How No. 19 North Carolina and No. 3 Duke match up:
When: 9 p.m.
Where: Smith Center
UNC’s Marcus Paige (13.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) vs. Duke’s Tyus Jones (11.4 ppg, 5.7 apg)
Jones outplayed Paige by a wide margin during Duke’s 92-90 victory on Feb. 18. Jones finished with 22 points and was especially instrumental in the Blue Devils’ late rally. He scored 14 points in the final six minutes of regulation and overtime to help Duke complete its comeback from 10 down with less than four minutes to play. Paige, meanwhile, finished with just five points and was 2-for-11 from the field. UNC was still in position to win without a significant contribution from Paige, and that’s a positive for the Tar Heels. Even so, UNC needs him to be productive, and the Tar Heels have to do a better job limiting Jones, who took over late last time. Jones clearly outplayed Paige, but Paige, as hobbled as he has been by various nagging injuries, still entered the season as ACC Preseason Player of the Year for a reason.
Justin Jackson (9.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg) vs. Quinn Cook (15.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
UNC coach Roy Williams has made a point lately to emphasize that J.P. Tokoto, and not Jackson, is the “3” – or small forward – in UNC’s offense. Regardless, neither Jackson nor Tokoto can match what Cook does for Duke offensively. He got off to a great start during the first meeting and helped Duke build a large first-half lead before finishing with 22 points. Cook made six of his nine 3-point attempts. Jackson finished with two points and was 1-for-8 from the field. He played well in UNC’s victory at Georgia Tech and needs to carry that momentum into Saturday night.
J.P. Tokoto (8.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) vs. Matt Jones (6.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
Tokoto broke out of an extended slump in the first game and finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals. It was one of his best all-around games this season, and it was indicative of his potential. Jones didn’t start in the first game but has since entered the starting lineup. He wasn’t much of a factor against UNC 2 1/2 weeks ago and finished with five points. If Tokoto can duplicate his most recent performance against Duke, then UNC should have a good chance to win.
Brice Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg) vs. Justise Winslow (12.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
We saw the good Brice Johnson at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where he finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out early in overtime. If Johnson hadn’t gotten into so much foul trouble, the Tar Heels likely would have won. When Johnson was in the game – he played just 24 minutes – he was the most productive player on the court. Winslow had 16 points and seven rebounds against UNC, and he has scored in double figures in 11 consecutive games. Johnson’s inconsistency has been troubling of late, and it’s one reason you can never be sure which UNC team will show up.
Kennedy Meeks (12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) vs. Jahlil Okafor (17.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg)
In the first game the Tar Heels did an excellent job defending Okafor, who finished regulation with eight points. That would have been a season-low had the game ended then. Okafor scored four important points in overtime, though, after UNC stopped double-teaming him. The Tar Heels doubled him throughout most of the game, and that allowed Duke some opportunities on the perimeter, where it made 10 of 16 3-point attempts. Expect the same kind of strategy Saturday from the Tar Heels, whose defense on Okafor forced his teammates to carry the load offensively. Meeks finished with 18 points and seven rebounds, but he has scored 14 points combined in UNC’s past two games. Can UNC limit Okafor for the second consecutive game?
UNC has received some quality production from its bench recently, and reserve point guard Joel Berry led the Tar Heels with 15 points at Georgia Tech earlier this week. Theo Pinson is back from the broken foot he suffered in January, and Joel James, the junior forward, is among the most improved players on the team. Sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks played well at Cameron, finishing with 12 points. Including Nate Britt, UNC can now go 10 deep. Duke will bring Amile Jefferson, who had been a regular starter, off the bench, and there’s Grayson Allen, who scored 27 points in the blowout victory against Wake Forest on Thursday. The Tar Heels clearly have more depth, though. Allen and Marshall Plumlee played a combined 11 minutes in the first game as UNC’s bench outscored Duke’s 32-7.