Marcus Paige vs. Quinn Cook
Paige has grown tremendously since the last time the Blue Devils saw him. He atoned for a disastrous performance in Raleigh with one of his better games of the year against the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill, posting 14 points, eight assists and no turnovers. He has excelled in the Tar Heels motion offense and often beats teams when he drives off of screens.
Paige is still a freshman, though, and first-year growing pains are inevitable just ask Quinn Cook. The Blue Devils sophomore guard is one of the most improved players in the ACC and has plenty of experience guarding ball screens after playing Miami and Virginia. Cook posted a season-high five turnovers last time against the Tar Heels. Dont expect a repeat performance.
Dexter Strickland vs. Seth Curry
Curry continues to defy medical logic, scoring at will despite rarely practicing with a nagging right shin injury. He is averaging 17.6 points per game in ACC play and is 10 of 22 (45.4 percent) from 3-point range in his last three games. Curry has more 20-point games (10) than single-digit games (three) in ACC play. He does struggle at times with longer defenders, something that could be problematic if 6-foot-7 Reggie Bullock switches on him often.
Strickland is one of the main beneficiaries of North Carolinas small lineup, as he has more space to operate on offense. But few defenders have been able to stop Curry, arguably Dukes main scorer, on offense.
Reggie Bullock vs. Rasheed Sulaimon
Mike Krzyzewski was as critical as he has been all year when describing Rasheed Sulaimon Friday, saying the freshmen needs to take advantage of being an opponents third priority as far as perimeter defense goes. Sulaimon sat for all but two minutes of the second half against Virginia Tech because Krzyzewski didnt think he had any spark.
If Bullock spends most of his time on Sulaimon, he likely wont have many issues with the slumping freshman, who has failed to post double figures in the past three games. Sulaimons slump has extended to his defensive play, so expect Bullock, the Tar Heels second-leading scorer, to be aggressive. He was 4 for 7 from 3-point range in the first matchup.
P.J. Hairston vs. Ryan Kelly
Hairston has been playing as well as anybody in conference recently, but so has Ryan Kelly since returning March 2 from his right foot injury. Kelly had a career day against Miami, scoring 36 points on 14 shots, and he came back with 18 points against Virginia Tech. Kelly has experience guarding scoring power forwards, like Kentuckys Kyle Wiltjer and Ohio States DeSean Thomas. Hairstons best option is probably to try to tire Kelly out, as his conditioning still needs work.
James Michael McAdoo, Mason Plumlee
McAdoo has been dealing with a bulging disk in his back for more than a month, and his injury kept him out of Thursdays practice. While his offensive numbers didnt pop off the chart last time in Durham nine points and eight rebounds he did draw Plumlee into foul trouble with aggressive drives to the basket and forced Krzyzewski to pull him in the second half.
At less than full strength, though, McAdoo may struggle with Plumlee, who still averages 15.6 points and 9.5 rebounds in ACC play. With Kelly back, Plumlee has more space to operate, too.
Dukes rotation has tightened up since Kellys return, with just Josh Hairston and Tyler Thronton spending at least 10 minutes on the floor in the past two games. In a pinch, Amile Jefferson, who started seven games while Kelly was out, could fill in.
The Tar Heels have more depth. Leslie McDonald is another long guard who can give them meaningful minutes on the perimeter, and Brice Johnson, Desmond Hubert, and Joel James can contribute in the frontcourt.
UNC is, unquestionably, playing its best basketball of the season and riding a six-game winning streak. The Tar Heels havent gotten a lot of national recognition for their improvement, though, as they are still unranked in the polls. A win against Duke in primetime would change that.
The Blue Devils could use a signature road win, but the priority for Krzyzewski is getting Kelly fully integrated before the NCAA tournament.