Duke-North Carolina Preview
Duke is on a roll, back among the nation's elite and looking to deal North Carolina another defeat at Chapel Hill.
Brice Johnson and the Tar Heels are more concerned with widening their lead atop the ACC.
The No. 20 Blue Devils attempt to knock off a third straight ranked opponent Wednesday night and prevent fifth-ranked North Carolina from a 14th straight home victory.
Duke (19-6, 8-4) tumbled out of the AP poll for the first time since 2007 thanks to a 1-4 stretch before regaining a spot behind a four-game winning streak. The last two were the most impressive, beating then-No. 13 Louisville 72-65 on Feb. 8 before Grayson Allen hit a controversial bank shot at the buzzer for a 63-62 win over seventh-ranked Virginia on Saturday.
While Allen might have traveled on the decisive shot, the Blue Devils are showing they weren't doomed without forward Amile Jefferson, who's out indefinitely with a broken foot suffered two months ago.
"The best way to learn is through experience, and during January, after losing Amile, we had to become a different team and they were learning that - there wasn't a preseason to learn it," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "You're thinking about what you have to do, and not what we have to do, and as we've gone further ... in conference play, our guys are thinking about what we have to do and making spontaneous corrections, instant corrections, on the court instead of waiting until halftime or the end of the game."
For the fourth straight year, Duke brings at least a four-game winning streak into the first UNC game.
"Our sense of urgency these past couple of weeks has been excellent," guard Matt Jones said, "and we need to carry our momentum over to the Dean Dome."
Duke has won three of the last four visits, including an 84-77 victory in last year's regular-season finale on March 7.
The Tar Hells (21-4, 10-2) have won 13 straight at home since, averaging 87.2 points on 49.6 percent from the floor. They connected on a season-best 59.3 percent - 8 of 15 from 3-point range - in an 85-64 rout of Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Brice Johnson had 19 points and shot 9 of 12 as he continues to make a case to be ACC player of the year. The 6-foot-10 senior forward leads North Carolina with 16.4 points per game, is shooting an ACC-best 61.4 percent and ranks fourth in the conference with 10 rebounds.
Johnson, however, is focused on expanding the Tar Heels' one-game lead on second-place Miami with six left.
"My whole motivation this year was just winning the ACC championship and winning a national championship," Johnson said. "Those honors, I would love to be a part of those things. It's just I'd rather win something with my teammates because you're remembered with your teammates more than anything."
Johnson has performed very well during North Carolina's three-game losing streak to Duke, averaging 16.7 points on 71.0 percent shooting with 9.3 boards.
Teammate Marcus Paige had a 24 and 23-point performance in that skid sandwiched around a 5-point effort in a loss in Durham on Feb. 18, 2015.
North Carolina is going to see a lot more of Allen, who has nine total points on 1-of-8 shooting in two career matchups as a reserve. The sophomore guard is second in the ACC with 20.6 points per game, and is shooting 48.9 percent from long range to rank among the league's top seven in that category with Jones (41.3) and Brandon Ingram (40.9).
"They make over 10 3s a game (actually 9.0), and their perimeter players are really good shooters and they space the floor well," Paige said. "Our emphasis will be guarding the ball and not having the support so that we can defend the 3-point line better."