CHAPEL HILL — It’s that time of year again. No. 5 North Carolina hosts No. 10 Duke tonight at the Smith Center (9 p.m., ESPN (nationally) and WRAL (locally)). Some things to watch as these old rivals meet for the 233rd time:
Harrison Barnes’ health. There’s no doubt that Barnes, who is suffering from a sprained left ankle, will play tonight. How effective he’ll be is another question. On Monday night during coach Roy Williams’ weekly radio show, Barnes said his ankle felt “great” and that he’d be ready to go for Duke. On Tuesday, though, Barnes took a more cautious approach, saying he “should” be able to play tonight.
During UNC’s 83-74 victory against Maryland on Saturday, Barnes made two of the most important shots of the game but it was clear his injury affected him. He didn’t have the same explosiveness. That has also been an issue in practice this week leading into this game. Barnes went up for a lay-up in practice on Monday and realized he didn’t have the nearly the same of lift he normally does.
Barnes is likely to matched against Duke freshman Austin Rivers, who is a quick, aggressive offensive player. So as much as the ankle could be a hindrance to Barnes’ offensive game, it could most affect him defensively.
Which teams best exploits its strength and overcomes its weakness? One of UNC’s primary strengths this season has been defense inside the 3-point line and generating offense on second chances. The Tar Heels are second in the ACC in overall field goal percentage defense (but 9th in conference games in 3-point percentage defense), and UNC leads the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage (41.1 percent).
Duke, meanwhile, is highly efficient. The Blue Devils don’t waste many possessions, and lead the ACC in points per possession (1.15). Duke is also the best 3-point shooting team in the ACC (39.3 percent). But the Devils are 8th in defensive rebounding percentage, which means they give up a decent amount of second-chance opportunities.
To have a chance at the upset, Duke tonight will need to shoot the 3 well and will somehow need to find a way to limit UNC’s second-chance opportunities. Easier said than done, especially because the Blue Devils haven’t been a great rebounding team this season.
UNC, meanwhile, needs to defend like it normally does inside the 3-point line, and not allow the Devils to get hot beyond the 3-point line. Offensively, the Tar Heels want to avoid getting into a perimeter shooting contest with Duke. The Heels have taken the second-fewest 3-pointers in the ACC this season, and they’ve done that for a reason: Primarily because they’re so good attacking the basket on the inside.
Bench production. Unexpected, strange things are likely to happen in any game, but they seem to happen more often in rivalry games. And one of the x-factors tonight could be production off the bench.
For North Carolina, now would be a good time for freshman P.J. Hairston to break out of his extended shooting slump. Hairston is shooting 18.2 percent from 3-point range in ACC play. James Michael McAdoo, meanwhile, has shown signs of emerging lately, but he has yet to have a breakout kind of game.
The Blue Devils don’t have many on-paper advantages tonight but they will bring the stronger bench into the Smith Center. Miles Plumlee (senior) and Seth Curry (junior) are both veteran players and their experience can only help in games like this. Quinn Cook and Josh Hairston are younger players for Duke, but they’ve been productive in moments this season, too.
Williams wants to see more out of his bench, and he’d love for it to start to emerge tonight.