Weekend Preview: Duke-North Carolina highlights a loaded weekend of March hoops

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By far the biggest game of the weekend will happen down on Tobacco Road, where No. 5 Duke will host No. 9 North Carolina as the Blue Devils look to get a measure of revenge on the Tar Heels for last month’s loss in Chapel Hill.

The difference now, however, is that Duke has fully gone over to the dark side: They play zone.

All the time.

It’s still something that is difficult for me to wrap my mind around, but it has changed the trajectory of Duke’s season. Suddenly, they are able to defend at an elite level, which means that we are now talking about a team that could very well be college basketball’s best.

UNC will be their biggest test since making the change, however, and it may truly be the first time that Duke actually faces off with a team that is capable of breaking down that zone. Because here’s the thing about this UNC team: They may not be the best that Roy Williams has ever had, but on paper, they sure do look like a group that can compete against a 2-3 zone.

They have more shooting around their perimeter than they have had in just about in season in recent memory. They also have a pair of players that can get into the high-post and make a play in Theo Pinson and Luke Maye. I still have no idea how they are going to be able to hang with Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter in the paint, but they did just fine with that when they played the first time.

To be frank, losses this week by both teams may have hindered the chances that this game would be a playoff for a No. 1 seed, but I do think this is the kind of test that we needed to see both teams have. Are they truly Final Four contenders, or have they just gotten hot feasting on the dregs of the ACC?

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

  • THE BIG TEN TOURNAMENT: The semifinals will be held on Saturday afternoon and the title game will take place on Sunday. It should be a fun couple of days in the Garden.
  • FOUR AUTOMATIC BIDS WILL BE EARNED: The Ohio Valley will hand out their league’s automatic bid on Saturday night while the Missouri Valley, the Big South and the Atlantic Sun will determine their NCAA Tournament participant on Sunday.
  • No. 23 KENTUCKY at FLORIDA (-4), Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Kentucky has been playing their best basketball of the season of late, and the lineup that they’ve been using to do so should be able to matchup with Florida’s four-guard look. I know it’s on the road, but if you can actually get Kentucky (+4), take it. Pick: Kentucky (+4)
  • No. 10 CINCINNATI (-2) at No. 11 WICHITA STATE, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: This is exactly how the AAC wanted it to play out. The two best teams in the conference playing for the conference title on the final day of the regular season. Cincinnati’s been the best team in the league, but Wichita State’s playing better of late and is finally getting something out of Markis McDuffie. Give me the points and the home team. Pick: Wichita State (+2)