Preview: Duke (17-2) v. UNC (19-2)

Shavlik Randolph vs. Sean May

Coming off one of their more impressive performances of the season, the Blue Devils head into Wednesday night's match up against North Carolina brimming with confidence. They'll certainly need it if they want to pull off an upset of the No. 2 ranked Tar Heels, who have rolled through nearly every opponent this season. <i>TheDevilsDen.com</I> previews the match-up.

It's the greatest match up in all of college basketball, bar none. Eight miles apart. A combined six national titles. Countless Final Fours. Many ACC legends both on and off the court. To say that anything can and usually does happen when Duke and North Carolina get together is an understatement. This year should be no different as both programs are ranked in the top 10, and have been all season.

Unlike the last several years, Duke enters Wednesday's game as a decided underdog. For the Blue Devils to have a chance to pull off the victory and place themselves back in control of the ACC regular season race, several things must happen:

1. The usual contributions from Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick must come through
2. Daniel Ewing must break out of his recent offensive struggles and play at the level we saw in the early season. 3. Duke must get production from Shavlik Randolph both in points and rebounds. The big man must also avoid costly fouls – the same holds true for Shelden Williams. 4. DeMarcus Nelson, Sean Dockery, and Lee Melchionni must contribute on both ends of the floor. 5. Duke must force the Tar Heels to play at their pace, not the break neck speed with which Roy Williams' team loves to try and sucker teams into. 6. The atmosphere must be vintage Cameron: Hot, Sticky, and Loud.

Meet the Tar Heels:

C- Sean May (6'9, 260, JR) – May spent most of the off season rounding himself into the best shape of his life after struggling with stamina during his first two seasons in Chapel Hill. Even with that limitation he still managed to put up All-ACC numbers during his freshman and sophomore campaigns. Now, tipping the scales at a leaner 260 pounds, May has been able to stay fresher longer, and is once again averaging close to a double-double on the season.

Though he's not considered a terrific athlete, May is able to compensate with a very high basketball IQ, soft hands, and great footwork inside. He's able to maneuver himself into good scoring position in the lane, but can also knock down open jumpers off a face up game. A safe bet to collect double figure rebounds on a nightly basis.

Season Highs: 24 points (William & Mary), 19 rebounds (Kentucky), 3 blocks (4 times)

F- Jawad Williams (6'9, 220, JR) – During his senior year of high school Williams made the McDonalds All-American game, which was held at Cameron. During a pre-game interview the 6'9 Ohio native told a sideline reporter that he'd "own this place". He then promptly broke his nose and has had similar levels of success in Cameron over his three year career, going 0-3 on Coach K Court. This season is his last, and probably, best shot to salvage a single victory and live up to 25% of his promise.

A big forward in height, Williams has the skills of both a NBA small forward and a college power forward. He's a very good jump shooter, with range out towards the NBA three point line. A very skilled big man who is also athletic, Williams has shown the ability to be a terrific rebounder in traffic over the course of his career. Prefers to score away from the congestion of the paint due to his lack of strength, and uses his speed and quickness to do so.

Has struggled due to foul trouble in the last two games, averaging just 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game against Florida State and NC State.

Season Highs: 25 points (UNC-Wilmington), 9 rebounds (Clemson), 5 blocks (Virginia Tech)

F- Jackie Manuel (6'5, 192, SR) – Manuel has established himself as one of the best defensive stoppers in the ACC over his first three seasons. While he won't wow you on the offensive side of the ball, he more than makes up for it with his ability to shut down the oppositions best wing threat. That's proven true this season as he's already forced NC State's Hodge and Florida State's Wafer into some of their worst offensive performances respectively. He'll look to continue that trend against the ACC's leading scorer, J.J. Redick.

His long arms and athleticism help him frustrate perimeter shooters, and his ability to pivot on a dime allows him to recover from head and ball fakes. Offensively he's able to finish at the rim if given an opportunity, but is happy to defer to UNC's other high powered scoring threats if given the choice. Not prone to hurt teams if left open from the perimeter and isn't a great jump shooter all around, but has improved his seasonal shooting percentage from the perimeter as a senior to 33%.

