It feels like an eerily similar spot for the Tar Heels as they find themselves in the midst of a late push to salvage their postseason hopes. Just like last year, they desperately need a win over their hated rival Duke Blue Devils as well as a potential game or two in the ACC tournament. Coming in as a slight favorite at -3 on their own home court, expect points to be scored in a flurry in their much-anticipated matchup.
Duke Vs. North Carolina Odds
Even in a desperation spot, the Tar Heels opening as a near two possession favorite comes as a bit of a surprise. Money has also backed the Heels, taking them up to as high as -3.5 in some shops. Most projections have them a +2.5 underdog on a neutral court, giving a massive shift in spread for home court advantage as well as the situation for UNC. Their recent play has been less than stellar, needing to claw back against the Fighting Irish as well as allowing a late Seminole surge.
As for the total, points are expected to be scored at a quick pace as oddsmakers opened the total at 142.5. Bettors have yet to take a firm stand on either side of the total, keeping the number the same as the opener. This brings intrigue as Duke has recently developed some secondary scoring to help out star big man Kyle Filipowski, now being able to stretch the court for a quicker scoring pace. UNC’s offense has also come alive since the second half against Notre Dame, lighting it up from the perimeter in typical Tar Heel fashion.
Duke Vs. North Carolina Prediction & Pick
The Pick: Over 142.5
With that said, I will take the over at the opening number as I believe we are in for an exciting installment of the UNC vs Duke rivalry. I am tempering my expectations of the Tar Heels being able to get the job done in a must win situation, backing the idea of matching Duke’s scoring pace instead. That still allows me to take a stab at the desperation motivation, picking up their own scoring pace should they start out sluggish which they have been prone to do.
North Carolina’s inconsistency on offense from the perimeter may also be resolved in this matchup as Duke’s weakness of old has followed them in their recent stretch of games. Duke has been one of the weaker three-point defensive units in the nation, allowing opposing units to shoot 35.9% from three. This is a sharp contrast to their season-long metrics, ranking fourth in the nation per TeamRankings by holding offenses to 31.2% from deep.
Perimeter play has been a weak point for the Tar Heels this year, drastically dipping in correlation with Caleb Love and Pete Nance’s struggles. Those struggles have seemed to sub-sided as of now, getting hot against Virginia and shooting 48.3% from deep against Florida State in their most recent performance. Those looks should come at an above average rate in terms of quality this time around, exploiting the contrast of pace and scrambling Duke’s guards in transition.
In the midst of scrambling on the run, UNC will be able to fill the gaps and generate looks from deep at a high rate. When Duke is forced to stretch out, this gives star big man Armando Bacot room to work with as he takes Kyle Filipowski off the dribble. Bacot was a non-factor against the Seminoles, being held to one point on 0-4 shooting from the field. That performance makes their win that much more impressive against Florida State, finally boasting the variety of weapons that the Tar Heels have yet to put together all season.
Duke Vs. North Carolina Key Matchups
Can Duke continue their pace of scoring against an improved UNC defense?
Duke secondary scoring vs UNC perimeter defense
While it should be noted that Duke’s recent stretch of play has been against very weak defenses, their uptick in offensive production has been impressive nonetheless. A big factor in this surge has been the emergence of secondary scorers, now giving Filipowski the much-needed help he deserves as their lone scoring force.
Jeremy Roach especially, leading the team in scoring in their last four matchups. His ability to stretch the floor and make cuts in the gaps has opened up the floor for the rest of the offense as defenses still need to base a brunt of their attention on Filipowski in the interior.
Neither Love or Davis are respectable on-ball defenders, giving Roach room to work with as well as space for Mark Mitchell to exploit from deep. Should the offense get going early for Duke, UNC will have to answer the bell with an uptick in pace themselves.
With both offenses poised to exploit each other’s weaknesses, take the over in what will be a thrilling display of offense in this heated rivalry.