North Carolina worried about more than Duke’s usual 5-star and 4-star guards

PHOTO (UNC Athletics): Armando Bacot averages 11.9 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.


North Carolina is big, strong and dominant on the boards. The Tar Heels rotate three big men, 6-foot-10, 240-pound sophomore Armando Bacot, 6-10, 240 senior Garrison Brooks and 6-11, 265 freshman Day’Ron Sharpe.

UNC ranks second in the nation in rebounds per game (42.8), offensive rebounds (15.2) and rebound margin (plus-11.2). Bacot averages 11.9 points, 7.5 boards, Brooks 10.5 and 7.2 and Sharpe comes off the bench with 9.6 and 7.8.

Duke starts three guards and two slender forwards, sophomore Matthew Hurt (6-9, 235) and freshman Jalen Johnson (6-9, 220). They both look thinner than their weight listing, alhougth Hurt averages 7.5 boards Johnson 7.4.

The inside matchups point to North Carolina (11-6, 6-4 ACC) pounding the ball inside against Duke (7-6, 5-4 ACC) in the first-round Battle of the Blues at 6 p.m. Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

If the young North Carolina guards can get the ball inside, that is.

Tar Heels coach Roy Williams is accustomed to game-planning against young Duke guards — some great, some good, some disappointing – but all of them in the one-and-done era young. This year is different.

That was evident when the first question Ol’ Roy fielded in virtual call was about both teams’ freshmen backcourts. North Carolina’s are Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton and R.J. Davis, Duke’s are D.J. Steward and Jeremy Roach. All five have had their moments but overall have been inconsistent.

“I think we both have some ideas about, ‘Boy, wish those freshmen would grow up a lot faster,’” said Williams, speaking for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “But they have the security blanket of Jordan Goldwire. Just looking at the stats, 48 assists and 18 turnovers — that’s a pretty good security blanket. Jordan is probably doing a lot of things off-to-the side the court with their young guys.

“We don’t really have anybody in the point guard positions or with guard experience to help them out. There are some similarities. We’re frustrated at times but have to be understanding because what kids are doing now is much different than what they were doing last year.”

Duke does have size on the bench it can bring in with 7-0, 243-pound freshman Mark Williams. He has seen limited playing time, 7.9 minutes per game, but he has shown improvement from concentrated workouts with assistant coach Nolan Smith. Williams had 11 points and five rebounds in the 79-53 win over Clemson last Saturday.

North Carolina can also bring in a promising freshman big man off the bench, Walker Kessler (7-0, 245). North Carolina’s size advantage has been a focus of Duke’s preparations since Monday’s loss at Miami.

“You have to figure out how to counter it with this team and that’s an advantage that they have over us,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re bigger and more experienced there. You’ve just got to work at it. Hopefully, you can hold your own against them.

“That and how fast they get the ball down the court are two staples of their program. They were with Dean (Smith) and they have been with Roy. When you think of Carolina basketball, you think of the fast break and you also think of the offensive rebound.”

Carolina and Duke are meeting for the 254th time, with Carolina leading the series, 139-114. The game ends a streak of 153 with at least one of the two teams ranked, dating to Feb. 27, 1960. In 79 of the past 153 both teams have been ranked (51.6 percent).


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