As the college basketball world heads to New Orleans for the Final Four, one conference will have a spotlight moment that some may not have seen coming. The ACC will be well represented on Saturday night when college basketball’s biggest stage takes place. The Duke Blue Devils (32-6) and the North Carolina Tar Heels (28-9) have made their way to Louisiana to play for a national championship. But to get to Monday night’s title game, they will have to play each other in game two of Saturday night’s doubleheader. For these two “Blue Bloods” of college hoops, this will be the first time that these two rivals have ever met in the semifinals of the tournament.
This matchup comes three weeks after the two ACC programs met at Cameron Indoor Stadium in what was Coach K’s final home game as head coach of the Blue Devils. It was supposed to be a grand night for the coach and the team, but UNC had other ideas. The 94-81 win by North Carolina was a bitter pill for the Duke faithful to accept. Now, not only do the Blue Devils have a chance to avenge that loss, but also with a win will have another opportunity to give their coach a farewell that most can only dream of.
When these two last got together on March 5th, it was the Tar Heels starting five that did most of the damage. Four of the five finished the game with 20 or more points. Those four were Armando Bacot (23), Caleb Love (22), RJ Davis (21), and Brady Manek (20). Manek came away with a double-double that night as he also had 11 rebounds. The bench of UNC was a non-factor in that game as they were only able to make one basket by Puff Johnson. Carolina was good in the paint scoring 40 points in a game that had eight lead changes and ties. Carolina’s backcourt was also very good at taking care of the basketball in a very tough environment. They turned the ball over only five times while handing out 15 assists on 33 made baskets. Free throw shooting was also key as the Tar Heels went to the line 22 times making 19 of them.
Duke, for their part, also got production from their main players. Three starters hit double-figures starting with Mark Williams who had a double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman Paolo Banchero finished with 23 points, however, he only went to the foul line once during the game. Trevor Keels chipped in with 12 points. Off the bench, Duke did get 15 from Jeremy Roach. Duke turned the ball over nine times themselves with Banchero having four of them. Duke’s inside game came through with 52 points with their perimeter game accounting for 29. Despite the inside scoring that the Blue Devils had that night, they only went to the free throw line eight times making six of them.
The March meeting was quite different from the first one that took place in February when the Blue Devils led wire-to-wire in a 20-point win on the road 87-67. These ACC teams are loaded with star power. A slight edge goes to Duke based on coaching experience on such a large stage. For Tar Heel head coach Hurbert Davis, this will be his first time on the sidelines. For North Carolina, this will be the 21st time in the final four. Coach Mike Krzyzewski will be in his 13th Final Four which is a record. It should be a great game with a national title shot at stake.
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