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Next Up For Duke Basketball - The Tar Heels

And you know the neighbors are going to track mud in again.

Wake Forest v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 31: Kyle Filipowski #30 talks with head coach Jon Scheyer of the Duke Blue Devils during their game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 31, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Next up for the Blue Devils are our old friends, the renowned scholars from Capel Hill, the Tar Heels (Pitt social media gets credit for Capel Hill).

UNC has had an up and down season to be sure. With four starters back and favored to win the ACC, the Tar Heels have been an enigma.

Last year, Brady Manek had a brilliant transfer season for UNC and he got better as the season went on. He was such a good outside shooter that it was almost impossible to double-team Armando Bacot, who was free to bang inside. That’s not as much the case this season: UNC is 14th in three point shots made, ahead of only Boston College.

Pete Nance, who played with Duke’s Ryan Young at Northwestern, has had a solid year but it’s not like you can just plug him in and expect him to cover everything that Manek did.

So it’s not surprising that Bacot’s stats are a bit off from last season. Not too much but definitely off. His minutes are almost exactly the same but his rebounding has dipped by nearly two per game. His field goal percentage has dipped slightly but not significantly. He is scoring 1.4 more per game. Free throws remain an adventure, and very consistent with his earlier seasons: Bacot is hitting 66.7 percent from the line.

UNC relies a lot on its backcourt. Caleb Love and RJ Davis get the most minutes every night. Love leads the team with 35.9 mpg; Davis is right behind with 34.9. Love averages 16.5; Davis averages 16.0. Love averages 3.6 boards; Davis is getting an impressive 5.0. Assists are virtually even at 3.0 to 3.2. Both are getting 1.2 steals per game.

Love, as most people know, doesn’t mind letting it fly. He’ll shoot from anywhere. Sometimes they even go in.

Jokes aside, we’ve noticed this about Love: when the game is tight, he tends to shoot better. He’s also really athletic. He can shoot you out of a game, but he can also take it over. He’s erratic to be sure, but when he’s on, he’s deadly. He definitely has an instinct for the clutch.

Davis is a really good guard. He’s smallish at 6-0 but he is just a smart, sharp player. He’s the last Tar Heel you want to lose track of.

It’s still early in Hubert Davis’s career, and this could change, but one early major difference between Davis and his predecessor Ol’ Roy Williams, is how much he uses his bench. Williams liked shuttling guys in and out a lot. Davis has not done that.

All five starters are averaging at least 30.8 mpg with Nance and Leaky Black both hitting that number precisely.

Black, we should say, is generally under appreciated. He’s not needed to score a ton but he can when needed. He gives Davis a real luxury: at 6-7, he can guard four positions. He’s vastly underrated.

His first guy off the bench has been Puff Johnson, but Johnson has been out with a minor knee issue.

His bench without Johnson has been primarily D’Marco Dunn, Seth Trimble and, now that he’s healthy, the very talented Jalen Washington.

We haven't watched them enough to know for sure, but you wonder if heavy minutes are hurting the Heels.

Something that definitely hurt the Heels against Pitt: the Panthers were very aggressive physically, and it really bothered UNC.

And when we say it bothered them, it wasn’t hard to find signs. Bacot leveled Blake Hinson at one point, shoving him away and knocking him to the ground. Davis got a technical for jawing when a Pitt player crowded him on an in-bounds. Pitt put a fence around Bacot with three guys collapsing around him. If the Tar Heels had hit their threes, this might have ended differently. But they didn’t, hitting just 5-27 and four of those were by Love.

Pitt’s aggressiveness clearly bothered UNC in a way that it did not bother Duke.

However, Duke probably won’t be able to be that physical. Young can bang and Kyle Filipowski is capable. But Dereck Lively is thin and so is Mark Mitchell. UNC will pound the ball inside to Bacot, as they always do, and Duke will have to adapt. Fouls are a major concern, given how physical Bacot has always been. You can look at how he took down Hinson in the paint early and there was another missed foul at around 10:00 into the second half when he elbowed Hinson in the lane, knocking him down again.

UNC relies heavily on its starters offensively obviously, but primarily on Bacot, Davis and Love. Stopping Bacot isn’t easy. Pitt just kept the ball out of his hands and banged him back (did we mention that Bacot is exceptionally physical?)

Jeremy Roach is a very capable defender though and Tyrese Proctor has improved consistently. This could also be a big game for Jaylen Blakes, who is strong enough to harass anyone. UNC is a lot easier to deal with if the outside shots aren’t falling.

No word yet on whether Dariq Whitehead will play but he would certainly help.

You can look at Duke-UNC and break down any number of things, quantify all sorts of stats and find minutiae of all sorts. Our biggest concerns are foul trouble and turnovers. Duke has really improved on turnovers and is not making foolish mistakes in bunches like they were doing earlier. And Bacot means fouls. He draws them like few guys do. Lively is thin and foul-prone and Filipowski has had some self-inflicted foul trouble of his own. It’s going to be a lot more difficult to win if they pick up some cheapies. We still remember Mark Williams as a freshman just getting abused by Bacot and it’s easy to imagine that happening to Liveley as well.

But for the most part, you can toss out all the stats, all the theories and everything else, except for maybe fouls and turnovers.

What are you left with?

Emotion, desire and passion.

Because in the end, that’s what usually defines a Duke-UNC game, and that’s what makes them so great.

We’ll add links as we find them.