Rivalries. It’s what defines sports and in college basketball, there’s not one bigger than Duke and North Carolina.
To each team, the other is the “Evil Empire”. That’s how it works.
UNC dropped early games this season to teams like Minnesota and Vanderbilt. Harrison Barnes was looking more like Marvin Williams and less like Michael Jordan by the minute.
On the other side, after Duke’s fast start, there was talk of Duke going undefeated.
Well, after a Kyrie Irving season-ending injury and an embarrassing loss to St. Johns, the Blue Devils have been knocked off their high horse.
During that same time period, the Tarheels turned things around with a 7-1 ACC record and a No. 20 national ranking. Barnes has gotten rid of his freshman fears and looks comfortable – more than before at least.
Last season Duke won the national title and made a mockery of the Tarheels. The Blue Devils swept the Tarheels and beat them 82-50 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It wasn’t pretty.
Sure, UNC holds the overall series 130-99, but in a world of “what have you done for me lately,” Duke has the target on its back this season. What will it come down to? Let’s take a look:
If Duke had Irving, this would be a landslide. The freshman was averaging 17.4 points per game at the time his injury. The Blue Devils do still have Nolan Smith (21 ppg), Andre Dawkins (10 ppg) and Seth Curry (8.2 ppg).
The guard play for the Tarheels isn’t exactly what one would expect from them, especially after Larry Drew II decided to transfer. (Odd time to do so – right after the team starts to get hot).
Dexter Strickland leads a backcourt with 8.6 ppg, while Kendall Marshall isn’t flashy with his 4.5 ppg, but he’s efficient averaging five assists. And last time out, he set a school record for freshman assists in a game with 16 versus Florida State.
There isn’t much of a battle here. The experience of Smith is too much. He may not be a lottery pick, or even an efficient NBA player, but guess what? That doesn’t matter in college basketball.
The Blue Devils are led by Kyle Singler, who seems as if he’s been in school for 4,090 years now. He’s averaging 18 ppg along with 6.2 rpg.
The Plumlee brothers (Mason and Miles) are listed at forwards, but essentially play the center position for the Dukies. While the two have improved in their time at Duke, the Blue Devils are still missing an enforcer, such as last season’s Brian Zoubek. Sure, his offensive game was lacking, but his hustle plays inside led to countless opportunities for Coach K’s squad.
College basketball, where a 7-foot, 250-pound player is listed as a forward. Tyler Zeller leads the Tarheel offense, averaging 14.1 ppg to go along with six rebounds.
Zeller, along with Barnes (13.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and underrated John Henson (11.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, team-high 65 blocks) are a talented group of “forwards” and the more games these three put together, the better they’ll get. Remember, Zeller is a junior, while Henson and Barnes are only a sophomore and freshman, respectively.
If this were based on the future, it’s easy to go with UNC. Too bad the game is now, not 2012.
Obviously Duke has the home-court advantage, and in college basketball, that means everything. But let’s not overlook the fact that UNC has won five straight, including an 89-69 pounding over Florida State – a team that handed Duke it’s first loss earlier this season.
With that said, it’s difficult to pick against Duke. They have the senior leadership every college basketball team hopes to one day put on the court. They know how much this rivalry means.
Prediction: Duke 84, UNC 78.
Kyle Ratke – Contributor
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