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DeCock: UNC, Duke exchange places in ACC hierarchy since prior meeting

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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  • DeCock: UNC, Duke exchange places in ACC hierarchy since prior meeting
  • DeCock: UNC, Duke exchange places in ACC hierarchy since prior meeting
  • DeCock: UNC, Duke exchange places in ACC hierarchy since prior meeting
  • No. 14 North Carolina at No. 4 Duke

    When/where: 9 p.m., Saturday, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham

    TV: ESPN

    Projected starting lineups

    UNC (23-7, 13-4 ACC)

    G Marcus Paige 16.9 ppg, 4.5 apg

    G Leslie McDonald 10.7 ppg, 2 rpg

    F J.P. Tokoto 9.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg

    F James M. McAdoo 14.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg

    F Kennedy Meeks 7.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg

    Duke (23-7, 12-5)

    G Rasheed Sulaimon 9.5 ppg, 2.7 apg

    G Tyler Thornton 3.2 ppg, 2.4 apg

    F Rodney Hood 16.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg

    F Jabari Parker 18.8 ppg, 9 rpg

    F Amile Jefferson 6.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg


    Duke led UNC by 11 with about 15 minutes to play in their Feb. 20 matchup in Chapel Hill. From there, the Tar Heels controlled the game and finished with a 74-66 victory that left the Smith Center floor crowded with delirious, celebrating students. During the final 15 minutes, UNC outscored Duke 34-15. The Blue Devils seemed to run out of energy, and it didn’t help that they made just 5 of 22 3-point attempts. Leslie McDonald, the senior guard, led the Tar Heels with 21 points and Marcus Paige scored 13 – all in the second half. Duke shot 35.5 percent in the second half.


    1. Make the outside shot

    The Blue Devils have been the best 3-point shooting team in the ACC, and they’re making 39.5 percent of their 3-point attempts. Lately, though, Duke has struggled. The Blue Devils have made 27.1 percent of their 3-pointers in their past four games – a stretch that includes the loss against UNC – and that has to change for Duke to regain its midseason form.

    2. Keep Jabari Parker active and involved

    Parker scored just seven points – two on a meaningless dunk in the final seconds – in the second half of Duke’s loss at UNC. That has been a trend for the Blue Devils this season – Parker disappearing late in close games. Maybe Parker needs to do a better job of asserting himself. Or perhaps his teammates need to do a better job of keeping him involved. Regardless, if Duke is going to win Parker needs to be a factor in the second half and especially down the stretch if it's a close game.

    3. Play tough

    One of the tenets of Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching philosophy is the idea of toughness – both mental and physical. The Blue Devils have lacked toughness at times this season, and they faded late in both of their most recent losses – at UNC and at Wake Forest earlier this week. Krzyzewski’s health is a concern, as well. He wasn’t his usual fiery self during the loss at Wake, and his team seemed to miss his intense leadership style.


    1. Keep Duke frustrated on the perimeter

    Duke missed some open 3s against UNC in the first game, but the Tar Heels also defended Duke well and made it difficult for the Blue Devils to get the shots they wanted. UNC is holding teams to 31 percent 3-point shooting, which ranks third in the ACC, and UNC’s perimeter defense has been especially strong during its 12-game winning streak.

    2. Get Marcus Paige going

    Paige scored a career-high 35 points during UNC’s overtime victory at N.C. State last week, but he followed that with a combined 16 points in ugly victories against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. It’s one thing to beat those teams without much offense out of Paige, but winning at Duke, it would seem, would be far more difficult.

    3. Match the intensity

    Duke wilted amid the heat – figuratively and literally – inside the Smith Center on Feb. 20. The Tar Heels that night did what they wanted during the final 10 minutes. UNC will enter the kind of environment that Duke did two and a half weeks ago. It’ll be hot, loud and inhospitable – as it always is for the Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium – and UNC will have to match, or exceed, Duke’s energy.

    Andrew Carter

Was it only a few weeks ago that North Carolina was the team with everything to prove and Duke the team with everything going for it? It seems like eons now. How quickly those tables have turned.

From the time of that first meeting, on Feb. 20, North Carolina has run its winning streak to 12 games while Duke imploded late at Wake Forest on Wednesday and has to deal with the uncertainty surrounding coach Mike Krzyzewski after he became light-headed during that game.

The Tar Heels have moved ahead of the Blue Devils in the ACC standings, rebounding from their early struggles. The best Duke can finish is third, not quite what was expected from a team picked to win the ACC and contend for a national title. Suddenly, it’s the Blue Devils in search of a big win, not the other way around.

And while the NCAA seeding process is beyond anyone’s immediate control, if only one of the two local contenders is going to get to stay home in Raleigh, Saturday might serve as a one-game proxy for that coveted spot.

Virginia would presumably have a lock on one of the two available slots – although the Cavaliers’ NCAA seeding profile isn’t dramatically better than Duke or North Carolina, so that could change in Greensboro – leaving one open. Duke appears to have the edge at the moment. A North Carolina win Saturday could move the Tar Heels ahead heading into the ACC tournament.

So besides the usual stakes – pride, bragging rights, Senior Night spoilage, ACC tournament seeding and so on – both teams have very real incentive. Given the role geography tends to play in the NCAA tournament, their postseason prospects may depend on it.

For Duke in particular, a good performance Saturday would contribute in that department in another way. The circumstances of Duke’s loss to the Demon Deacons were all too familiar, because they recalled the manner of the earlier losses to Clemson and North Carolina: Duke, one of the nation’s most potent offensive teams over the course of the season, turned utterly harmless at the worst possible time.

Over the final eight minutes at Clemson, Duke was outscored 18-5 by a team that doesn’t have a single one of the Blue Devils’ many offensive weapons. At North Carolina, an 11-point second-half lead evaporated in 10 minutes. And Wednesday, the Blue Devils went 0-for-4 from the floor and turned the ball over four times during Wake Forest’s 17-0 run. Meanwhile, Duke went 6-for-27 from 3-point range against the Demon Deacons, once again living and dying from the 3-point line.

It’s all too similar to the way the Blue Devils have exited the NCAA tournament early on occasion recently, which certainly should sound a warning siren for Duke’s postseason prognosis. A rebound against North Carolina on Senior Night would go a long way toward assuaging those concerns.

Duke is running out of time to become the powerhouse, NBA-style team Duke and Krzyzewski envisioned before the season. It is subpar defensively (ninth in the ACC and 70th nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings) and prone to inconsistency. The Blue Devils would be well served, for their own confidence if nothing else, to produce a commanding win Saturday.

North Carolina, playing free and easy, has nothing to lose at this point. The Tar Heels aren’t expected to win. They weren’t expected to win in Chapel Hill. That win established their legitimacy. Now Duke needs a win just like it to prove the same.

DeCock:, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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