Final Four Preview: Duke vs. North Carolina

Final Four Preview: Duke vs. North Carolina

This article is part of our Final Four Preview series.

North Carolina Tar Heels, East Region No. 8 seed

Backcourt: Undersized but fearless, North Carolina has arguably three interchangeable parts in their backcourt. Caleb Love (15.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.7 apg), coming off of a 30-point effort against UCLA and a 14-4-4 line against St. Peter's is the likely headliner. He can be fearless and reckless on the same possession, but also has a very short-term memory. Love has moved off the ball of late, with R.J. Davis (13.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.4 apg)  assuming primary ball handling duties. Davis has averaged 6.0 assists during this tournament run, but that's been feast or famine, as 18 of the 24 dimes came in the first two rounds. His success at penetration and ball movement figures to be paramount for the Heels' success. G/F Leaky Black (5.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.5 apg) rounds out the Heels' wings. He's a 6-foot-8 point forward, which gives the Heels a third steady ball handler. He's defense first and second however. Black can convert free throws, but he's not someone the team wants to rely on for 5+ shot attempts. A true glue player who forced Duke's Paolo Banchero into a 4-of-17 shooting effort last time out.

Frontcourt: The Heels bring a dynamic inside-outside punch to the table, with both options going 6-foot-10 plus. This team is anchored by junior Armando Bacot (16.6 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg), who recorded his 29th-double-double in their win over St. Peter's in the Elite Eight, setting the ACC record

North Carolina Tar Heels, East Region No. 8 seed

Backcourt: Undersized but fearless, North Carolina has arguably three interchangeable parts in their backcourt. Caleb Love (15.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.7 apg), coming off of a 30-point effort against UCLA and a 14-4-4 line against St. Peter's is the likely headliner. He can be fearless and reckless on the same possession, but also has a very short-term memory. Love has moved off the ball of late, with R.J. Davis (13.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.4 apg)  assuming primary ball handling duties. Davis has averaged 6.0 assists during this tournament run, but that's been feast or famine, as 18 of the 24 dimes came in the first two rounds. His success at penetration and ball movement figures to be paramount for the Heels' success. G/F Leaky Black (5.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.5 apg) rounds out the Heels' wings. He's a 6-foot-8 point forward, which gives the Heels a third steady ball handler. He's defense first and second however. Black can convert free throws, but he's not someone the team wants to rely on for 5+ shot attempts. A true glue player who forced Duke's Paolo Banchero into a 4-of-17 shooting effort last time out.

Frontcourt: The Heels bring a dynamic inside-outside punch to the table, with both options going 6-foot-10 plus. This team is anchored by junior Armando Bacot (16.6 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg), who recorded his 29th-double-double in their win over St. Peter's in the Elite Eight, setting the ACC record previously held by Tim Duncan. He's hauled in an obscene 63 boards in the four games to reach New Orleans, but his free-throw shooting has been under regular season norms. Duke also limited him to 12 boards during the regular season. But the spark that seems to have taken the Heels to new heights is stretch forward Brady Manek (14.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 39.5 percent 3-point). He's scored 19+ points in seven of the team's last nine games, drilling 4+ 3-pointers in five of those. With Bacot manning the paint and guards capable of getting penetration, Manek's ability to provide spacing makes double-teaming nearly impossible. Foul trouble for either is a concern, as North Carolina has no other options. They could look to steal minutes from Puff Johnson, Dontrez Styles and/or Justin McKoy, but if any of those three play 5+ minutes, UNC is in trouble.

X-Factor: Davis. You could pick any of UNC's core four in this spot. Manek has dominated Duke (20.5 ppg, 11-20 3-PT), is on a torrid tear in the Tournament but could shoot poorly in the larger arena. Bacot is a double-double lock unless fouls limit him as they did in these two's first meeting, and Love has produced simply on volume against Duke this season after shredding them in two matchups as a freshman. UNC should feel good about production from these three, but it's Davis that figures to swing this contest. He carried the Heels against Baylor, scoring 30 points, but in five other games during the postseason (ACC tournament play included), Davis has shot a combined 12-of-55 (21.8 percent). He was 4-of-11 in Duke's regular season win, and 9-of-16 in UNC's victory. He needs to find his stroke for Carolina to advance.

Who they beat to get here

Marquette, 95-63

Baylor, 93-86

UCLA, 73-66

St. Peter's, 69-49

They'll win if: Defensive efficiency continues. Neither regular season contest was particularly close, but North Carolina may have been more lucky than good in their win. Duke shot 49.3 percent in defeat, and an obscene 57.6 percent in victory. UNC just doesn't match up well defensively. Mark Williams/Armando Bacot is a push. Leaky Black is needed as a stopper against Paolo Banchero, but that leaves three mismatches. Manek can't handle A.J. Griffin on the permitter, and UNC's guards are undersized against Jeremy Roach and Wendell Moore. But only UCLA (45.2 percent) has shot better than 35.6 percent against the Heels during this run. They will find success on the glass, limiting Duke to one opportunity. If the Blue Devils don't find initial success, they'll come up short.

