#3 Duke vs. #6 North Carolina: Saturday's Preview

March 3rd, 2012

Saturday's Conference Tournament Primer

For 37 minutes #6 North Carolina (26-4, 13-2) had the look of a team poised to beat their bitter rival and take control (at the time) of the ACC race. But the Tar Heels made mistakes that #3 Duke (26-4, 13-2) was ready to take advantage of, culminating with a Austin Rivers three as time expired to give the Blue Devils the 85-84 win. Saturday's winner will be the outright ACC regular season champion, and it's also important when considering the race for the two one-seeds that Kentucky and Syracuse haven't "spoken for" in regards to the NCAA tournament.

The area that North Carolina will have to defend on Saturday night is easy to figure out: the three-point line. Duke attempted 36 three-pointers in the first meeting, making 14 which was good for a percentage of 38.9%. Duke scored 49.4% of their points from three, and on the season they score 31.9% of their points via that shot. Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and Austin Rivers can all knock down the shot and the same goes for forward Ryan Kelly. North Carolina has to turn Duke players into dribblers as opposed to shooters, but that's easier said than done.

Those three-pointers were an issue for North Carolina not only because of the number made but also because of the Tar Heels' struggles with the shot. UNC made just one of six, and perimeter shooting has been more of an issue than many expected in the preseason. Harrison Barnes has made just eight of twenty-seven shots from beyond the arc since the Duke game, and the Heels need both he and Reggie Bullock to shoot well in order to open things up even more for John Henson and Tyler Zeller inside.

Henson and Zeller combined to grab 28 of North Carolina's 42 rebounds in the early February meeting, and they could enjoy a similar advantage inside in the rematch. But the Plumlee brothers, Miles and Mason, have been playing solid basketball of late and Mason grabbed 14 boards in Chapel Hill. If they can stay out of foul trouble and make things difficult for Henson and Zeller inside the Blue Devils will have a good chance of winning. While defending the three will be key for North Carolina rebounding will be important for the Blue Devils, and whichever team gets the job done will ultimately win the ACC title.

Two other games match ranked teams, with both being Big East contests. While #2 Syracuse and #18 Louisville are locked into their respective seeds (SU - 1, U of L - 7) this is a big contest for the Cardinals when it comes to their NCAA tournament seeding. A win over the Orange would be a nice line to add to their resume, and the hope is that more minutes for Wayne Blackshear will get them over the hump. The winner of #12 Georgetown and #7 Marquette will wrap up the final double-bye, and despite teams lack of success with the perk that would be a valuable day of rest for two teams (especially Marquette) than don't have a great amount of depth. 

Memphis, who has played very well of late, can wrap up the Conference USA regular season title with a win at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane have surprised some by hanging in the C-USA race but Doug Wojcik's team has taken advantage of a schedule that brought other title contenders to Tulsa without a return trip. Can they do the same against the Tigers and lock up the three-seed in next week's conference tournament? They'll need to slow down Will Barton if they're to do so. In the Mountain West both #23 San Diego State and Colorado State had better be careful on the road, especially the Aztecs who visit a TCU team that's undefeated in conference home games. The Rams, who beat UNLV on Wednesday night, visit an Air Force teams that's played better since the firing of Jeff Reynolds.  

Washington and Northwestern both have road games they can't afford to lose at this point in the season, with the Huskies looking to win the Pac-12 title outright with a victory over UCLA. The Bruins played their best game of the season on Thursday night as they blew out Washington State, and if they can force Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross to play a half-court game UCLA's got a shot. As for Northwestern, they need to win at Iowa to keep their Big Ten tournament trip "manageable" in regards to how much work they may need to do in order to lock up an at-large bid. John Shurna and Drew Crawford can both score but they're going to need help against the Hawkeyes, who are led offensively by the talented Matt Gatens. 

Temple can win the Atlantic 10 outright with a win at Fordham and Long Beach State can cap an undefeated run through the Big West win a win at Cal State Fullerton, while Texas has a golden opportunity at their fingertips as they visit #4 Kansas. The Longhorns could use a signature victory for their resume and to do so at Allen Fieldhouse would make quite the impression. But that's far easier said than done, especially on Senior Day in Lawrence. The same goes for hard-charging Tennessee, who hosts Vanderbilt and would make for an interesting case in the selection room given their play since the addition of Jarnell Stokes. Lastly both West Virginia and USF need a win to solidify their tournament hopes, but the truth is that both will need to do work in New York next week as well.   

