The case for North Carolina:
The Tar Heels rank second only to Virginia in terms of offensive efficiency in ACC play, and Roy Williams' team has scored points in bunches all season long by hitting its 3s and crashing the offensive glass. Indeed, with Zion Williamson temporarily sidelined by injury, Coby White might be the best player in the conference at this particular moment. The freshman made 12 shots from beyond the arc in a two-game stretch against Syracuse and Clemson, and in those two wins he scored a total of 62 points.
In addition, North Carolina is well suited to take away at least one of the Blue Devils' strengths. This isn't the stingiest defense we've seen in Chapel Hill under Williams, but one thing the Heels do very well is limiting opponents to one shot. Luke Maye might be having an off season in terms of shooting 3s, but he has been one of the best individual defensive rebounders in the entire league in 2019 (and Nassir Little's not far behind).
The case for Duke:
After losing Williamson on the first possession of the first game against UNC, the Blue Devils' offense adjusted and recovered nicely. RJ Barrett scored 30 points on 12-of-15 shooting inside the arc against Syracuse, and as a team, Duke is just as productive as ever inside the arc. Obviously this offense is at its best when it's at full strength, but the shock of losing Williamson has somewhat obscured just how high this team's "no-Zion" floor really is in terms of scoring.
At the same time, the Blue Devils continue to be somewhat underrated on defense. In fact, when Duke visits the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, the top defense on the floor will belong to Mike Krzyzewski's team. The Blue Devils have been especially skilled at denying 3-point looks to opponents this season, a key strength for a defense that's about to be challenged by the likes of White and Cam Johnson.
The case for Michigan:
The Wolverines lost the first round of their rivalry series with Michigan State 77-70 at home, but Michigan is 26-4 on the season thanks to an outstanding defense and a rapidly improving offense. In fact, the upswing in scoring for John Beilein's team began, ironically enough, against the Spartans. Now you're looking at a Michigan offense that has scored 1.17 points per possession over the past three games, a level of scoring that would easily rank No. 1 in the Big Ten if extended over a full conference season.
Charles Matthews has sat out the past two games with an ankle injury, but Ignas Brazdeikis has averaged 19 points a game in his last three outings. Meanwhile, Zavier Simpson has recorded 20 assists in his last two games to go along with just five turnovers. The 6-foot junior is known for his signature running hook shots and tenacious defense, but his excellence at the point has been a major factor behind the Wolverines' resurgence on offense.
The case for Michigan State:
In the first meeting between these two teams, the Spartans crushed Michigan in the paint and converted 19 of their 28 2-point attempts. Cassius Winston enjoyed arguably the finest 40 minutes any Big Ten player has recorded against the Wolverines' defense this season, scoring 27 points exclusively inside the arc and at the line. That was a shock to a UM unit that prides itself on paint defense and a near total lack of fouling, and it happened in Ann Arbor.
Tom Izzo is still making do without both Josh Langford (out for the season with a foot injury) and Nick Ward (sidelined for the past three games with a hairline fracture in his left hand), but MSU won at Crisler Arena without either player in action. When Michigan State takes care of the ball as it did against Michigan in the first meeting, this team has proved itself to be very difficult to beat.
Duke at UNC. Michigan at Michigan St.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 4, 2019
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