The biggest rivalry in college basketball delivered another classic last night as No. 9 Duke shocked No. 5 North Carolina 85-84 on a buzzer-beating three-pointer in Chapel Hill. Freshman Austin Rivers entered his name in the roll call of the matchup’s unforgettable moments by knocking down the game-winner (and scoring 29 points overall) in his first-ever meeting with the Tar Heels.
Add in No. 17 Florida State’s mind-boggling loss at dismal Boston College, and the conference race is wide open once again. Here are just some of the ways tonight’s action will affect the rest of the season in the ACC.
The Duke-UNC rematch will (probably) be winner-take-all
Had they held on to win last night, the Tar Heels would’ve taken a one-game lead in the conference. That would likely have forced Duke to win the second leg of the home-and-home just to have a chance to tie for the ACC title.
Now, although Duke has the head-to-head edge for the moment, the two teams are back in a flat-footed tie with Florida State for the conference lead. It’s hard to picture the Seminoles winning out—especially after last night’s loss to BC—but Duke and UNC could easily find themselves still tied atop the standings when they meet again on March 3.
Duke can ill afford to assume a win in that season finale, considering that both of their ACC losses (to less imposing foes than the Tar Heels) have come in Durham.
Virginia is a factor again
Two losses early in ACC play left the No. 20 Cavaliers playing catch-up, but they’re not out of the conference-title picture just yet. Mike Scott and company are 6-3 in conference, and after all the turmoil at the top of the standings, they’re just one game out of first.
With both North Carolina and Florida State heading to Charlottesville before the season is out, Virginia is a dangerous spoiler at worst. Given a little help, though, it could find itself with a share of the conference crown.
The ACC champion is likely to be a No. 2 seed
In most years, a top-10 showdown between the two Tobacco Road powers would have a top NCAA tournament seed on the line, but Duke’s win may have been the last straw where that prospect is concerned. With both Duke and UNC now at 20-4, earning a top seed is going to require some help.
The top four teams in the current polls are Kentucky, Syracuse, Ohio State and Missouri, none of which has as many as four losses. Unless Michigan State can catch Ohio State in the Big Ten, it’s hard to see any of those teams falling off sufficiently to be overtaken by the ACC champ—whoever that turns out to be.
The Tar Heels and Blue Devils both have some serious issues to address
North Carolina’s talent is not in question, and the double-digit lead they built in the second half of last night’s game is a testament to how dangerous the Tar Heel offense can be when it gets going. Heart (or lack thereof), however, is becoming a serious issue for a team that’s struggled all year to execute in the final minutes of close games.
Duke, for its part, can hardly rest on its laurels after its dramatic win. The Blue Devils needed to hit 14 three-pointers to beat UNC—hardly a total they can count on matching against other quality opponents—and the interior defense that Tyler Zeller shredded for 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting is a major area of concern.