Monday, February 10, 2014

What Does This Year's Duke-UNC Game Mean?

Rivalry renewed
It is that time again for Duke-North Carolina ... the greatest rivalry in college basketball and one of the best rivalries in all sports.  This Wednesday, they lace 'em up for another installment in Chapel Hill.

But what is the buzz around this game?  It is really tough to say.

Both teams have underachieved a bit.  Duke hasn't looked like that elite level squad that often this year.  They are talented enough to win the whole thing and they have won 7 of 8 games but they haven't looked Duke-like.  The same team that has been blitzing teams of late also lost to Clemson and Notre Dame.

Carolina is in the same sort of boat.  No one has any clue what this team is.  What was once a top-15 team that beat the likes of Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky, now they are a team just clinging on to remain relevant in the ACC.  The Tar Heels enter this game pretty hot as well with a five-game winning streak.  That has allowed the Heels to be 6-4 after a horrid 1-4 start to conference play.

That's the angle of this game.  Two teams that have struggled with finding an identity are facing off when both are at their hottest.  It is usually already a huge game as far as the ACC standings go, but this year has a bigger difference.  Neither school is atop the league standings and both are actually fighting for one of the four coveted double-byes in the ACC Tournament.  Newbies Syracuse and Pittsburgh are now among the league's elite while Virginia has had a rebirth of relevance.  If UNC beats Duke, the Devils would be just 8-4 and the Heels 7-5.  Imagine if that happens.  That would mean the Heels would have beaten Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Louisville this season ... the entire preseason top five.  Amazing for a team that can't quite get right.

Do that and the Heels are sitting in a nice spot heading into the weekend's matchup against Pitt.  UNC then faces fellow middle-level ACC squads Florida State, Wake Forest and NC State in the next two weeks.  Big time slate.

A Duke win would put a bit of distance between them and the bottom ten teams in the ACC.  Aside from rematches with Syracuse and North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils should be able to close out the rest of their schedule and challenge of the conference title.

Conventional wisdom says that Duke should beat UNC handily, but with these two this season, you just never know.

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