Creature vs. Creature: Duke, UNC Battle for ACC Supremacy
For one night, throw the national rankings out the window.
Take the RPI to the garbage can. Send strength of schedule to the shredder. Kick Pomeroy to the curb. Overall record? Please.
When North Carolina (21-2, 7-2 ACC) travels eight miles up Highway 15/501 to meet Duke (20-3, 7-2 ACC), a rivalry will be renewed that remains not only the greatest in college basketball, but perhaps in all of sport.
Though always special, this game will mean even more on Wednesday night, because the winner takes sole possession of first place in the toughest conference in college basketball. Perhaps more importantly, the victor will have local bragging rights, at least until the Mar. 8 rematch in Chapel Hill.
Duke has dropped two of its last four games, albeit it to strong contenders Wake Forest and Clemson, both on the road. The Devils needed overtime to dispatch with Miami on Saturday, though Greg Paulus excelled in a starting role for the first time since the beginning of the season.
North Carolina shocked its supporters and critics alike by dropping its first two conference games to Wake and Boston College, but the Heels have righted the ship in style, winning seven straight ACC games by an average of 16 points.
Why does the Duke/UNC rivalry mean so much to you?
Travis: The matchups with UNC are always the most significant games of the season. It's impossible to gauge the skill of the team or success of the year without taking in the results of the Tobacco Road clashes. Regardless of record, the game is always heated and the probability of a special finish is sky high.
My least favorite example is the 2003 battle in which an NIT-bound Carolina team edged a top-10 Blue Devils squad 82-79 in Chapel Hill. Duke went on to win the ACC Tournament and advance to the Sweet 16, but for the gentlemen down the road, this was their National Championship.
Similarly, in 1995, Duke pushed a Final-Four bound Tar Heels squad to double OT, clawing back from 17 down. Duke was 10-9 at the time, without Coach K, and headed to their worst season in recent memory.
Bottom line? All stats are thrown out the door when these two teams meet, and anything can happen. Cliche, cheesy, true.
Nathan: This isn't just a battle between two great teams: It's a clash of two cultures. Eight miles may separate the universities, but the two schools couldn't be more different in nature.
One is the flagship state school; one is an elite, private, Ivy League school of the South. One is located in "the Southern part of Heaven," while the other is in a city that stands as a unique mix of gritty, hardscrabble blue-collar workers and upscale socialites.
Every man, woman, and child in the state of North Carolina has picked a side, except for those poor folks still hoping for a N.C. State revival. If UNC loses, your Duke coworkers will harass you incessantly; your Duke friends will leave you calling AT&T to unregister your number.
If UNC wins, you can remind your Devil buddies that they're paying roughly 25 times more for that piece of paper they get after (hopefully) four years. You can ask them if they've officially changed their name to the State University of New Jersey at Durham.
You can remind them that this pill won't be nearly as bitter to swallow as the loss they have coming on Senior Day in Chapel Hill.
Going 2-30 on the season is just fine, as long as those two wins are against Duke.
What is your most memorable moment from the Duke/UNC rivalry?
Travis: If I had to choose just one, it would be Feb. 28, 1998 when Duke was down double-digits with only 10 minutes to go. UNC missed four free throws when they counted most, and Mike Krzyzewski earned his 500th win as Duke clinched the regular-season ACC title.
A close second is the Feb. 5, 2004 matchup when one of my favorite all-time Duke teams came back late in regulation to force OT and beat one of my least favorite Carolina teams (Sean May and company) in Chapel Hill, thanks to Chris Duhon's game-winning reverse layup.
Nathan: It's not always when they play each other. For sheer emotion on Franklin Street, I have to go with a single night (Mar. 25, 2000) in which Duke lost a game to Florida that would have advanced them to the Elite Eight, immediately followed by a UNC victory over Tennessee, as they won on their way to another Final Four. Both were stunning upsets.
An elderly man played the UNC fight song (including the commonly improvised ending of "Go to Hell, Duke!") for hours on his trumpet, and the streets were filled with revelers well past 2 AM.
How will a win affect the rest of your season?
Travis: Doubt may be starting to creep into the minds of Duke critics, which could start leaking to the fan base with another loss.
This season is supposed to be different than the disappointments of the last few years, when toughness and deep postseason runs have eluded us. Earning this win would reinforce, if not restore, confidence in the Devils and their fan base that Duke can beat a top team.
Though many games remain in conference play, it's never too early to think about ACC and NCAA tournament seeding, and a win would give the Devils an early advantage. Sending the Heels home in second place will be a huge step in the right direction.
Nathan: Travis laid it out pretty well. It's all about confidence. Duke plays outstanding defense and while UNC has notched some impressive wins, none would instill more confidence than a win over the uniquely challenging Blue Devils.
A No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament team (for either or both teams) likely means two games in Greensboro, NC, a huge advantage in making the Sweet 16.
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