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Next Up - UNC

Time: 8:00 || Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium: || Video: ESPN

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NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Duke
Feb 4, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) celebrates with teammates after scoring a three-point shot against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Next up for Duke is UNC and while this might not be a Top Five matchup, there are many reasons why it should again be very intense. To highlight a few:

  • Coach K’s return. We have no doubt that he’s ready to dig in and push his team towards greatness.
  • UNC’s solid play. The Tar Heels have been pretty good this season, certainly better than we expected after losing Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson.
  • Luke Kennard’s rise. Very few people expected Kennard to be this good this soon. He can take over a game in a flash.
  • Duke’s improving health. This season has been incredible when it comes to injuries and Duke has some lingering ones. Overall though, the Blue Devils are healthy again and coming together.

Now throw all of that out because in this rivalry not much makes sense and expectations are often defied.

So what to expect this time?

Well UNC has had an advantage this year with size. Kennedy Meeks has become a solid big man as has fellow senior Isaiah Hicks. They’re both powerful guys and Meeks in particular is a smart player.

Meeks is 6-10 and 260; Hicks is 6-9 and 240. Justin Jackson starts at small forward; he’s about 6-8 and has range back to 15-501.

And we’ve been really impressed with freshman Tony Bradley. The 6-10 Floridian is likely to become a very good basketball player.

To us, the key to beating this UNC team is stopping the perimeter. Jackson hits nearly 40% of his threes. PG Joel Berry clocks in at 42.1%. Backcourt mate Kenny Williams clocks in at 33.8%.

Reserve Nate Britt hits 35.2%.

Williams is said to be UNC’s best defender and freshman Seventh Woods, who isn’t quite in the rotation, is perhaps the most promising talent.

For Duke, the upperclassmen have been solid all season though with the aforementioned periodic injuries: Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen.

Well, perhaps that’s less true for Allen. The media circus he’s dealt with has affected him as have injuries and having to fill in for other players (everyone has had to do this) and to us it looks as if it has at times affected his play.

But just as Kennard was lethal at Wake Forest, Allen stepped up at Notre Dame.

The better question may be the freshmen. Frank Jackson has been solid all season and particularly useful lately. Duke opted to start him against Pitt and that could be one of Coach K’s late-season adjustments that really pay off.

We’ll see.

Jayson Tatum has really embraced his role lately and has subordinated his talents to the team.

It’s not easy for a guy like that - he’s a great player. Sometimes though to have a great team you have to adjust your role. His willingness to do that has made Duke much better.

And what will we see from Harry Giles and Marques Bolden?

Both are hugely promising; both were significantly slowed by injuries.

This would be a great game to see one of them emerge.

Finally, remember this.

In a Duke-UNC game, emotions are high. The pattern is this: one team comes out on an emotional high, rushes out to an early lead, and then the other team battles back.

One team takes a slight lead into halftime and after the half, the game hits a different level.

That’s the Wojo/Capel/Battier level, at least when Duke wins.

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