Fifth-ranked North Carolina has plenty to play for, despite already having clinched the top seed in the upcoming ACC tournament, as it ends the regular season with a home showdown against No. 14 Duke on Saturday. The Tar Heels can seal the outright ACC title with a win or a Notre Dame loss at Louisville on Saturday and can avoid a third regular-season sweep at the hands of Duke in the last five campaigns.
In addition, North Carolina looks to get its talented offense (ACC-leading 85 points per game) going again after scoring the fewest amount of points during Roy Williams’ 14 years as coach in the 53-43 loss at Virginia on Monday.
“It’s the ACC,” Williams told reporters after his team’s first defeat in five games. “We can stink it up one night and then we can play like great balls of fire the next night, and so can other teams.”
Duke, which can be anywhere from the third to seventh seed in the ACC tournament after the results of Saturday’s games, is coming off a 75-70 victory over Florida State on Tuesday that snapped a two-game slide. The Blue Devils trail in the overall series 134-109 but have won five of the last six meetings after Grayson Allen poured in 25 points in an 86-78 triumph on Feb. 9.
Going back to the 1997-98 college hoops schedule, home teams in the Tobacco Road Rivalry are just 11-25 ATS (19-17 SU), with the visitor covering 69.4 percent of the time.
The underdog, most often the road team, in this long-standing ACC war has been the smart play whenever Duke and UNC collide. In their previous 42 meetings, the team getting the points is 24-18 ATS (11-31 SU) – covering at a 57.2 percent clip – and when those spread reach six points or higher (which is the case Saturday), the underdog improves to 15-8 ATS (4-19 SU), a 65 percent ATS winner.
That tally includes six meetings in the ACC tournament. When you trim those postseason clashes (neutral sites) from the record and just look at meetings inside Cameron and the Smith Center, Tobacco Road pups of +6 or bigger are 13-4 ATS – cashing in at an impressive 76 percent rate.
While the pointspread favorite has ended up winning 31 of those previous 42 meetings between Duke and UNC, its margin of victory is just more than a single point, with faves outscoring dogs by an average score of 78.04-77.02.
TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
LINE HISTORY: North Carolina opened as a 6-point favorite and has been bet up to -6.5. The total opened 156.5 and is down to 156.
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: Duke -15.2 – UNC -16.0 + homecourt -3.0 = North Carolina -3.8
INJURY REPORT: Duke – Grayson Allen (ankle) Probable
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “For the biggest rivalry in college hoops, there’s not a lot to report on the action front here. Money favors the home team with a 70-30 split, but it’s very early and anything could happen when limits are raised. Wiseguys might not get involved, and at that point, we’ll move to keep things balanced.” — Scott Cooley, Bookmaker.eu.
WHAT SHARPS SAY: “I successfully played against the Heels in their last game. However, that was on the road, against a stingy Virginia team. Back home, where they’re perfect on the season, and playing with “revenge” against hated Duke, I expect a vastly improved effort. While the Blue Devils are always dangerous, they’ve currently failed to cover four in a row and they’re just 8-17 ATS against “winning” teams on the season. While Duke scores 75 and allows 70 on the road, UNC averages 87.6 ppg on this floor, allowing a mere 64. Consider laying the points.” — Covers Expert Ben Burns.
ABOUT DUKE (23-7, 11-6 ACC, 11-18-0 ATS): Coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters that Allen, who is averaging 14.5 points, is not yet 100 percent due to an ankle injury but would be able to play on Saturday. Allen is third on the team in scoring behind Luke Kennard (19.8 points – second in the ACC) and freshman Jayson Tatum (16.1), who combined for 39 points in the first meeting with the Tar Heels. Freshman Frank Jackson (10.3 points) scored a season-high 22 points against Florida State on Tuesday after recording 16 in the previous game versus Miami (Fla.).
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (25-6, 13-4, 15-13-1 ATS): Justin Jackson matched his season low with seven points on 3-of-10 shooting Monday, but he still averages a team-high 18.4 – seventh in the league. Joel Berry II led the Tar Heels with 12 points against Virginia and is second on the team at 14.7, while Kennedy Meeks (12.6 points) is next and ranks fourth in the ACC in rebounds (9.1). Isaiah Hicks, who will be honored along with Meeks and others on Senior Night, has averaged 5.4 points over his last five games – more than six below his season average (11.6).
* Blue Devils are 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings in North Carolina.
* Under is 7-2 in the last nine meetings in North Carolina.
* Under is 11-5-1 in the last 17 meetings.
* Road team is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings.
COVERS CONSENSUS: 57 percent of spread bets are on Duke while 86 percent of totals bets are taking the Over.