There's no doubt Duke and North Carolina will be in the NCAA tournament and quite possibly could meet again in the ACC tournament next week.
However, both coaches are looking for clues about how their late-season tinkering will help play out those one-and-done situations Saturday night when the archrivals meet in Chapel Hill.
By tip-off, No. 3 Duke (26-4, 13-4) will know if it's playing for a share of the ACC title or the No. 2 spot in the conference tournament since No. 6 Miami plays Clemson earlier Saturday afternoon needing only to win for the outright title. The Blue Devils have won both their games since Ryan Kelly has returned to the lineup after missing 13 due to a foot injury, and the senior had 18 points and nine rebounds in an 85-57 rout of Virginia Tech on Tuesday.
While much has been made of Kelly's offense in his return - he has scored 54 points in the two wins - coach Mike Krzyzewski noted the forward is also probably the most valuable defender on the Blue Devils.
"He's defended people well, we've had him on really good players and he's usually held that player below what they normally get," Krzyzewski said. "We're not a great talking team... you miss that voice that kind of gets your organized. Defensively, we're just a lot better with him and he's 6-10, so he can block shots, taken a lot of charges, he's another guy to protect our basket."
Kelly's likely matchup defensively will be James Michael McAdoo, but the 6-9 forward will be playing despite a bulging disc in his back that has bothered him for the past month. North Carolina's leader in scoring and rebounding at 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds, he had 10 points and two boards in Wednesday's 79-68 win at Maryland that extended the Tar Heels' winning streak to six.
That run started after their 73-68 loss on Feb. 13 at Durham, where coach Roy Williams opted to go with a smaller lineup and quicker tempo. The results since that game have been quite positive, with the Tar Heels (22-8, 12-5) averaging 77.5 points on 46.2 percent shooting, including 42.3 percent (55 for 130) from 3-point range.
"We've done some nice things, this team has made some good improvements, adopted a sense of urgency, the unselfishness we've preached," Williams said. "We hope we can do some more. This group should feel good where they are right now considering how the season started."
Williams, however, is very wary of the threat Kelly presents to his team's defense, which is ninth in the ACC in scoring defense at 68.0 points per game and 3-point field goal percentage defensively at 34.5 percent. The Tar Heels have yielded 211 3-pointers, better than only Virginia Tech in the conference, and Duke is third in the country from beyond the arc at a 41.9 percent clip.
"Thirty-six in your first game back, and that's outrageous. It's unbelievable. I don't care what it is," he said of Kelly, who shoots 53.1 percent from 3-point range. "He was out 13 games...the other thing is to get your stamina, get your wind, run up and down the court and still make 3s, that was the most impressive thing to me. All of a sudden, they've got a huge shot of adrenaline here two weeks before the tournament starts."
Duke has won six of the last eight games between the teams and two of three at Chapel Hill. Kelly had 15 points in last season's 85-84 win at North Carolina, where Austin Rivers hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap a frantic Duke rally from 10 down in the final two minutes.
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