Top 25 Games
4:00 PM (18) Louisville at (2) Syracuse (CBS)
7:00 PM (6) North Carolina at (3) Duke (ESPN)
9:00 PM Texas at (4) Kansas (ESPN3)
2:00 PM (12) Georgetown at (7) Marquette (ESPN3)
4:00 PM (8) Missouri at Texas Tech (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Tennessee State vs (9) Murray State* (ESPN)
7:00 PM (10) Baylor at Iowa State (ESPN3)
2:35 PM Illinois State vs (14) Wichita State* (ESPN3)
10:00 PM Wyoming at (17) UNLV (The Mtn.)
9:00 PM San Francisco vs (21) Saint Mary's* (ESPNU)
7:00 PM (23) San Diego State at TCU (The Mtn.)
5:05 PM Evansville vs (24) Creighton* (ESPN3)
4:00 PM (25) Temple at Fordham

NCAA Division I Games
12:00 PM Pittsburgh at Connecticut (ESPN)
12:00 PM West Virginia at South Florida (ESPN3)
12:00 PM Wake Forest at Georgia Tech (ESPN3)
12:00 PM Ohio at Miami (OH)
12:00 PM Memphis at Tulsa (CBS)
12:00 PM George Washington at Dayton
12:00 PM UNC Wilmington vs Drexel* (ESPN3)
12:00 PM Saint Louis at Duquesne
12:00 PM VMI at UNC-Asheville (ESPN3)
12:00 PM Appalachian State vs UNC Greensboro* (ESPN3)
12:05 PM Binghamton vs Stony Brook*
12:30 PM Nebraska at Minnesota (BTN)
1:30 PM Oklahoma State at Kansas State (ESPN3)
1:45 PM South Carolina at Georgia (ESPN3)
2:00 PM LSU at Auburn (CBS)
2:00 PM Washington at UCLA (CBS)
2:00 PM Cincinnati at Villanova (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Southern Miss at Marshall
2:00 PM Northern Illinois at Ball State
2:00 PM St. Bonaventure at La Salle
2:00 PM American University at Lehigh
2:00 PM Eastern Michigan at Toledo
2:00 PM Western Carolina vs Wofford* (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Charlotte at Xavier
2:15 PM New Hampshire vs Albany*
2:30 PM Delaware vs Old Dominion* (ESPN3)
2:30 PM Rider vs Fairfield* (ESPN3)
2:30 PM Northwestern at Iowa (BTN)
2:30 PM Boston College at Miami (FL) (ESPN3)
3:00 PM Utah Valley at North Dakota
3:00 PM UTEP at SMU
4:00 PM Rhode Island at Massachusetts
4:00 PM Alabama at Ole Miss (ESPN3)
4:00 PM Boise State at New Mexico (NBC SN)
4:00 PM Texas A&M at Oklahoma (ESPN3)
4:00 PM Colorado at Oregon State
4:00 PM Colorado State at Air Force (The Mtn.)
4:00 PM Vanderbilt at Tennessee (ESPN3)
4:00 PM Chicago State at NJIT
4:30 PM Marist vs Iona* (ESPN3)
4:30 PM Lafayette at Bucknell
4:30 PM McNeese State at Lamar
4:30 PM Southeastern Louisiana at Nicholls State
5:00 PM Sam Houston State at Texas State
5:00 PM Idaho State at Eastern Washington
5:00 PM Arkansas at Mississippi State (ESPN3)
5:00 PM Prairie View A&M at Alcorn State
5:00 PM Texas Southern at Southern
6:00 PM Washington State at USC
6:00 PM Seton Hall at DePaul (ESPN3)
6:00 PM Detroit vs Cleveland State* (ESPN3)
6:00 PM Grambling State at Alabama A&M
6:00 PM Jackson State at Alabama State
6:00 PM Bowling Green at Buffalo (ESPN3)
6:00 PM Furman vs Davidson* (ESPN3)
6:00 PM Utah at Oregon
6:00 PM Northeastern vs VCU* (ESPN3)
6:05 PM Maine vs Vermont*
7:00 PM Troy vs South Alabama*
7:00 PM Dartmouth at Columbia
7:00 PM Harvard at Cornell (ESPN3)
7:00 PM IPFW vs Oral Roberts*
7:00 PM Yale at Pennsylvania
7:00 PM Florida Gulf Coast vs Belmont* (ESPN3)
7:00 PM UAB at UCF
7:00 PM Northwestern State at Stephen F. Austin
7:05 PM Long Beach State at Cal State Fullerton
7:15 PM Arkansas State vs Florida Atlantic*
7:15 PM Texas-Arlington at UTSA
7:30 PM Brown at Princeton
7:30 PM Niagara vs Loyola (MD)* (ESPN3)
8:00 PM UC Irvine at UC Riverside
8:00 PM St. John's at Rutgers (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Houston at Rice
8:00 PM Central Arkansas at Texas A&M-CC
8:00 PM East Carolina at Tulane
8:05 PM Texas-Pan American at Houston Baptist
8:15 PM Hartford at Boston University
8:30 PM Georgia Southern vs Elon* (ESPN3)
8:30 PM Georgia State vs George Mason* (ESPN3)
8:30 PM Butler at Valparaiso
9:30 PM Florida International vs Western Kentucky*
9:30 PM Siena vs Manhattan* (ESPN3)
9:30 PM IUPUI vs South Dakota State*
10:00 PM Pacific at Cal Poly
10:00 PM Idaho at San Jose State
10:00 PM New Mexico State at Fresno State
10:00 PM Louisiana Tech at Nevada
10:00 PM Montana State at Portland State
10:00 PM UC Davis at UC Santa Barbara
11:00 PM Brigham Young vs Gonzaga* (ESPN2)
12:00 AM Utah State at Hawaii