North Carolina (21-4, 9-2) at Duke (18-5, 6-4)
When: Thursday, February 9th 2017
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC
Time: 8:00 ET | TV: ESPN
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The Tobacco Road rivalry heats back up on Thursday night as the Duke Blue Devils host the North Carolina Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Seventh-ranked North Carolina has won nine of its last 10 games to surge to the top of the ACC standings, but it has a tough road ahead including two games with Duke. North Carolina leads the ACC by just a half-game over Florida State after single-digit wins over Pittsburgh and Notre Dame last week. The Tar Heels defense has not been as strong in conference play, allowing four of their last seven opponents to shoot better than 45% including two who topped 50%. North Carolina has survived the defensive lapses, though, because it is one of the highest-scoring teams in the country (87.8, 5th in nation), with forward Justin Jackson (18.6 points) and Joel Berry II (14.9, four assists) leading the way. The Tar Heels also have a strong post duo in Isaiah Hicks (12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds) and Kennedy Meeks (12.6, 9.4). North Carolina likely will be without one of their better reserves in Theo Pinson (6.2 points, 5.2 rebounds), who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury.
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Duke is slowly climbing back up the ACC standings and a win against the first-place Tar Heels will make this an interesting last month of the regular season. Duke has had the advantage in the rivalry of late, winning four of the last five meetings and three of the last four at Cameron Indoor. The Blue Devils have used nine different starting lineups this season as they’ve dealt with numerous key injuries. They’re as healthy as they’ve been all season now and have five players averaging double digits in points, with Luke Kennard (19.8 points, 5.2 rebounds) leading the way. Grayson Allen (15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, four assists) has moved over to the primary point guard role, and freshman Jayson Tatum (15.8 points, 6.9 rebounds) has emerged as a second post threat alongside Amile Jefferson (12, 9.2). Kennard has made a 3-pointer in 26 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the ACC. Duke is 10th in the country at defending the 3-pointer, and they’ll need to be at their best defensively as North Carolina has failed to reach 80 points only five times this season.
Duke is finally healthy and playing well right now. North Carolina is giving up a lot of points lately and the Blue Devils definitely have the advantage at home. I’ll take the Dukies.
Pick: Duke -2.5