North Caronlina Tar Heels vs. Duke Blue Devils Preview and Pick

North Carolina Tar Heels (28-2), +1.5, o/u 169.5 @ Duke Blue Devils (26-3), -1.5, o/u 169.5, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC, 9 p.m. Eastern, Saturday
By Oracle at

It would be very uncharacteristic that nothing would be on the line when No. 1 North Carolina and No. 6 Duke take to the hardwood.

So why change now?

The showdown between the two biggest rivals in NCAA basketball hits the stage on Saturday when UNC seeks revenge, as they embark on an 8-mile adventure down Tobacco Road to face the hated Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium in a game airing on ESPN at 9 p.m. eastern.

For the fifth time in the history of the series there will be an ACC regular season championship on the line, and the winner will have the luxury of the No. 1 seed in the league tournament next week.

In the bigger picture, though, is the simple fact that the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament are still fuzzy as far as who is in the drivers seat to capture them. A win bolsters the chances of grabbing that one-seed, while a loss could ultimately be devastating.

The history of this rivalry is ongoing, so we won’t get into that. But for the second time this season, these two squads face off with each being ranked in the Top 10 in the country. The first showdown saw Duke go into Chapel Hill and shock the Tar Heels, 89-78.

Sportsbooks over the net have opened this game with Duke being the favorites -1.5. The over/under total is a big number at 169.5 as well.

However, as it has been pointed out vigorously as the days have been winding down to this game, UNC guard Ty Lawson sat the first of his six games in the loss to Duke with an ankle injury. Lawson’s replacement, Quentin Thomas, who got his first-ever start, struggled by committing six turnovers.

Head coach Roy Williams has said that Lawson still isn’t 100%. The Tar Heels have missed his game-breaking ability and his flair for making plays in transition. It looks like Lawson is slowly getting back into the groove, scoring 10 points and dishing out three assists in 20 minutes during UNC’s 90-77 win over Florida State on Tuesday in his second game back.

Both teams have made their living on the offensive side of the ball. North Carolina scores 90.1 points per game, which is second in the nation, while Duke is right behind them at 85.1 points a game 3rd best overall.

Both teams love shooting from beyond the arc, which was prevalent in the first match up. Duke shoots it at a 38.9% clip while the Tar Heels are at 37.3%.

In the Duke win just over a month ago, the Blue Devils hit 13 triples, including six by junior Greg Paulus. As a team, Duke was 13-of-29 (44.8%).

North Carolina had one of its worst three-point shooting days of the season, going 3-of-17.

Although Tyler Hansborough gets most of the headlines for UNC (23.3 points, 10.4 rebounds), its guys like Wayne Ellington and Danny Green who are key contributors in the grand scheme of things. Green is a spark off the bench, but he and Ellington combined to go an abysmal 4-of-24 for 11 points against Duke last month.

The Blue Devils exposed North Carolina in that game, too. Hansborough had to guard Kyle Singler, who is one of the best freshmen in the country. Singler can shoot it from anywhere on the court. Duke made Hansborough decide whether to sink in to help on the drive and leave Singler unguarded outside the arc (he hit three trifectas), or cover Singler on the perimeter, leaving the middle wide open. The Blue Devils are masters of creating mismatches, but it’ll be a bit different this time around with Lawson on the court.

The Tar Heels have an unblemished record on the road and are 7-4 ATS when traveling away from Chapel Hill. They have been great to bettors all year long with the second best record against the spread in the country at 19-8. The powerful UNC attack has also led to an 18-9 over/under mark.

Duke has faired well for bettors as well, going 15-11-2 on the season. They also love playing at Cameron Indoor, holding down a 9-3-2 mark ATS there. Before Duke covered the spread against UNC earlier in the year, the Tar Heels were 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings.

It’s true that Duke has the advantage of playing at home for tonight’s contest, but the Tar Heels don’t get as intimidated as other squads at Cameron Indoor Stadium. In fact, they’re 7-2 ATS when traveling to Durham in the last nine meetings.

The over/under total is bordering immense at 169.5 points, but with two of the best offenses in the country, it shouldn’t be a surprise to bettors. The over is 5-0 in the last five games between these two rivals and it’s also 8-2 on the road for UNC.

It’s hard to imagine the Tar Heels shooting as bad a they did the first go-round and Duke shooting as good as they did. Combined with the fact that Lawson will be in uniform, it poses for a great showdown tonight.

Oracle’s Pick: Take Duke at what is now a pickem!