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Next Up - UNC

And this game is going to be very different from other Duke and UNC games.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Duke
 Feb 4, 2023; Durham, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard RJ Davis (4) attempts to shoot over Duke Blue Devils guard Tyrese Proctor(5) during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won 63-57. 
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Date March 4 || Time 6:30 PM || Venue Dean E. Smith Center || Video ESPN

Duke and UNC always end the regular season together, which is usually as good a finish as you could hope for.

And interestingly, as we have mentioned before, the teams seem to parallel one another. Consider:

  • In 1959, Duke hired Vic Bubas, who would lead Duke to three Final Fours in the decade.
  • In 1961, UNC hired Dean Smith, who would take the Heels to...three Final Fours in the decade.
  • In 1977, UNC played for the national championship.
  • In 1978, Duke played for the national championship.
  • In 1979, both lost in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and both did so in Raleigh.
  • In 1991, both went to the Final Four.
  • In 1991 and 1992, Duke won it all.
  • In 1993, UNC won it all.

You could go on this way for a long time.

Jay Bilas likes to say that this game never disappoints, and that’s generally true. But some are better than others. The game in Cameron had intensity but was hardly perfect. Neither team is ranked, which seems weird. And the game in Chapel Capel Hill?

It’ll probably be played at a higher level.

Why? Well because both teams are at a higher level.

Since losing at NC State, the Tar Heels have won three straight. The Notre Dame win was tight, the Virginia win frankly not a huge surprise given how spotty the Cavs have been and they certainly should have won at Florida State.


Did you except them to do that when Armando Bacot, for whatever reason, is falling off?

People have ideas about this but let’s say the most likely cause is an undisclosed injury (another possibility is that UNC is deliberately using other options but that doesn’t make much sense).

Bacot normally gets north of 30 mpg but they’ve decreased in every game since the Heels played in Raleigh:34, 33, 25 and 21. The 25 minutes came at Virginia, a game where he had four fouls. Okay. He only had three fouls at FSU though.

But his rebounding has been off too: he had 4 against Miami, 14 against NC State, 11 against Notre Dame, 6 against Virginia and 8 at Florida State.

Since the State game, Bacot has shot 42.9 percent, 46.7 percent, 66.7 percent and...0 percent.

So of course he’s going to go off on Saturday.

UNC has won despite whatever is going on with him and one reason why is that Pete Nance is playing much better.

At Duke, he had just two points. At Wake Forest, he scored 11. Then it was 0 points at Clemson, 2 points at Miami and 7 at State.

Since then, he’s scored 11 at Notre Dame, 22 at Virginia and 15 at Florida State. His shooting percentage is mixed but he’s been rebounding better too, all of which offers some relief to Bacot.

It also is possible that Bacot is just worn down by a long season, but it doesn’t much matter for this game because it tends to elevate everyone.

Leaky Black has also been much better. He hasn’t always shot well, but he’s never been a starter because he scored, so that’s kind of secondary. You can’t judge by points alone. He’s been a great player at Carolina.

UNC gets points from Bacot, from Nance lately, and from guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis of course.

Love is a bit of a puzzle. He’s the most erratic Tar Heel. He’s capable of just going off and hitting threes from anywhere. He’s also capable of shooting UNC out of a game or, more typically, shooting ill-advised threes at a critical time.

Thing is, some of them go in and Love, as we’ve said before, clearly has the ability and the desire to strike in the clutch. You have to put up with some stuff to get there, but he can do it.

Davis is a smart, quick small guard who can strike in a hurry. He’s also a surprisingly good rebounder for someone just 6-0, leading credence to the notion that heart is key to rebounding.

Bench play has been a real problem for Hubert Davis. Unlike what we got used to with Roy Williams, Davis has a tight rotation,but that may be simply a question of trusting his bench or not really having one.

There is some decent young talent.

