Weekend Preview: Duke-North Carolina, plus four tickets getting punched

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 17 Duke at No. 5 North Carolina, Sat. 8:15 p.m. (ESPN): The biggest game of the night lost a bit of its luster when Duke dropped back-to-back road games last week. The Blue Devils bounced back this week with a win over No. 15 Florida State, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Tar Heels can now win an outright ACC regular season title even if they lose this game.

But it’s Duke-North Carolina.

That rivalry game is always going to be terrific, and this should be no different. The Tar Heels currently sit a game up on Notre Dame in the ACC regular season standings. A win locks them into the outright ACC regular season title, the eighth regular season title that Roy Williams has won in the last 13 seasons, but there should be little doubt that Duke, who is still playing for seeding in both postseason tournaments, would love to be able to say that they swept UNC in a year they won the ACC title.

And Duke has a real shot at this thing. The key is going to be the matchup at the four spot, where Duke’s Jayson Tatum is going to go up against Isaiah Hicks. Duke wants to play small-ball. North Carolina wants to play big. If Tatum can find a way to hold his own in the post and keep whoever he’s guarding from getting to the offensive glass, the Blue Devils will be in a really good spot. He did it when these two met in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but that came on a day where Isaiah Hicks was not in the lineup.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (-7)

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

No. 24 Iowa State at No. 10 West Virginia, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The Cyclones, who have been one of the hottest teams in the Big 12 and are now sitting all alone in second place in the Big 12, will pay a visit to Morgantown, which has not been a fun place for ranked teams to visit this season. Monte’ Morris has 68 assists and just six turnovers in his last 10 games. Will that last against WVU’s pressure? PREDICTION: Iowa State (+8)

No. 19 Notre Dame at No. 8 Louisville, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Surprisingly enough, Notre Dame is currently sitting all alone in second place in the ACC standings as of today. Louisville, however, is coming off of a confounding loss at Wake Forest and are not an easy team to beat in the KFC Yum! Center. PREDICTION: Louisville (-8)

No. 25 Miami at No. 15 Florida State, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ACCN): There is a lot on the line in terms of seeding in this game, for both the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament. Miami has been one of the hot teams in the ACC in recent weeks. PREDICTION: Florida State (-7)

No. 1 Kansas at Oklahoma State, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): The Jayhawks have already clinched the outright Big 12 title and, in all likelihood, a No. 1 seed in the tournament. What do they have to play for? Not enough to keep them from needing to come back from 12 down in the second half to beat Oklahoma. PREDICTION: Oklahoma State (-1)

Tournament Finals: There are going to be four automatic bids earned this weekend. It starts on Saturday night in the Ohio Valley Conference, while Sunday features the Atlantic Sun, the Big Sky and the Missouri Valley title games. The race for the MVC title may be the most interesting, as both Wichita State and Illinois State are looking to get themselves off of the bubble by earning that automatic bid.