Season Highs: 14 points (twice), 5 rebounds (twice), 4 steals (Vermont)

G- Rashad McCants (6'4, 205, JR) – Last year's most prolific scorer in the ACC, there is certainly no denying that McCants is one of the best offensive players in the country. If not the best. Until this point the knock has been the moody junior's on the court attitude and his reluctance to put in the time on the defensive end of the court. After some soul searching in the off season, McCants has put most of his problems behind him and is doing everything that head coach Roy Williams asks – on both ends of the floor.

The result has been a much more dangerous player even though his statistics are down this year as he is playing within the flow of the offense and is willing to find open teammates. McCants' has very few weaknesses on the offensive end of the floor. He can take his man off the dribble, overpower smaller guards, but is also a very capable (45%) shooter from the perimeter. He's also unafraid to mix it up inside and has also developed a nice mid range game during his stay in Chapel Hill.

Season Highs: 28 points (Kentucky), 7 rebounds (Tennessee), 6 assists (Clemson), 3 steals (3 times).

G- Raymond Felton (6'1, 200, JR) – One of the best floor generals in the conference, and the country, Felton was only missing a consistent jump shot when he began his junior season in Chapel Hill. While he's not a lights out shooter, he has improved dramatically this year, upping his field goal percentage from 42% to 49%, but the real improvement is from the perimeter where Felton is hitting 46% of his shots compared to just 31% last season.

The newly found ability to hurt opponents from outside has made Felton much more dangerous as teams used to be able to cheat off him to allow for his exceptional quickness and speed with which he drives into the heart of the opposition. With a great handle and even better court vision, Felton has been a mainstay among ACC assist leaders during his first two seasons. This year is no different as he's handing out 7.4 assists per contest. Felton is also a very underrated defender who uses his quickness and body strength to stay with his man and fight through double teams and screens.

Season Highs: 18 points (Indiana), 9 rebounds (Clemson), 12 assists (twice), 4 steals (3 times)

The Reserves:

When head coach Roy Williams goes to his bench, he has several options led by senior scoring guard Melvin Scott (6'2, 195), who has been a somewhat streaky shooter in the past, but can absolutely kill opponents if allowed to spot up from the perimeter. The most deadly weapon at Williams' disposal is freshman Marvin Williams (6'9, 230), who many believe will be a top five pick in June's NBA Draft. Blessed with power forward size and the skill set of both a NBA wing and power forward, Williams could be argued as North Carolina's best player. Unlike most freshmen, Williams hasn't had much of a problem adjusting to the NCAA level as he's quicker and more athletic than most any opponent he'll face on any given night. He's seen his minutes and role steadily rise as the season has gone on and hit the 20 point plateau against NC State – the first time in his career. A tenacious rebounder and shot blocker thanks to his length and tremendous athleticism, Williams 12 points and seven rebounds in just 22 minutes of action per night. Also off the bench in the front court is David Noel (6'6, 230, JR), another terrific athlete who can ignite a run with his strong finishes at the rim – he's also a capable outside shooter. Other players of note include the rarely used former second team All-State Reyshawn Terry and California point guard Quentin Thomas.


Game Notes:
Courtesy of Duke Sports Information

*- This will be Duke's third consecutive game against a top 25 opponent. Duke dropped a 92-89 decision at No. 7 Wake Forest on Feb. 2 before rebounding for an 82-65 victory over No. 25 Georgia Tech on Feb. 5 in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

*- This will mark the 218th meeting between Duke and North Carolina with the Tar Heels holding a 123-94 series lead. Duke has won 14 of the last 16 meetings between the two schools, including seven of the past eight in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

*- J.J. Redick was named ACC Player of the Week on Feb. 7 after he averaged 29.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in games vs. No. 7 Wake Forest and No. 25 Georgia Tech.

*- In his last seven games, Shelden Williams averaged 18.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4.0 blocked shots.

*- The game will be televised regionally by RJ Sports with Tim Brant (play-by-play) and Billy Packer (color) announcing. It will also air nationally on ESPN with Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Dick Vitale (color), Doris Burke (sideline) and Jay Bilas (sideline) calling the action.



Betting Line:

North Carolina by 2.5

TDD Prediction:

North Carolina – 85
Duke – 79

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