Preview & Prediction: By Jeff Borzello
In college sports, there is nothing better than rivalries. Fans of both schools get riled up and excited days in advance, camping out for tickets in order to support their half of the rivalry. Arguably the best rivalry in college basketball – the battle for Tobacco Road – features No.3 North Carolina and No. 6 Duke. Separated by only eight miles and a few shades of blue, all records and stats go out the window when the Tar Heels and Blue Devils get together.
#3 North Carolina (21-2, 7-2 in the ACC) is widely considered the most talented team in the country and the favorite to win the national championship come March. The Tar Heels started the season on a tear, winning their first 13 games, each of them coming by at least 15 points. Then they fell to Boston College and Wake Forest to start ACC play 0-2. However, UNC has since seven in a row to move into a tie for first place. It owns wins over Michigan State, Clemson, Kentucky, Florida State and Miami (Fl.). On the other side, #6 Duke (20-3, 7-2) has lost two of its past four, with the last win coming in overtime over Miami (Fl.). Prior to that, the Blue Devils had won 10 in a row and 18 of 19, with the lone loss coming at Michigan. Five of their final eight games are on the road, though. Duke has victories against Michigan, Purdue, Xavier, Davidson, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgetown, Miami (Fl.) and Maryland.
Duke is a balanced team that relies heavily on its deep and talented perimeter group. The Blue Devils spread the floor and create match-up problems. Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson lead the way offensively. Singler is an inside-outside option at forward, while Henderson is an athletic force on the wing. Henderson is averaging 19.8 points per game over the past nine contests. Jon Scheyer is a very good all-around player who can do a variety of things (he even leads the team in assists with 2.9 per game). At the point, Greg Paulus has taken over the point guard position after coming off the bench all season. His backup, Nolan Smith, added quickness and defensive intensity while in the starting lineup, but he only played 7 minutes against Miami. Brian Zoubek provides height down low, while Lance Thomas backs him up. David McClure is scrappy.
North Carolina has lost some of its luster since the beginning of the season, when its second-team could beat some ACC squads’ first teams. The Tar Heels suffered injuries to Marcus Ginyard and Tyler Zeller, as well as a suspension to Will Graves. The starting lineup is still stocked, though, led by All-America Tyler Hansbrough. He is one of the hardest working players in the country and a 20-10 threat every night. Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington are a fantastic backcourt, with Ellington coming on strong lately, averaging 21.3 points per game in his last six contests. Lawson is unbelievably quick. Danny Green is versatile and can do nearly everything on the court. Deon Thompson started off strong, but has since struggled, scoring in double-digits in just 3 of his last 9 games. Ed Davis is the only consistent threat off the bench, but guards Larry Drew and Bobby Frasor see extended minutes.
Always one of the best games of the season, this year should be no different. Both teams are No. 1 seed and ACC title candidates, as well as threats to reach the Final Four. North Carolina struggled somewhat midseason, while Duke has sputtered lately. However, both teams bring their A-game for the Tobacco Road rivalry. UNC has more talent than Duke, but the Tar Heels struggle defensively at times. However, Hansbrough should have a field day inside against the Blue Devils’ mediocre interior defense, while Lawson has a tremendous quickness advantage against Paulus. On the other side, Duke has a match-up nightmare in Singler, who Thompson will struggle to defend. Furthermore, Henderson and Scheyer are capable of big games offensively, while North Carolina typically struggles to defend the wings. Overall, though, North Carolina is a more balanced and talented team that has too many weapons for Duke to compete with for 40 minutes.
WINNER: North Carolina MARGIN: 5-7
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Ah, the rivalry to top all rivalries. Depending on what happens in the next week, #1 could on the line here, or at least a #1 seed in the tourney. Even though Cameron is a brutally hard place to win, UNC, in my opinion, is still the best team in the country and I like them to pull of a legendary win.
Early Prediction: North Carolina