Duke-UNC Rivalry Renewed With First Place At Stake
First place is now on the line in college basketball's greatest rivalry.
UNC's 20-point blowout of third place Florida State Sunday assured that the winner will hold first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference heading into the stretch run of the regular season.
Duke has been ranked in the top five all season long, but the Tar Heels haven’t had such an easy run. The Tar Heels just finally jumped back in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ top 25 on Monday.
North Carolina was ranked No. 9 in the preseason but quickly fell to No. 25 after losing early games to Minnesota and Vanderbilt. The Tar Heels were soon out of the poll completely after starting the season 4-3.
Now, they are ranked at No. 21 and have won nine of their last 10 games. It seems UNC made its run just in time, and have an opportunity to prove themselves in the showdown for first place against archrival Duke.
Last season, the Blue Devils took home the ACC regular season crown, tournament title and national championship, while the Tar Heels finished tied for the league’s second-worst record.
Duke also beat North Carolina in last season’s finale 82-50, the second-most lopsided beating in the rivalry’s history.
Will this year turn out the same way?
Duke’s Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are the key components to the success the Blue Devils have achieved this season. Though the loss of sensational freshman point guard Kyrie Irving has hurt, the senior duo of Singler and Smith have picked up any offensive slack.
Singler is third in the conference in scoring at 18.0 points per game while Smith is attempting to become the first player in ACC history to lead the conference in points and assists. He currently is averaging 21.0 points and 5.6 assists -- both of which currently lead the league.
Potentially challenging Smith to be the ACC's top assist man this season is North Carolina freshman Kendall Marshall. He is second in the conference and has averaged 6.6 assists per game since being inserted into the starting lineup five games ago.
Marshall is making people forget that Larry Drew II, who Marshall replaced in the starting lineup, even left the team. In Sunday's win against Florida State, the first game since Drew II's departure, Marshall broke UNC's freshman record with 16 assists -- one more than the Seminoles had as a team.
North Carolina’s big comeback this season is not something the Blue Devils can overlook. Since dropping three of their first seven games, the Tar Hells have only two losses in the 15 games since. They are currently loaded with confidence, riding a five-game winning streak as they make the short trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Pre-season All-American Harrison Barnes seems to have finally turned the corner. He has scored in double figures in seven consecutive games and is averaging 22.7 points per game in his last three contests.
Tyler Zeller and John Henson are also helping the Tar Heels come alive with their interior play. The chemistry and momentum of this Tar Heel basketball team should make for an interesting game as are almost all of the rivalry games between the two different shades of blue.
Duke has won the last 32 games in a row at Cameron, but no one would like to quiet the Cameron Crazies more than the baby blue boys from just down the road.
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