Who has the edge in UNC-Duke?

February 8, 2012 

STARTERS

Point guard: Kendall Marshall, 6-4, Soph. vs. Tyler Thornton, 6-1, Soph.

It's an open question who will get the most minutes at point guard for Duke against Marshall - Thornton, Quinn Cook and Seth Curry all likely will try their hand - but Thornton probably is the safest best since he's the Blue Devils' strongest defender. Marshall leads the ACC in assists, with 9.8 per game, so whomever it is will have their hands full. With Marshall likely to play more than 35 minutes tonight, Duke will want to make sure it does what it can to wear him down.

EDGE: North Carolina

Shooting guard: Reggie Bullock, 6-7, Soph. vs. Andre Dawkins, 6-4, Jr.

Bullock has been a model of consistency since replacing Dexter Strickland in North Carolina's starting lineup, scoring 11 points in three of his four starts. Dawkins averages close to that (9.7 points per game), but he isn't known for his consistency - Dawkins seems as likely to score 20 points as he is to finish with two. With Dawkins' uneven defense, there's also the chance the person he's guarding will have a big game. This matchup could go either way.

EDGE: Even

Forward: Harrison Barnes, 6-8, Soph. vs. Austin Rivers, 6-5, Fr.

The marquee matchup, assuming it comes to pass. Barnes' ankle is bothering him, but he said Monday and Tuesday that he expects to play. Barnes' height advantage over Rivers will pose problems, but Rivers is Duke's most gifted offensive player, having won the ACC Freshman of the Week award six times. If Barnes isn't 100 percent, he could have a hard time keeping Rivers in front of him.

EDGE: Even

Forward: John Henson, 6-11, Jr. vs. Ryan Kelly, 6-11, Jr.

Josh Hairston might start for the Blue Devils, but Kelly almost assuredly will see the majority of the action. Either way, Henson is a tough matchup, averaging a double-double this season (14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds) while being perhaps the Tar Heels' most consistent player. Like a number of his teammates, Kelly has been inconsistent, although he usually provides strong efforts when he comes off the bench.

EDGE: North Carolina

Forward: Tyler Zeller, 7-0, Sr. vs. Mason Plumlee, 6-10, Jr.

They are two of the most reliable players on the court. Plumlee is the only player to start every game for Duke and Zeller hasn't scored less than 14 points in any ACC game. Zeller has been on a tear lately, scoring 22 points against Maryland and grabbing a career-high 18 rebounds in the game before that.

EDGE: North Carolina

BENCH

P.J. Hairston, 6-5, Fr., James Michael McAdoo, 6-9, Fr.; Stilman White, 6-0, Fr.; and Justin Watts, 6-5, Sr. (North Carolina) vs. Miles Plumlee, 6-10, Sr.; Seth Curry, 6-2, Jr., Quinn Cook, 6-0, Fr. and Josh Hairston, 6-7, 235, Soph. (Duke)

North Carolina's depth obviously has taken a hit since Strickland's injury. Hairston's 3-point shooting in ACC games is below 20 percent, and McAdoo has yet to produce consistently. Duke, on the other hand, usually has four players score 15 points or so. It rarely knows who they will be, but it seems more likely its group of reserves will influence the game more than North Carolina's. Cook had a strong second half in Duke's loss to Miami, although he did force up an ill-advised shot in its second-to-last possession in overtime.

EDGE: Duke

INTANGIBLES

North Carolina has a chance to deal Duke's ACC regular-season title aspirations a serious blow. With the Blue Devils' loss to Miami on Sunday, Duke probably can't afford more than one more conference loss if it wants to be the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament. The Blue Devils might not care too much about that right now, preferring to find some confidence after poor efforts in recent games against the Hurricanes and St. John's. North Carolina, meanwhile, has been on a roll since its lemon of an effort at Florida State, winning all of its games by at least nine points since that Jan. 14 blowout loss.

EDGE: North Carolina

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