It hasn’t exactly been a red-letter season for the North Carolina Tar Heel basketball team. At 16-7 (6-4 ACC) unranked and potentially on the NCAA bubble, it has been a season the Tar Heels would just as soon forget.
That doesn’t change the importance of their game with Duke Wednesday night. North Carolina is in desperate need for a marquee victory and as Duke fans known, a victory over the Blue Devils would be a big bonus not just because of the rivalry but it would provide the Tar Heels with just what they need: A big win.
Odds makers are surely going to look at No. 2 Duke and see that they are playing at home, where they haven’t lost and then look at North Carolina who hasn’t been particular stellar on the road this season and most likely give Duke the advantage, but those who have followed this series over the years know all too well those numbers and stats mean nothing come game time.
The most obvious case against looking at rankings or odds makers’ predictions is the classic Duke-UNC game back in 1995. North Carolina came into Durham ranked No. 2 and looking like clearly one of the best teams in the country. Duke was limping through a season without Mike Krzyzewski who took a medical leave of absence.
Nobody game Duke much of a chance but the Blue Devils fought and forced the game into a double-overtime thriller which featured the famous Jeff Capel half-court heave. Duke ended up losing that game in double overtime 102-100 but the game epitomizes the fact that no Duke-UNC game, regardless of record or rank is, routine.
When North Carolina comes into Cameron Wednesday night they come in after suffering one of their most embarrassing loses in recent memory and, like Duke earlier this season, it came at the hands of ACC leader Miami on the road. Duke responded well after that loss, so I’d expect the Tar Heels to be fired up with something to prove.
For North Carolina a lot will rest on the shoulders of young Marcus Paige who will be entering Cameron Indoor Stadium, a place that hasn’t been particularly kind to freshman point guards over the years. The Tar Heels are going to look to push the tempo and get shots for Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston in order to open things up in the middle for James Michael McAdoo.
This isn’t a vaunted Roy Williams team that can run and score at will, but this isn’t a team that has been necessarily great in the half court and defense has almost always been an area less enforced by Williams over the years as he prefers to try and out score his opponents.
North Carolina doesn’t have the horses to do that and if Duke has a hot shooting night it could be a tough outing again for the young Tar Heels.
Duke on the other hand is hoping their performance last Sunday against Boston College isn’t a sign that they are slipping back into some inconsistent ways. The game was eerily similar to the Blue Devils game against Wake Forest a couple week ago where Duke was heavily favored but looked sluggish and played that way for most of the game.
The Blue Devils were lucky to grind out an ugly victory on the road against one of the poorer teams in the conference this year twice. Granted they have been particularly strong at home. If Duke plays like they did against either team in the North Carolina game it could mean trouble.
Odds makers have the Blue Devils as a 10-point favorite, but that seems a bit steep considering the history. Duke will have to have another lights out performance from Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee and hope that Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon can add some scoring punch.
Amile Jefferson had a bit of a disappointing performance against Boston College and if Mike Krzyzewski goes with a heavier dose of Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston, expect a lower scoring game.
This is always a game that comes down to some mystery man coming out of the wood work and having the game of their lives. This rivalry brings out strange things so watch some of the freshman on both sides who could tilt the balance one way or the other.
No matter what the predictions no one every knows what will happen in a Duke-North Carolina, so despite the rankings and records this game still matters and it is still the biggest deal in town.
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