And so they meet again. North Carolina and Duke. Duke and North Carolina. They’ll play on Friday night, for the third time this season, at the Barclays Center in the ACC tournament semifinals.
The Tar Heels and Blue Devils, if you remember, did just play less than a week ago. The Tar Heels’ 90-83 victory gave us such memorable things as The Resurgence of Early-Season Joel Berry and, “The Ceiling is the Roof.”
UNC’s victory also gave the Tar Heels the ACC regular-season championship by a full two games. That’s all in the past now, though. The regular-season championship. Michael Jordan’s memorable words. All a memory.
The winner on Friday night will be one victory away from an ACC championship. For UNC-Duke games of yore – the two earlier this season, and others, in seasons past – we’ve done the whole evaluate-the-matchups thing. Here’s a little something different.
A quick look at how each of the expected starters has fared in this series this season:
UNC’S STARTERS VS. DUKE
G Joel Berry 21.5 ppg, 1.5 apg
What’s he done against Duke: Berry led the Tar Heels with 28 points in their senior night victory last weekend. He made all five of his 3-point attempts – all in the first half – and he was arguably the difference late, too, when UNC needed his production and play-making.
G Theo Pinson 3 ppg, 5.5 rpg
What’s he done against Duke: Pinson does a lot of things every game, but his two games against Duke weren’t among his best of the season. The lack of scoring isn’t concerning, but some of Pinson’s lowest-assist games of the season have come against the Blue Devils.
F Justin Jackson 18 ppg, 4.5 rpg
What’s he done against Duke: He made a big 3-pointer – his only 3 – in the second half against Duke last weekend. Jackson might have made his greatest contribution with his passing, coming through with assists on back-to-back possessions during a critical run in which UNC took control.
F Isaiah Hicks 21 ppg, 9 rpg (in one game)
What’s he done against Duke: Hicks missed UNC’s loss in Durham with a hamstring injury. He played one of his better games of the season in the rematch, and he outplayed Jayson Tatum, especially on offense. The Tar Heels need that version of Hicks on Friday.
F Kennedy Meeks 8.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg
What’s he done against Duke: Meeks hasn’t exceeded, or met, his season averages in points or rebounds in two games against the Blue Devils. Duke’s Amile Jefferson has done a good job of limiting Meeks’ effectiveness on offense and limiting his second-chance opportunities.
DUKE’S STARTERS VS. UNC
G Frank Jackson 13 ppg, 1.5 apg
What’s he done against UNC: He’s handled himself well, mostly, though Jackson hasn’t had the most success defensively. In two games against UNC, though, he’s scored well enough and has only committed two turnovers.
G Matt Jones 5 ppg, 1.5 rpg
What’s he done against UNC: You wouldn’t know it by the numbers but Jones has played an important role in Duke’s success against the Tar Heels this season. Last weekend, he successfully limited Justin Jackson, until Jackson began to emerge in the second half. Jones’ defense will be critical again on Friday.
F Luke Kennard 26.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg
What’s he done against UNC: Kennard has been really, really good against the Tar Heels, and was the best player on the court in each of the first two games. In both games, he had a lot of success attacking UNC’s defense and aggressively penetrating to create scoring opportunities.
F Jayson Tatum 16 ppg, 7 rpg
What’s he done against UNC: Tatum took over in the second half in Durham, scoring all 19 of his points that night in the final 20 minutes. UNC had no answer against him defensively. With Hicks back in UNC’s layup, Tatum had significantly more difficulty getting going last weekend.
F Amile Jefferson 7 ppg, 6 rpg
What’s he done against UNC: The best thing Jefferson has done against UNC, from the Duke perspective, is limit Kennedy Meeks on the interior. Jefferson’s defense has taken UNC out of its offense at times. He had 12 points and six rebounds last weekend in Chapel Hill.
Those are the starters. And now for the reserves. During the first two games, UNC’s reserves didn’t outscore Duke’s by as wide of a margin as you might have expected. The margin: 43-32. Here’s the big difference, though: Eight UNC players received at least 15 minutes of playing time last weekend against Duke. Only six Duke players spent as much time on the court. UNC is clearly the deeper team, and you have to wonder how that might affect the game on Friday given that Duke will be playing its third game in three days.
And now for some storylines and random thoughts:
1. This should be fun.
UNC and Duke play twice per season, every season, and sometimes it seems like it’s not enough. This is probably one of those seasons. Duke won the first game between these teams by eight points. UNC won the rematch by seven. Both games were close throughout, and not decided until the final minutes. Before the first game this season, UNC and Duke had won the exact same number of games and scored the exact same number of points in their previous 96 meetings. Now, two games later, they’ve still won the same number of games since 1979, and Duke has scored all of one more point in the series over the past 38 years.
2. This doesn’t happen too often.
As good as Duke and UNC have been over the years, they haven’t often met in the ACC tournament, especially in recent seasons. It’s somewhat surprising, perhaps. It seems like maybe there should have been more of these games, especially in the semifinals or in the ACC tournament championship game. But it hasn’t worked out that way.
This is the fourth time since 2000 that UNC and Duke will play in the ACC tournament. Duke won all of those games – in 2002, 2003 and 2011. Going beyond that, UNC and Duke played in the ACC tournament in 1999 (Duke win) and 1998 (UNC win), and in 1992 (Duke win) and 1991 (UNC win). Overall, this is the 19th time that UNC and Duke are meeting in the ACC tournament. The Tar Heels are 7-11 in those games.
3. UNC and Duke meeting out of state.
Another rarity: UNC and Duke playing outside the state of North Carolina. It has happened just four times before. Those times: Duke’s victory in the 2001 ACC tournament championship game in Atlanta; UNC’s victory in the ACC tournament championship game in Atlanta; UNC’s victory in the 1971 NIT in New York’s Madison Square Garden; and Duke’s victory in the 1929 Southern Conference tournament in Atlanta. And so this will be some history on Friday: the fifth time the Tar Heels and Blue Devils will playing each other outside of North Carolina.
Tip-off is now a little less than 24 hours away.
Duke vs. UNC
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn
TV: ESPN, WRAL