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Daytime action, conference tournaments, brackets on the horizon … now let’s throw in Duke-Carolina part deux. March is a beautiful month. Let’s dive into Saturday’s prime-time showdown to see if Duke will avoid losing back-to-back games against North Carolina for the first time since 2009.

North Carolina at Duke (-7.5) | O/U: 160.5

8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN

 

The Setup

By Stuckey

Duke and Carolina had eerily similar weeks leading up to the rematch. North Carolina lost at the buzzer in stunning fashion to Miami on senior night 91-88. Duke also lost its previous game in the final seconds 64-63 at Virginia Tech. Duke will be looking to avenge an 82-78 loss in Chapel Hill earlier this season. The Blue Devils did have an extra day of prep since their last game, for what it’s worth.

The Stakes

By Stuckey

The Tobacco Road bragging rights. I’m not sure anything else really matters, though this game could impact each team’s NCAA tournament seed. If the season ended today, both teams would probably receive a No. 2 seed. However, a win tonight and an ACC conference title could result in one of the four coveted No. 1 overall seeds. Conversely, a loss and an upset loss in the ACC tourney could result in a drop to the No. 3 line.

In regard to the ACC regular season, there is nothing at stake. Virginia already locked up the regular-season conference championship. In fact, with a home win against Notre Dame in its season finale, UVA will win the ACC by a shocking four games.

 

Even though neither can win the regular-season title, this game still has major implications for UNC in the ACC tournament. The top four seeds get the luxury of a double bye into the quarterfinals. Virginia obviously has the one seed locked up, while Duke has also guaranteed itself a double bye. The Blue Devils will finish as either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. The picture is a lot muddier for the Heels. A UNC loss to Duke will put it at risk of dropping out of the top four, depending on the results of various other games (N.C. State-Louisville, Miami-Virginia Tech, Syracuse-Clemson).

Sharp Report

By PJ Walsh

Duke opened as a 7-point favorite and public bettors are all over North Carolina and the points. Seventy-eight percent of spread tickets and 89% of dollars wagered are on the Tar Heels, yet the line has moved up to Blue Devils -7.5 at Bookmaker.eu. This reverse line movement is a key indicator that sharp money has played Duke, especially at a sportsbook like Bookmaker.eu that accepts high-limit action from professional bettors.

Situational Angle

By Stuckey

I normally throw out any situational handicapping when it comes to bitter rivalries, and it can’t get any more bitter than Carolina-Duke. I do give the Blue Devils an ever-so-slight advantage situationally for the revenge, but each team will get the other’s best punch, especially since both are coming off of a loss. Scheme, execution and coaching adjustments will decide this game.

 

Schematically Speaking

By Jordan Majewski

Duke’s Zone Defense

Things have certainly changed since the first meeting in Chapel Hill. The most notable difference is Duke is now strictly a 2-3 zone defense. Coach K came around to the notion that his young team simply couldn’t grasp man-to-man principles. And after Marvin Bagley suffered a knee injury in the first meeting with UNC, Duke decided to go to a bigger lineup, utilizing that length in a zone.

The improvement in Duke’s defensive numbers speaks for itself. Since the first UNC game, Duke’s opponents are scoring just .86 points per possession (ppp), while only shooting 26% from 3 and 43% from 2. Before that, Duke’s ACC opponents scored 1.05 ppp, while shooting 36% from 3 and 45% from 2. Bagley has since returned, and his defensive deficiencies have been masked fairly well within the 2-3 zone.

A normal weak point of any zone is gaining good rebounding position, but Duke has actually rebounded better in zone (possibly because Coach K has used more height of late). More on this angle shortly.

UNC’s Zone Offense

The bad news for Duke? UNC has excelled all season in zone offense, scoring in the 93rd percentile nationally, per Synergy. Additionally, the Heels just saw Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone on Feb. 21. In that game, Theo Pinson was phenomenal in his decision-making in the high post, routinely reading the weak spots in the Cuse defense. He scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting, while adding seven assists. UNC scored 1.20 ppp overall in the win at the Carrier Dome. UNC’s small-ball lineup is seemingly built to bust zones.

Matchups to Monitor

By Bryan Mears

UNC scored 82 points in its earlier win over Duke, despite 39.0% shooting from the field. That’s what happens when a team pulls down 20 offensive boards at a 42.6% rate. That will again be a big concern for a Duke team that ranks 177th on the defensive glass against a Tar Heels team that ranks third in the nation in offensive rebounding.

Of course, none of this may matter if Duke gets hot from 3. The Tar Heels are absolutely atrocious defending the 3 ball this year, ranking 333rd and allowing 38.7%. Duke hit just 36% of its 3s in the first meeting, when just one or two more would have swung the game. Struggling to defend the perimeter is asking for trouble at Cameron. Duke ranks in the top 25 nationally in home 3-point shooting percentage (41.4%). Grayson Allen and Gary Trent will probably shoot much better than their combined 4-of-13 effort in Chapel Hill.

Getting Trendy

By Evan Abrams and John Ewing

Since and including the 2015 NCAA tournament, when the Tar Heels lost 79-72 as a 6-point underdog to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 (Duke won the title that year), North Carolina is 1-8 SU and 1-7-1 ATS in its last nine games as an underdog against a ranked opponent.

Over the last decade, Roy Williams is 12-26-1 ATS (31.6%) as an underdog against ranked opponents, including the postseason. During that stretch, Williams lost a $100 bettor $1,450 in this spot. That makes him the second-least profitable coach behind current Akron and former Ohio and Illinois coach John Groce.

Since 2005, Roy Williams is 51-31-2 (62%) ATS after a loss and 4-1-1 ATS when the next opponent is Duke.

Top-five teams off a loss favored in their next game have gone 80-106-4 (43%) ATS since 2005. This trend applies to Duke tonight.

What’s Your Favorite Bet?

Stuckey: ML parlay: Duke ML (-300) and Missouri ML (-165). Odds are +114.
Jordan: UNC +7
Mears: UNC +7

Editor’s note: The opinion on this game is from the individual writers, and is based on their research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

Top photo via Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Credit:

© Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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