Ryan Kelly was still rehabbing a foot injury while P.J. Hairston was making his debut as a starter the last time North Carolina played Duke on Feb. 13. When these bitter rivals meet again in Chapel Hill to close out the regular season Saturday, Kelly and Hairston will likely square off against each other in a game that still might have ACC regular-season title implications for the fourth-ranked Blue Devils.
While Duke needs a win and Miami to also lose to Clemson on Saturday to grab a share of its 23rd regular-season title, one of the main reasons the Blue Devils are even in a position to contend is because of Kelly's dramatic return against the Hurricanes one week ago. The Tar Heels are 6-1 - with the only loss coming against Duke - since Hairston became a regular starter prior to the first showdown with Duke. The Blue Devils have won six of the last eight meetings, including their 73-68 victory in February.
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ABOUT DUKE (26-4, 13-4 ACC): Seth Curry scored 20 points in Tuesday's home win over Virginia Tech, extending the Blue Devils' streak of at least one player scoring at least 20 to six games. Four different players have eclipsed the 20-point mark over that stretch, with Curry doing so four times. With 18 more points, he will reach 2,000 for his career. Mason Plumlee, the only starter not to reach the 20-point threshold over the last six games, is five blocks away from becoming the third Duke player (joining Shelden Williams and Mike Gminski) to top 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 200 blocks in a career.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (22-8, 12-5): The insertion of Hairston (13.6 points) into the starting lineup has led a slight increase in field goal percentage during conference play (plus-3.9), but the biggest change has come beyond the arc. The Tar Heels are shooting 42.3 percent from 3-point range since his promotion, a seven-percent increase from the team's first 10 ACC games. Hairston is also averaging 17.5 points over that span, but the biggest beneficiary may be Reggie Bullock (14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds). The 6-7 junior has recorded three double-doubles in that time - matching the same number he managed over his first 90 career games.
1. Neither team has won both regular-season meetings in the same season since North Carolina swept in the 2008-09 season.
2. Duke is 17-0 with Kelly in the lineup this season and has won 89.2 percent of its games when he plays - the third-highest winning percentage for a player in school history.
3. North Carolina has won each of its last seven home games by double figures.
PREDICTION: North Carolina 78, Duke 77