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The Duke and North Carolina rivalry is the best in college basketball and even though the Tar Heels are in a “down year” and are double-digit underdogs, this game means a lot to not just both teams but several others in the ACC.
The Blue Devils are two full games behind Miami for the conference lead and if they lose this game their shot at a regular season crown is gone. Miami will not only be playing their own big game tonight (against Florida State) but they will be rooting for Duke to lose so they can separate themselves further. The Hurricanes need Duke to lose to give themselves room for error when they travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium for a March 2nd match up. Yes I know Duke is expected to win the game but they need to win out and have a strong performance in the ACC tournament to wrap up another #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
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North Carolina has struggled this year but has tried to focus on winning and not being fancy. For a team that was down and out in December, they are playing tonight to bolster their resume to get into the big dance. A win tonight will put them on the right path.
Virginia and North Carolina State also have interest in this game. The Cavaliers are currently sitting third in the conference and can wrap up that position with a Duke victory tonight and their own win at UNC this coming Saturday. The Wolfpack has lost 5 of their last 8 games but the 2nd half of their ACC schedule is favorable with all 7 remaining games being played against teams ranked 6th or worse in the league. State is currently sitting 5th in the conference and that is a very important spot as it is the bubble spot in my opinion when it comes to getting into the tournament. This could be a year where only four ACC teams make it in to the big dance.
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I think Duke, Miami, Virginia, North Carolina, and NC State are the only ACC teams that have a shot at the tournament. Fans of Florida State and Maryland don’t give me a hard time because at 13-10 the Seminoles have no chance, they just lost too much from last years team to compete. FSU is ranked 302nd in the nation in rebounding, pathetic. And just because the Terrapins are 17-7 overall they are only 5-6 in the ACC and still have to host Duke and then go on the road for four of their last six games. Maryland inflated their stats and their record with a weak non-conference schedule. Their only big match up was against a young Kentucky team, that they still couldn’t beat.
As for the game tonight, I think the key will be whether Duke can rebound and UNC can defend the perimeter. The Blue Devils need another big game from Mason Plumlee, who has been averaging a double-double, and I think they will get it. The three-point game is a big part of Duke’s offense as they hit almost 41% and that doesn’t bode well for the Tar Heels as they give up over 35%.
My prediction: Duke wins 82-70.
Bruce Wilson blogs for 610 AM WFNZ The Fan and at BruceDogg.Wordpress.com. He is the owner of Superior Car Service and is currently working on his first novel. You can follow him on Twitter @BruceRWilson
Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Sports Radio 610 AM WFNZ The Fan