The best rivalry in college basketball leaves Tobacco Road this weekend and will meet in a semifinal matchup of the 2022 Final Four. History will be made as the team’s have never met in a NCAA Tournament game. At stake is a trip to the championship final to meet the winner between Kansas and Villanova.
Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season. North Carolina turned its season around against Duke in the regular season finale at Cameron. Beating Coach K in the legendary coach’s last game at Cameron seems to have given the Heels much-needed confidence that has turned into wins. Conversely, Duke seemed to get a wake up call after the setback to UNC. Both are playing so well that it has left me unable to pick a winner.
I think North Carolina could win because they are shooting better than ever from three point land and are dominating foes on the boards. Domination to the point of being plus-46 in rebounding margin against four opponents. They also hit on 34 three point shots in the first three games of the tourney.
But now North Carolina has to deal with a team that’s just as good on the boards, just as good at moving the ball around, and is playing with just as much confidence after going on a roll of its own.
The biggest reason North Carolina can win is that memories of its most recent conquest of Duke is fresh on its mind. They remember shooting 49% from the field, shooting 14 more free throws, while winning by 13 points.
I think Duke could win because Duke has grown up since the loss to North Carolina. The Blue Devils grew up fast. They have yet to face a team like the Heels but they are battled-hardened after dealing with Michigan State, Texas Tech, and Arkansas. This young team has discovered the benefits of playing defense.
Good defense leads to effective offense and that is exactly what is going on with Duke. Against these incredible defensive teams, the Blue Devils are shooting close to 55% from the field in the tournament including an incredible display over the first four games. The young Blue Devils now know they can come through in tight games, they’re solid on the free throw line and the defense is locking in.
Okay, I have talked myself into picking a winner. I like Duke. It will come down to who shoots best and the Blue Devils clearly do this better than UNC. True, Duke got smacked in the last meeting with North Carolina, but it still shot 49% from the field. And don’t forget that the Blue Devils hit 58% of its shots in the first meeting in an 87-67 win. Duke has hit 50% or more of its shots in 18 games, in each of the last four, and in eight of the last 12 games. No other school in the country can boast about numbers like that.
I will go with the Blue Devils. They will pull away late and Coach K will be one game closer to a national championship in his final season.