Future first-overall draft pick Zion Williamson returned from a five-game absence to participate in the ACC tournament, playing against Syracuse. Zion dominated from the tip-off, racking up dunk after dunk en route to a perfect 13-13 shooting night. Squaring up for a rematch with North Carolina tonight, get your odds below on who’ll advance in the ACC Tournament!

On Thursday night, Zion Williamson made his long-awaited return from a knee sprain injury resulting from an infamous shoe blowout weeks ago against North Carolina. Duke took on Syracuse in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinal, with everyone wondering if Zion would look the same after missing games.

It didn’t take long to get an answer, with Zion racking up 21 points and 5 steals in the first half. His thunderous dunks in the early minutes of the game ignited an early lead for Duke, with Zion making every shot he attempted. He did struggle from the free throw line, going just 2-9. Behind key baskets from RJ Barrett, Tre Jones, and Zion, the Blue Devils managed to pull away from Syracuse, winning with a score of 84-72.

Zion quite literally could not miss, scoring 29 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, and collecting 5 steals while shooting a perfect 13-13 from the field. His partner in crime, RJ Barrett scored an easy 23 points on a respectable 8-16 shooting display himself. For the Syracuse Orange, Tyus Battle didn’t play, leaving the team handicapped without their best player. Frank Howard stepped up in his absence, scoring 28 points on 11-20 shooting.

Rematch with North Carolina

Earlier in the day, North Carolina played against Louisville, winning that game 83-70 behind 19 points each from Luke Maye and Coby White. Their victory advanced them to the semi-finals, awaiting the victory of Duke-Syracuse. With Duke’s victory, a rematch of Duke-UNC was solidified for the ACC Tournament Semifinals tonight at 6PM PST.

North Carolina has beaten Duke in the two recent games they’ve played, but Zion Williamson played 30 seconds in the first, and missed the second game entirely. So it’s fairly safe to say that neither of those games were a true representation of both team’s potential. Tonight is a different story, with a healthy Williamson prepared to lead Duke against North Carolina once again.

Duke (27-5, 5th seed)

Duke certainly looked a little lost without Zion Williamson, going just 3-3 in his absence (including the game he was injured). In his return, Williamson looked dominant as ever with his 29/14/5 performance. Barrett looked relieved to have some pressure taken off his shoulders, and with Cam Reddish shooting less, more baskets were going in with Williamson’s perfect shooting. If Williamson isn’t winded from playing back-to-back games, it’s hard to pick against this Blue Devil team.

  • Duke needs more production from Cameron Reddish, who scored just 7 points against Syracuse. While he did score 23 against North Carolina the prior game, he needed 23 shots to get there. The game before that he scored just 6 points. Reddish is averaging 14.3 points on the season and certainly possesses the ability to score.
  • Zion Williamson is healthy, and will play against North Carolina. Missing nearly a month of basketball, his conditioning comes into question, but the big man should be alright.
  • Duke is now 24-2 in games played with Zion Williamson (excluding the UNC game he was injured in).
  • RJ Barrett has been locked in against UNC, scoring 33 the first matchup and 26 the last. Duke needs a big game from Barrett to win against a fierce Tar Heel team.

North Carolina (27-5, 3rd seed)

The Tar Heels have been playing impressive basketball lately, aided by breakout development of point guard Coby White. The Tar Heels have become a much deadlier team with White’s scoring and passing ability, opening up opportunities for Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson. North Carolina hasn’t had a fair crack at Duke yet this season, but this game will serve as a true test of their potential for the NCAA tournament.

  • Went 2-0 in games against Duke this season, although both victories Zion Williamson didn’t play the full game.
  • The Tar Heels are red-hot, having won 8 games in a row, and are 19-2 in their last 21 games played.
  • Coby White has improved significantly since the beginning of the season, learning how to keep his speed under control. In the last 5 games, White is averaging 22.6 points on 50% shooting from the field and 41% shooting from three.
  • Cameron Johnson has provided reliable 3 point shooting all season, shooting 47% from downtown and making 2.7 threes per game.

Pick: Duke (Duke -2.5 Total )

Duke opens as a small 2.5 point favorite. Zion Williamson is the best player in college basketball, and anytime a team can say that they always have a chance to win. Zion isn’t surrounded with scrubs either, with Barrett and Reddish projected lottery picks in the upcoming draft. North Carolina’s play has been very impressive, but they lack the raw talent of Duke. When your talent is Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, I think it’s a safe bet to pick that collection of talent over a strong Tar Heel team. Duke wins tonight, claiming redemption for the last two handicapped losses.

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