The rivalry week in college basketball continues tonight when the No. 8 Duke Blue Devils travel to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels. The game is scheduled for a 9 p.m. start time and it will be televised nationally on ESPN. Currently the odds for the game have Duke favored by just a couple of points in this one.
North Carolina isn't ranked. They're not the best team in the ACC and they've already lost three times this season at home. But when Duke comes in, everything else is set aside and the rivalry takes college basketball fans on a ride for 40 minutes. Tonight we expect nothing less.
Duke, now ranked eighth in the country, has improved over the last month or so. The Blue Devils have won seven of eight games and the lone loss was a 2-point defeat at the Carrier Dome against unbeaten Syracuse. The Orange and Duke will play again next Saturday, but believe that the Blue Devils will be completely focused on tonight's contest. Since a loss to Clemson back on Jan. 11, Duke allowed more than 68 points to any opponent in their seven victories. All of the five teams to beat the Blue Devils have scored at least 72 points.
North Carolina has won five straight games overall. This Tobacco Road rivalry means quite a bit outside of the obvious tonight. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels are third and fourth, respectively, in the ACC. North Carolina has a game with Pittsburgh on Saturday as the ACC continues to prove it's not easy to win in conference action.
Everyone knows about Jabari Parker and his 19.2 points per game for Duke. But players like Amile Jefferson and Quinn Cook could determine whether Duke will win this game tonight or not. Roy Williams and the Heels will look to shut Parker down and force somebody else to step up for the Blue Devils.
Marcus Paige leads Carolina at 17 points per game this season. He has played very well in the second half of games this season, averaging better than 10 points per game in the second half this year. The Heels will also need a solid game from James Michael McAdoo, who averages 15 points and seven rebounds per contest.
And, like most games of this magnitude, rebounding will be critical. The Tar Heels are one of the best rebounding teams in the country, hauling in better than 41 per contest. That's more than six rebounds on average better than Duke brings in per game. When oddsmakers put Duke as the favorite by only a couple of points, that's a major factor they are using. If North Carolina can consistently hit the glass and not give Duke second chance opportunities on the offensive end, they're going to stay close.
And many top 10 teams in recent weeks have gone on the road and lost in games like these. Look for a close contest. We like Duke to get it done by a couple of possessions with free throws down the stretch.
Free Pick: Duke 71, North Carolina 66
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