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Anything could happen when Tobacco Road rivals Duke and UNC meet Thursday night

The UNC Tar Heels and No. 21 Duke Blue Devils are sixth and eighth, respectively, in a deep ACC race.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 23 Womens - North Carolina at Georgia Tech
Deja Kelly (with ball)
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Neither the No. 21 Duke Blue Devils nor the North Carolina Tar Heels have a bad loss this year and Duke has one more loss.

Yet the Blue Devils are ranked and the Tar Heels are not because Duke has two wins over currently ranked teams (No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 23 Iowa) and UNC’s best win has been over unranked Virginia Tech. Yet the Hokies are receiving votes and have already swept Duke. Not to mention, the Tar Heels won that game by 25 points.

So it seems anything could happen Thursday night when the Tobacco Road rivals meet at 7 p.m. ET.

Duke is on a two-game winning streak, while UNC is coming off an atrocious offensive performance in a loss to No. 14 Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels managed just 38 points, though, in their defense, it was against the best defense in the nation.

The Blue Devils came into this season with a lot of question marks, having only played four games last year before opting out due to COVID. It has been a new face in freshman Shayeann Day-Wilson who has led the way in scoring and distributing with 12 points and 3.5 assists per game. The team’s second-leading scorer, Celeste Taylor, has been out with a shoulder injury since Jan. 9. The team’s third-leading scorer is Louisville transfer Elizabeth Balogun.

Duke doesn’t have a player taller than 6-foot-1 averaging more than 18.3 minutes. Day-Wilson and Taylor are guards, while Balogun is a 6-foot-1 guard/forward. 6-foot guard/forward Lexi Gordon and guards Vanessa de Jesus and Miela Goodchild round out the Blue Devils’ top-six minute-getters.

UNC doesn't have anyone taller than 6-foot-2 averaging more than 11.3 minutes per game with No. 9 Hoop Gurlz recruit Teonni Key (6-foot-3) out for the year with an ACL tear. The Tar Heels’ top five scorers are all listed as guards, though second-leading scorer Alyssa Ustby (13.1 points per game) plays more like a forward and is 6-foot-1.

UNC sophomore Deja Kelly is comfortably the best scorer entering this contest at 17.2 points per game. Look for her star power to give the Tar Heels an edge. She was the No. 10 Hoop Gurlz recruit in 2020 and already displayed some late-game heroics this season in the team's 15-point comeback win at Boston College.

Game information

North Carolina Tar Heels (15-3, 5-3 ACC) vs. No. 21 Duke Blue Devils (13-4, 4-3 ACC)

When: Thursday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC

How to watch/listen: ACC Network Extra/GoHeels TV or Blue Devil Network

Key to the matchup: Duke’s shooting from the field, especially from behind the arc. Despite being the unranked team, UNC has advantages almost across the board against Duke, including a much better scoring margin, much better 3-point defense and a much better turnover margin. The only two areas where Duke has the advantage are field goal percentage (43.7 percent to 42 percent) and threes made per game (7.2 to 5.8). If the Blue Devils lose the turnover battle, they’ll need to be efficient with the possessions they do have. And getting hot from beyond the arc while taking more threes than UNC could give them an edge.