketball.
North Carolina: Brandon Robinson will miss a second straight game after spraining his ankle while being whistled for a controversial foul in the final seconds of a loss to Boston College last Saturday. The senior guard is the team's third-leading scorer behind junior forward Garrison Brooks and freshman phenom Cole Anthony. His absence will place a heavy burden on Anthony, who will be playing in just his third game since an 11-game absence due to knee surgery. One key will be to get Brooks going. The 6-foot-9 forward leads the Tar Heels in rebounding and carried a major offensive load during Anthony's absence, averaging 18.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in 36 minutes per game during that span. But Brooks has averaged just 7.5 points and seven rebounds in the two games since Anthony returned. The Tar Heels will need a big night from their junior big man if they are going to hang with Carey and the Blue Devils.
Game prediction, pick
Latest odds via SportsLine: Duke -6.5
Attendance is about the only category in which North Carolina ranks near the top of the ACC. North Carolina is an uncharacteristic 5-6 at home this season, but the doom and gloom gets thrown out the window for a game like this. With a raucous crowd behind them and pride on the line, North Carolina should be able to cover the spread and keep it respectable enough against Duke to cover the spread. Pick: North Carolina +6.5
[Which teams should you back to make the Final Four and win it all? Join SportsLine today and get projected scores and stats from 10,000 simulations, plus get Vegas insider picks, fantasy advice and much more!]