Duke vs North Carolina: Who Has the Most to Lose in ACC Showdown?
The greatest rivalry in college basketball will write another chapter on Saturday night, as Duke and North Carolina face off once again.
The No. 3 Blue Devils (26-4) will travel down Tobacco Road to Chapel Hill to take on the unranked Tar Heels (22-8) on Senior Night.
Both teams come into the contest with high hopes, but they both have a lot to lose if things go south and a lot to gain if they come away with a win.
Let's take a look at what's on the line during Saturday's contest.
What Duke Could Gain
Duke is already near the top of the college basketball world with its No. 3 ranking, but there's always something to be gained in a rivalry game.
With No. 3 Miami losing to Georgia Tech, the door has been cracked open for the Blue Devils to win a share of the ACC regular season title—however, that would require a Duke win at North Carolina and Miami to lose to Clemson. The odds of the Hurricanes losing against back-to-back unranked opponents at home is incredibly slim.
What appears to be a more realistic benefit from winning this game for the Blue Devils is simply bragging rights. Both teams are looking to hold a win on Saturday over their rival's head, and sweeping the season series would be huge for Duke fans.
And of course the Blue Devils can completely ruin UNC's Senior Night.
What North Carolina Could Gain
With a tough regular season coming to a close, North Carolina has a lot to gain from a win against a Top 5 opponent who just happens to be the team's archrival.
As the Tar Heels try to send their seniors out in style, they will also be playing to essentially clinch a berth in the NCAA tournament.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi's current bracket has the Tar Heels as a No. 7 seed in the Big Dance, but a loss to Duke and an early exit in the ACC tournament could potentially relegate the team to the NIT. However, a win over Duke would all but clinch a berth in the NCAA tournament.
UNC will try to salvage a poor season during which the team went 22-8—beating Duke would certainly help.
What Duke Could Lose
Being near the top of the college basketball world means that Duke doesn't have much to gain, but everything to lose.
While it's a year of parity in college hoops and the Blue Devils maintained their No. 3 ranking this week despite losing to Virginia last week, Duke can hardly afford another loss if it wants to stay in the Top 5.
A No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament could also be on the line for the Blue Devils. Depending on how far the team goes in the ACC tournament, a loss to an unranked opponent (even if it is an archrival) would set the team back a step.
Duke fans already know that a No. 2 seed doesn't guarantee any success in the NCAA tournament, but the school hasn't been a No. 1 seed and lost before the Sweet Sixteen in over 30 years. Additionally, Duke has won three of its four championships as a top seed.
If you don't think rankings matter during March Madness, try telling Coach K and his Blue Devils.
What North Carolina Could Lose
With North Carolina's struggles this season, the team has a lot to lose with another loss.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi had the Tar Heels as a No. 7 seed as of Mar. 5, but the Tar Heels have the potential to end up being a bubble team. If UNC loses to Duke at home and then has an early exit in the ACC tournament, the team could be in a bit of trouble.
Apart from tournament seeding (or even potentially whether or not the team gets in), the Tar Heels can't face the humiliation of going 0-2 against Duke and letting the Blue Devils ruin their Senior Night.
Verdict: North Carolina
While this chapter of the Duke-UNC rivalry might not have the ACC crown on the line, it's still an important matchup.
Right now it looks like the Tar Heels have the most to lose, as Duke will be near the top of the college basketball world no matter what, while the Tar Heels could slowly fade over this next week.
It's also expected of the Tar Heels to defend their home court, and doing so would only tie the season series at 1-1, but another loss would send UNC to 0-2 against Duke this year.
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