North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Duke Blue Devils Pick 2/20/19
North Carolina Tar Heels (20-5 SU, 15-8-2 ATS) vs. Duke Blue Devils (23-2 SU, 15-10 ATS)
When: Wednesday, February 21, 2019 – 9 p.m. ET
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
Point Spread: UNC +9.5/DUKE -9.5 (Wagerweb)
Total: O/U 165.5
Last Time Out: North Carolina hammered Wake Forest 95-57; Duke beat N.C. State 94-78.
Scouting the Tar Heels:
North Carolina has firmly established itself in the upper echelon of the ACC, but where precisely these Heels fit into that group is still a bit of a mystery. For the most part, Carolina has beaten the teams that it should beat, with the only real surprises coming in losses to Texas and Louisville (although, to be fair, Louisville also had Duke down 21 before the Blue Devils stormed back to win). Now they get their first shot at their greatest rival, and they do so coming off perhaps their best win of the season in a dissection of Wake Forest. While the Heels also have a freshman point guard, “experience” is the name of the game for Roy Williams’ squad, as Carolina starts three seniors.
Scouting the Blue Devils:
Duke’s passed almost every test the ACC has thrown at it this season, and now its freshmen get the chance to play in the biggest rivalry in college basketball. Since losing to Syracuse, Duke has won nine in a row and appears to be more focused than it’s been at any point this season. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the country, given that Duke’s average margin of victory in its past eight games is 16.6 points and Zion Williamson’s lowest scoring output in that stretch is 16 points.
Rebounding. Few teams rebound the basketball better than North Carolina, which ranks fourth in the nation in terms of rebounding margin. Duke isn’t one of the three teams that’s better on the glass than the Tar Heels, but the Blue Devils are pretty close to their rival’s level, ranking 11th in the country. In this game, that matters greatly because both of these teams like to push the tempo. Duke ranks 18th in the nation with 73.1 possessions per game, and Carolina plays even faster at 74.9.
How do you stop a team that likes to play fast? You rebound the basketball when it’s your possession and delay your opponent from getting out on the break. Both of these teams have the ability to do exactly that, and both of these teams have the ability to dominate a game on the glass. If one side can exert superiority in this department, that team will gain a considerable edge as far as getting the win.
North Carolina will Cover if:
The Tar Heels can find a way to limit Zion Williamson, most likely by getting him in foul trouble. As great as R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish are, Williamson is the player that Duke can least afford to lose right now. A great example of why came in the Blue Devils’ win over N.C. State: when Williamson wasn’t on the court, the Wolfpack outscored Duke by nine points. Duke won by 16 because Williamson was that dominant when he was on the floor. The Tar Heels aren’t going to stop Williamson entirely, but as long as they can keep him from taking over the game, they can make Duke uncomfortable.
Duke will Cover if:
The Blue Devils play the type of transition defense they’ve played all season long. Duke loves to play fast, but the Blue Devils do it well at both ends of the court. As great as Duke is at the fast break, it’s just as good at getting back and preventing the easy basket when a mistake does happen, ranking fifth in transition D. Conversely, North Carolina’s great transition game is one-way traffic: offense only. The Tar Heels simply can’t stop anyone in transition, ranking 332nd nationally in transition defense, which is why North Carolina plays a lot of high-scoring contests. If Duke can limit the Heels’ ability to score in transition, North Carolina simply won’t be able to keep up in this game.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
On one hand, this game should belong to Duke. The Tar Heels haven’t won two straight in the rivalry since 2009, and the Blue Devils seem to be playing their best basketball right now. On the other, North Carolina is coming off its best game of the year, and the Tar Heels are 6-0 in ACC road games this season, so not even playing in Cameron is going to intimidate them.
But there’s one thing that I can’t get out of my head for this game: Duke’s big edge in transition defense. North Carolina just doesn’t have the defense to slow the Blue Devils down, and the Tar Heels aren’t the kind of team that can slow the game down. That plays right into Duke’s hands, as shown by its past four games. When Duke was free to play at its pace against N.C. State and St. John’s, the Blue Devils could have named the final score. When Virginia and Louisville slowed Duke down, the Blue Devils had to work for the win.
I’m not suggesting that North Carolina will get run out of Cameron, but I just don’t know if the Tar Heels can hang with this Duke team based on their playing style. Honestly, the safest bet on the table is probably the over, as this game might be first to 90 wins. But as far as the teams go, I think Duke can play its game, limit Carolina possessions and gradually pull away. This spread is higher than I’d like, but I have to take the Blue Devils.