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March Madness Final Four Preview - North Carolina Tar Heels vs Duke Blue Devils
For the first time ever, Duke and North Carolina are set to renew their historic college basketball rivalry in the NCAA Basketball Tournament on Saturday.
They will do so in the Final Four in New Orleans, as both ACC squads look to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Duke enters as a four-point favorite after these teams split their regular-season series during conference play.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The North Carolina Tar Heels are the lowest-seeded team remaining in this year’s NCAA Tournament, entering the Final Four as an eight-seed. The Tar Heels had to go through Marquette, Baylor, and UCLA in their first three tournament games before getting through Cinderella St. Peter’s in the Elite Eight. Now they face their top rival with a spot in the national championship game on the line.
Hubert Davis’ team has already proven that it can win tough games in this tournament, having survived a 25-point collapse in their overtime win against Baylor. In that game, two North Carolina players were ejected on flagrant fouls, with the Tar Heels still holding on to win that second-round encounter. A similar brand of mental toughness will be required here in a game being held in a football stadium against their biggest rival.
Duke Blue Devils
Duke has faced a challenging road to the Final Four of their own, beating Michigan State, Texas Tech, and Arkansas in their last three contests. All three of those games were close into the second half, with Duke pulling away late thanks to a combination of quality defense and several weapons on the offensive end. Led by Paolo Banchero, the Blue Devils are just two games away from sending coach Mike Krzyzewski out on top.
Of course, Krzyzewski and Duke will be out for revenge in this game after North Carolina ruined Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. But it is also worth pointing out that Duke beat North Carolina on the road by 20 points earlier this season. Duke is more than capable of replicating that result here at a neutral site, with the fans in attendance likely to be plenty supportive of Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils.
Keys to the Game
The biggest key to this game is going to be taking care of the basketball from a North Carolina perspective. The Tar Heels only turned the ball over five times in their memorable victory at Duke late in the regular season. If they can value their possessions in a similar fashion in this game, they are going to have a great chance to move on to the national championship game.
From a Duke perspective, the biggest key to this game is going to be getting Banchero going early on. It is no secret that he is the focal point of this Duke offense, and getting him into a rhythm early on could be the difference between getting off to a fast start and falling behind. Should Duke fall behind in this game, the nerves associated with potentially sending Krzyzewski into retirement with a Final Four loss to Duke’s archrival could become a factor.
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