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    Duke-UNC Will Be A Battle Of Strengths

    Duke vs. UNC is set to go another round on Wednesday night. We predict who wins this battle of strengths.

    February 17, 2016

    Duke vs. UNC is set to go another round on Wednesday night. We predict who wins this battle of strengths between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels.


    It’s a pair of games that are circled on every college basketball fan’s calendar, something like having a pair of Christmases in February.

    It’s a rivalry so big even people who aren’t sports fans usually know about it. And this year, it would be difficult for more to be on the line.

    North Carolina is the No. 5 team in the country, one that is flirting with picking up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels sit confidently on top of the ACC, a full game ahead of Miami (Fla.) and two games on top of Duke.

    The Blue Devils are the underdogs this time around, a team that has shown inconsistency and has suffered through a (gasp!) three-game losing streak this year. They’ve put that behind them and have once again returned to the top 25, but they would love to have a marquee road win.

    This one is going to be a battle of strengths—UNC’s defense vs. Duke’s electric offense.

    Talent isn’t an issue for either team. Neither is size.

    So who wins?

    The answer is the team that makes the fewest mistakes. That’s not a cop-out. It’s the truth.

    If UNC can take care of the ball, be patient on offense and not try to play too fast, the Tar Heels will be in good shape. Guards Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II have been through it before. Paige, in particular, was born for the spotlight, and he has been smart enough to defer to his teammates more this season. In the past, Paige has tried to do too much, pushed too hard to take over games when he really needed to make an extra pass. As a senior, Paige has become a different player, and UNC is better because of it.

    It’s not about deferring to teammates. It’s about taking what is given to you. Paige has learned that he doesn’t have to take every shot to give the Tar Heels a chance to win. Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson are there to help. So is Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. Everything doesn’t have to come from Paige or the guards.

    Avoid mistakes on offense, continue to play tough defense, and UNC will be in good shape.

    On the flipside, Duke can score with the best of them. Grayson Allen gets all the attention as a 20-point scorer, but Brandon Ingram is a man among boys, and Luke Kennard and Matt Jones would be stars in any other program in the country. Oh, and Marshall Plumlee is very comfortable in his role as a defense and rebounding guy who also helps clear space for his teammates on drives to the bucket by sealing the baseline well.

    Mike Krzyzewski’s team scores 83 a game and knocks down better than 47 percent of their shots. Putting points on the board has rarely been a problem.

    No, the offense isn’t an issue. Defense, well…

    Duke hasn’t been awful defensively. It just isn’t a strong suit. Giving up 95 points in a loss to Notre Dame in mid-January is the most obvious example, but giving up 78 and 80 in two wins over North Carolina State earlier this year showed that consistency is an issue. It’s as much about keeping guys out of the lane as anything, and that could be a problem vs. Paige and UNC’s quick guards.

    Still, forcing Carolina to commit live-ball turnovers that lead to easy baskets will make life a lot easier for Duke, and that’s why it’s the Blue Devils’ defense that will be the key for Duke. Look, the Blue Devils would be perfectly happy to let this thing turn into a shootout because that’s pure advantage Duke.

    But UNC isn’t going to let that happen.

    Carolina lost its focus earlier this month on the road, but Roy Williams has his players back in the right frame of mind, and guys like Paige and Meeks would love nothing more than to send Duke packing with its collective head hanging.

    It’s Duke’s offense vs. UNC’s defense, and we all know defense wins championships.

    It also wins this game.

    Our pick: North Carolina.

    MORE: AP Top 25 Takeaways, Week 15


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