Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC
DURHAM – (Wire Service Preview by The Sports Xchange) – 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 difficult road ahead – including two matchups with arch-rival Duke. The 19th-ranked Blue Devils hope to knock their rivals down a peg when they host the Tar Heels on Thursday.
Duke is trying to work its way back up the ACC standings and has won three straight leading into the first of two highly charged meetings with the Tar Heels over the next month. The lore of the Tobacco Road rivalry isn’t lost on the players who will get their first taste of it Thursday. “This is one of the reasons you come to Duke, to be a part of the Duke-UNC rivalry,” Blue Devils freshman forward Jayson Tatum told reporters. “It’s going to be a good game. They’re good, and it’s going to be a great day.” Duke has had the upper-hand in the rivalry of late, winning four of the last five meetings and three of the last four at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (21-4, 9-2 ACC): The Tar Heels have regressed a bit defensively of late, allowing four of their last seven opponents to shoot better than 45 percent – including two who topped 50 percent. North Carolina has survived the defensive lapses, though, because it is one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, with prolific 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).
ABOUT DUKE (18-5, 6-4): The Blue Devils have used nine different starting lineups this season as they’ve struggled to find continuity due to 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 stabilized the offense since taking over the primary point guard role, and Tatum (15.8 points, 6.9 rebounds) has emerged as a second post threat alongside Amile Jefferson (12, 9.2).
1. North Carolina has failed to reach 80 points only five times this season.
2. Kennard has made a 3-pointer in 26 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the ACC.
3. North Carolina likely will be without F/G Theo Pinson (6.2 points, 5.2 rebounds), who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury.