Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski went out of his way on Wednesday to say the recent results between Duke and North Carolina do not matter.
Still, UNC has lost 13 of the past 20 games to Duke and 18 of the 30 matchups under coach Roy Williams.
Three ways for the No. 21 Tar Heels (17-7, 6-5 ACC) to beat the ninth-ranked Blue Devils (19-4, 7-3 ACC) on Thursday night at the Smith Center:
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1) Slow down the 3-point parade
Let’s be honest, UNC’s 3-point defense is not very good. Opponents have made 38.2 percent of their 3s against the Heels, which ranks No. 324 out of 351 Division I teams.
Duke, which makes 38.9 percent of its 3s, enters the game as one of the best shooting teams in the country.
But a big part of UNC’s problem is helping and leaving shooters open at the 3-point line. If UNC can cut down on the open looks, it would help their cause.
It would also help the Heels if they were able to get some stops early. Opponents start hot and stay hot against them.
Duke, by the way, has outscored UNC from the 3-point line in 29 of the 30 games under Williams.
UNC has made at least four 3-pointers in six of its past seven wins over Duke.
2) Pour it out
Everybody plays a Super Bowl. For UNC, that has (obviously) been in the Final Four the past two years. Given the path of this team, it might have be earlier in the season.
Why not Thursday?
The Tar Heels showed what they are capable of in a 96-66 home win over Boston College on Jan. 9 (the same BC team that beat Duke in December). When everyone is clicking, the Heels can be one of the best teams in the country.
When it’s just Joel Berry and/or Luke Maye doing all the heavy lifting, UNC’s an ordinary team.
Kenny Williams’ shooting performance in last Saturday’s 96-65 win over Pitt was a good sign for the Heels.
Williams made 6 of 9 shots and three 3-pointers (after going 5 of 21 from 3 in the previous seven games).
UNC is a different, dangerous team when Williams is making his shots and both Theo Pinson and Cam Johnson are being aggressive.
3) Bother Duke’s bigs
Pinson’s likely going to start out defending Duke star Marvin Bagley. Pinson, who’s six inches shorter than Bagley, is long enough and athletic enough to at least slow Bagley, who leads the ACC in scoring and rebounding.
That means Maye will have to body up on freshman big man Wendell Carter, who Roy Williams called “as good as anybody in the country” on Tuesday.
Duke will target Maye in pick-and-roll sets and try to get Maye matched up on a guard or let Bagley drive to the basket.
The Devils would also like to get Carter alone on the block with Maye. Maye is strong enough to bother Carter on the defensive end. His best move might be to get Carter in foul trouble on the other end.
Freshman forward Sterling Manley might be UNC’s best option on Carter. Manley hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in a game this season. That will likely have to change on Thursday if UNC is going to win.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
No. 9 Duke at No. 21 UNC
Records: Duke (19-4, 7-3 ACC), UNC (17-7, 6-5 ACC)
When: 8 p.m., Thursday
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill
TV/radio: ESPN, WRAZ, 106.1-WTKK, 99.3-WDNC