Next up for Duke is the delayed date with UNC, and while a few weeks ago Duke would have been heavily favored, we're not so sure that's the case anymore.
For anyone who hasn't paid attention, UNC's been pretty hot lately. After an 1-4 start, UNC is now 8-4 and improving rapidly.
Remember when this team couldn't score? When it absolutely had to rely on Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo?
Not so much anymore.
Against Notre Dame, UNC had four double figure scorers, and against Pitt,while McAdoo scored 24 and Paige 18, but JP Tokoto had eight and Brice Johnson had 13 off the bench.
Things changed a lot against Florida State though.
Paige got his 20. Tokoto scored 10.
Kennedy Meeks, now starting, scored 23 after shooting 11-12. Brice Johnson had 14 off the bench.
And James Michael McAdoo scored zero.
That's pretty much a breakthrough for UNC, really.
You could argue that it was a special situation, because there's no way that Boris Bojanovsky or Michael Ojo could really defend Meeks.
Bojanovsky is far too thin and Ojo, despite his massive size, is tentative and awkward to keep up with the highly intelligent Meeks.
Still, it was an impressive performance.
Still, the biggest change may be the play of Johnson. After the Clemson game, where he scored just 3, Johnson has been on a roll. He's scored 10, 19, 10, 13 and 14 in his last five games. He's also averaging 8.8 boards in those games.
Take him out and UNC loses at least to Pitt and FSU.
Still, despite the improvements, UNC has issues, and at the top of the list are three point and free throw shooting.
Paige is exempt from this discussion.
McAdoo, who doesn't stray all that far from the basket, is shooting 48.2% and just 52.5% from the line. Meeks is shooting 56.5% from both. Tokoto is hitting 46.9% from the floor and 47.1% from the stripe. Even Leslie McDonald is hitting just 63.5% from the line and a woeful 34.9% from the floor.
Duke and UNC are 1-2 in scoring in the conference, and while UNC's defense is vastly improved, the Heels rank 10th in scoring defense (67.9) while Duke is seventh (66.7).
Some things never change: UNC is bigger while Duke is probably quicker.
Duke should match up reasonably well in the backcourt, where Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton, Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones and Andre Dawkins have defended well, particularly at Georgia Tech. Look for the Devils to key in on Paige as he's UNC's primary three point threat.
Duke may have some trouble matching up with McAdoo and Meeks, but Meeks may have trouble if he has to pull deep minutes as his conditioning is still not where it will be.
The hardest guy to match up with though, and someone whose confidence seems to be soaring, is Jabari Parker.
No longer settling for jump shots as he was earlier in the year, Parker is driving aggressively and has become a superb rebounder. He's probably too big for Tokoto, may be too quick for McAdoo and will likely make life difficult for Meeks if Meeks has to guard him.
As we noted yesterday, Duke's Rodney Hood has not shot well lately. This would be a good time for him to come out of that.
Amile Jefferson may have a tough draw as Meeks outweighs him by a ridiculous 75 lbs. or so. We're not really sure what he weighs now as he's lost a lot since getting to Chapel Hill.
Foul trouble could be a real problem for Duke, especially on the interior.
With Syracuse's loss though, and the opportunity it affords Duke to make up ground, the UNC game, always a point of emphasis with both teams, is also critical. If Duke wins here and takes Syracuse, the conference race, already remade (Virginia has at least temporarily moved into first place). Duke has a clear shot at second and if things break their way, perhaps first.
A win in Chapel Hill would also push UNC back in the standings and make anything less than an ACC Tournament bye highly unlikely.
So while it's always a huge game, the stakes now are a bit higher than they were before BC pulled off a shocker in the Carrier Dome.