Prediction: Loyal readers know I'm an open UNC homer, and they've been my team since I attended basketball camp in Chapel Hill in 1993. As such, I have a tremendous distaste for that team in Durham, and their outgoing coach. I thought ruining his last home game couldn't have been a sweeter feeling, but here we are with an elevated opportunity. I also have gone head over heart and routinely picked against the Tar Heels, as I'd rather be wrong here, and enjoy a surprise come Saturday night. So I'll stay the course. All the pressure seems to be on Duke, and UNC is peaking. But I am worried they're too reliant on outside shooting, something that doesn't always play well in these cavernous NFL stadiums. The game lives up to its billing, but Duke outscores and outlasts North Carolina.

-Written by Chris Bennett

Duke Blue Devils, West Region No. 1 seed 

Backcourt: Duke's backcourt features junior point guard Wendell Moore, the team's most experienced starter. Moore has stepped up during his first year playing exclusively as a starter, as he leads the team with 4.4 assists per game while also averaging a career-high 13.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 33.8 minutes. The junior has seen a slight decrease in rebounds and assists since the start of the NCAA Tournament but has remained consistent on the scoreboard while shooting 54.8 percent from the floor. Freshman Trevor Keels started in most of Duke's regular-season games this year, but he's been introduced off the bench in each of the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament and has had inconsistent production as a result. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has elected to go with slightly more experience at shooting guard during the tournament, as sophomore Jeremy Roach has drawn the start in each of the last four games. Roach scored in double figures in each of the first three games of the NCAA Tournament before being held to nine points in Saturday's win over Texas Tech, and he's averaged 3.8 assists per game during that time. After fairly inconsistent results throughout the season, Roach has had some strong performances in March, and there's no reason to think that his role will change during the Final Four. Freshman A.J. Griffin had an injury scare early in the NCAA Tournament when he was helped off the court after hurting his ankle in the second-round win over Michigan State. However, the issue didn't appear to bother him during the second weekend of the tournament, as he's been one of the team's top contributors, averaging 14.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in 31.5 minutes per game across his last two appearances.

Frontcourt: One of Duke's most well-rounded players resides in the frontcourt, as freshman Paolo Banchero has started every game for the Blue Devils this year and is averaging a team-high 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds. He remained consistent throughout Duke's late-season struggles, as he's scored in double figures in each of his last 10 appearances while averaging 6.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists during that time. Duke will need Banchero to step up once again if it hopes to advance to the national title game, but the freshman has responded well to the increased spotlight and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the West Region across the first four rounds of the tournament. The Blue Devils' second-leading contributor on the boards unsurprisingly plays under the basket, as sophomore Mark Williams is a consistent threat for a double-double at center. He's scored in double figures in each of the first four NCAA Tournament matchups, and he logged a double-double in Saturday's Elite Eight win over Arkansas.

X-Factor: Williams. The Blue Devils will be relying on Williams' offensive production once again, but the ACC Defensive Player of the Year also faces a tough test in guarding Armando Bacot and Brady Manek, who have been some of the strongest players in the NCAA Tournament this year. North Carolina's frontcourt duo has been nothing short of dominant across the first four rounds, as Bacot has recorded double-doubles in each of his last four appearances, while Manek has shot 47.1 percent from beyond the arc and has averaged 21.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game despite being ejected midway through the second half of the team's upset win over Baylor. Paolo Banchero will certainly share some of the defensive responsibility in Saturday's tilt, but Williams' abilities on the defensive side of the ball will be pivotal if the Blue Devils hope to advance past their in-state rivals.

Who They Beat to Get Here: 

Cal State-Fullerton, 78-61
Michigan State, 85-76 
Texas Tech, 78-73
Arkansas, 78-68

They'll Win If: They control the boards. Duke and North Carolina faced each other twice during the regular season, with the Blue Devils securing a 20-point win in the first meeting before North Carolina won by 13 points a month later during Coach K's final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. What changed? Duke was slightly more efficient from the perimeter in the first matchup, but the most glaring difference was the rebounding numbers for each team. During the February meeting on the Tar Heels' home court, Duke hauled in 40 rebounds compared to 24 for North Carolina. In the Tar Heels' win, they secured 38 rebounds while Duke brought in 34. Per KenPom, North Carolina is the second-best team in the nation at preventing offensive rebounds, so Duke is unlikely to get many second chances during Saturday's Final Four matchup. The Blue Devils' efficiency wasn't a major concern during their stunning loss in the regular-season finale, but they'll need to improve on the boards when the teams meet in the national semifinal, especially since Armando Bacot and Brady Manek have been so hot during the NCAA Tournament.

PREDICTION 

I've picked against Duke nearly every step of the way since the NCAA Tournament began. However, the Blue Devils have proven that they're able to step up under the bright spotlight in March. Armando Bacot and Brady Manek have also risen to the occasion across the first four rounds of the tournament, but I think the Blue Devils will be able to limit their impact now that they're communicating more on the defensive side of the floor. The fierce rivals have never met in the NCAA Tournament, and I predict that Duke will emerge victorious Saturday to give Coach K one last run at a national title.

-Written by Jason Shebilske

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Chris Bennett
Bennett covers baseball, college football and college basketball for RotoWire. Before turning to fantasy writing, he worked in scouting/player development for the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos. He's also a fan of the ACC.
Jason Shebilske
Jason joined RotoWire in 2019 as his first position covering fantasy sports. In addition to RotoWire, he writes for Sports Broadcast Journal.
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