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Duke-UNC rivalry game unlike any other in odd season

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Duke-UNC rivalry game unlike any other in odd season

It’s a Duke-North Carolina game unlike any other. Neither team is ranked, the first time that can be said in this rivalry since Feb. 27, 1960. Neither team is an NCAA Tournament lock. The loser won’t just lose bragging rights in this bitter rivalry — a setback will hurt their standing for the Dance.

According to BracketMatrix.com, which averages out 93 Bracketology projections, if the NCAA Tournament was set to begin now, North Carolina would be a 10-seed and Duke wouldn’t be selected. Duke was listed in just 14 of 93 brackets while North Carolina was in 86 of 93 brackets.

Duke, owning a pedestrian 7-6 record, enters the showdown coming off a dreadful loss at Miami, which has just two other ACC victories. The Blue Devils have just one Quad 1 victory (the highest value of win) in four chances and they have two Quad 3 (the second lowest) losses.

North Carolina (11-6) is even worse against Quad 1 opposition — it is 0-5 — but it does have a 5-1 mark in Quad 2 competition and has five wins away from Chapel Hill. Duke is 1-4 away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. That matters to the selection committee, since the tournament is played at neutral sites.  

Neither has a very good NET rating, the analysis tool teams are rated by. Duke is No. 66 and North Carolina is No. 57. 

These weren’t supposed to be vintage Duke and North Carolina teams, but they were expected to be decent. Duke was ranked ninth in the Associated Press preseason poll and picked second in the ACC. North Carolina was ranked 16th and picked fourth.

Early on, it was apparent the Blue Devils had issues. They lost non-conference home games to Michigan State and Illinois. They struggled with mediocre-at-best ACC foes Notre Dame and Boston College. They don’t shoot it well from deep (32.7 percent), struggle with turnovers (13.3 per game) and are 12th in the ACC in field goal percentage defense (45.7) and 13th in three-point percentage defense (36.7). Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has resorted to playing more zone. The third-ranked recruiting class hasn’t lived to the hype, as five-stars prospects Jalen Johnson, DJ Steward, Mark Williams and Jeremy Roach have all struggled with consistency and being counted on immediately to produce.

Like Duke, North Carolina welcomed in a top recruiting class, bringing in three five-star recruits. Forward Day’Ron Sharpe, who is averaging 9.6 points and 7.8 rebounds, has been the best of the three. Guard Caleb Love is producing more turnovers than assists on a game-by-game basis while shooting 22.2 percent from deep and Walker Kessler has been a virtual non-factor.

The Tar Heels are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country, making just 30.2 percent of their attempts (289th worst), and don’t defend the arc very well either, allowing the opposition to make 35.8 percent from long range. The strength of this team is in the paint, riding the forward trio of Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot and Sharpe. They have kept them afloat.

The game means more for North Carolina, simply because the Tar Heels path to the tournament is actually manageable. This would be a Quad 1 victory. They still have ample opportunities for quality victories against Florida State, Syracuse, Louisville, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Duke almost needs a miracle. It doesn’t have as many remaining games left that could move the needle, and it needs to win a majority of them. So far, the Blue Devils haven’t shown any evidence it is capable of going on a big streak. Their best chance at the tournament is winning the ACC Tournament. 

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Taijuan Walker throws first bullpen session as a Met

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Taijuan Walker throws first bullpen session as a Met

Observations from Wednesday’s Mets workout:

Off the mound

Taijuan Walker — hard to miss wearing No. 99 — threw his first bullpen session since joining the Mets. The right-hander signed a two-year deal worth $20 million last weekend.

Run it

Baserunning was a primary focus of the workout. Manager Luis Rojas cited the team’s below par base-running last season as a factor in the team’s mediocre scoring output despite leading MLB in batting average.

Caught my eye

Dominic Smith worked out wearing a Catapult vest with a monitor designed to provide him with analytical information about his performance.

Thursday’s schedule

Full-squad workouts continue in Port St. Lucie.

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K’Andre Miller latest Ranger placed on COVID-protocol list

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K’Andre Miller latest Ranger placed on COVID-protocol list

Before Wednesday night, the Rangers had lost only one player to the COVID-protocol list, when Kaapo Kakko missed the Feb. 1 match against the Penguins with what turned out to be a false-positive test.

Kakko went back on the list Saturday, when he was sidelined for the Blueshirts’ contest in Washington and remained on it for Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia. That was not all of it, however, as the Blueshirts placed K’Andre Miller on the list as well in the hours leading up to the 4-3 loss to the Flyers.

It is unclear whether Miller, who was replaced in the lineup by Jack Johnson, had tested positive. It is also unknown whether the Rangers might be vulnerable to an outbreak in the wake of these situations, which occurred five days apart.

Johnson, a scratch for Saturday’s victory over the Capitals, had played in the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout victory in Philadelphia last Thursday after having missed the previous eight games with a groin injury. He had participated in just one practice before rejoining the lineup.


Mika Zibanejad played perhaps his most dynamic game of the year, collecting a pair of assists in 20:20 of ice time, but he was denied twice on shorthanded breakaways, the second with 3:40 remaining and the Blueshirts down 4-3. Zibanejad also was denied earlier, with 5:45 remaining in the first period, when the puck rolled on him.

Both times, he went to the backhand. Both times, Brian Elliott was up to the task. He was asked whether he thought he might have scored if he were having a normal season, not this one in which he has two goals, with one deposited into an empty net.

“I don’t know. I did the move that I usually do, he read it, it didn’t go in,” Zibanejad said. “So I don’t know. It’s a hard question to answer. It just leads to more speculation. I’m just trying to keep it as simple as possible and not overthink those chances.”

The pair of assists doubled the center’s season total to four.


The Blueshirts surrendered 39 shots on goal, the most they’ve allowed this season.


The Rangers, 2-for-5 on the power play, have now scored in three straight with the man advantage (4-for-15) after going 0-for-14 in the preceding five matches.

In the absence of Miller, Kakko, Jacob Trouba (thumb) and Artemi Panarin (leave of absence), Brendan Smith and Anthony Bitetto were on the points on the second unit power play. The Blueshirts have scored 10 power play goals, with the first unit on for nine of them.


The Rangers won just 20 of 55 faceoffs (36 percent), with Zibanejad winning just two of his 14 draws.

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Rutgers storms back from big deficit to beat Indiana

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Rutgers storms back from big deficit to beat Indiana

Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. had 20 points apiece to help Rutgers rally from a 15-point deficit and beat Indiana 74-63 on Wednesday night in Piscataway, N.J.

Baker, who shot 7 of 13 from the field, set a program record with six made 3-pointers in a Big Ten conference game and had a season-high 10 assists.

Baker hit four of the Scarlet Knights’ seven 3s in a 25-6 run over a 7-plus minutes span that made it 33-29 with 55 seconds left in the first half, and Rutgers (13-13, 9-9) led the rest of the way.

Myles Johnson had 10 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks for Rutgers.

Trayce Jackson-Davis had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Aljami Durham added 20 points for Indiana (12-11, 7-9).

The Scarlet Knights went into the game on the bubble for the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1991. Their last two regular season games are on the road at Nebraska (5-16, 1-13) on Monday and Minnesota (13-10, 6-10) on March 6.

Anthony Leal hit a 3-pointer to trim Indiana’s deficit to 54-45 with 10:50 to play, but the Hoosiers missed their next nine shots as they went nearly 8 minutes without a field goal.

Indiana has lost back-to-back games and three of its last four. The Hoosiers play host to No. 3 Michigan on Saturday before closing out conference play with road games against Michigan State and Purdue.

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