Seth Trimble, Puff Johnson, Dontrez Styles, D’Marco Dunn and Jalen Washington all can help and have at different times. But Washington is still getting past a major knee injury and Johnson has had his issues. So that’s a factor.

UNC’s bench is hard to understand, much less predict. We’ll say this though: keep an eye on Washington. We saw him for just a few minutes at Duke. If he is 100 percent next season, he’s going to be a pain.

The other guys? Kind of a crap shoot. All of them have had their moments, just not consistently. But again, nothing surprises us in this game.

As for Duke, the Blue Devils have won five straight and increasingly look like a different team. The biggest changes are with Dereck Lively and Tyrese Proctor.

Lively is showing more and more facets of his game. He’s willing to take threes (and he can hit them too) but most of his strength comes from shotblocking, rebounding and scoring around the basket.

Earlier in the season, you could rip the ball away from him. Not so much anymore: he’s really holding onto the ball after he gets it.

He’s dealt with some pretty thick guys at this point and has been better about picking up pointless fouls.

Against UNC last time, Lively had 14 rebounds and eight blocks. If he had scored a bit more (4), he might have flirted with a triple-double the hard way.

As for Proctor, his shooting still comes and goes - in his last six games, he’s hit 50, 33.3, 60, 30.8, 57.1 and 25 percent respectively.

Doesn't really matter.

First, he’s running the team well and he and Jeremy Roach have fused into a very good overall backcourt. Second, he’s gotten much better at getting to the basket. And third, he’s made astonishing progress as a defender.

Against Virginia Tech, he basically shut Hunter Cattoor out and against NC State last time out, he severely frustrated Terquavion Smith.

What jumps out is that he’s working really, really hard on defense. The guy has been relentless, which will be good because UNC’s had some good three point outings lately. The Heels hit just 2-23 against Notre Dame, but against Virginia, they shot 10-22 and against Florida State it was a freak show with 11 threes in the first half alone, finishing with 14-29.

In that game, Nance hit 3-6, Black hit 3-4, Davis 3-7 and Love, in a restrained outing, hit 3-7. Two more came from the bench.

This obviously made it easier to win with Bacot scoring just one point. Who cares when you’re hitting from the cheap seats?

If UNC hits like that on Senior Day in Chapel Hill, Duke will be in trouble (in the first game, UNC hit 7-27 while Duke shot 4-11). Duke’s perimeter D, anchored by Proctor, Roach and Maximum Mark Mitchell, should be able to hold it down somewhat.

Late in the season, people have gotten a better idea of how to defend Kyle Filipowski. To a certain extent, this involves beating him half to death. We could easily have a drinking game where everyone took a shot every time Filipowski gets knocked down or hit somewhere above the neck.

He’s still a load though. He’s beginning to learn when he can do his spin move - which is pretty great, as long as he doesn't spin into a defender. And he continues to rebound and defend hard himself.

Last year, what made UNC so tough down the stretch was Brady Manek’s three point shooting opening the inside for Bacot. Duke contained Bacot well in Cameron, limiting him to 14 points and 10 boards.

Everyone is focusing more on Bacot and it shows up mostly in rebounding, where he’s down from 13.1 per game to 10.8.

Which gets us back to his erratic play lately. We do seriously wonder if he has an undisclosed injury because in his last two games, he really has had limited minutes.

That may or may not explain his play this season. Manek’s departure is part of it, but again not all of it.

We have no idea why he’s not as effective. It could be just the normal human tendency to relax after a great achievement and UNC’s run to the championship game last season was a great achievement.

Whatever it is though, it’s Senior Day in Chapel Capel Hill and emotion is going to be high for Bacot, Black, Nance and Justin McKoy. And, quite unusually, UNC really needs this game. Still being seen as a bubble team, the Tar Heels need a bit more padding on their resume.

It’ll be a great test for Duke and even if the Blue Devils lose, if they learn the right lessons it’ll help.

We’ll add links as we find them. Also, Draft Kings has UNC by -4.