The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels have the biggest rivalry in college basketball, and the two teams will play once again on Thursday night. But aside from bragging rights, there's a lot at stake for both teams, even if the stakes are different for the Blue Devils and Tar Heels.
At 21-5, the Blue Devils head to Chapel Hill as the No. 5 team in the latest AP rankings thanks to the help of some terrific young talent. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels may be just 18-7, but they've had some impressive wins throughout the season and are looking to add yet another with a win at home.
With the stage set for yet another game in this heated rivalry, let's take a look at what's at stake for Duke and North Carolina.
Note: RPI rankings courtesy of ESPN.com.
Duke Blue Devils
With just a few games remaining, the Blue Devils are going to need to get a win at Chapel Hill if they want to have a legitimate shot at grabbing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Right now, the Blue Devils are eighth in RPI rankings, but are 2.5 games behind Virginia in the ACC with a 10-3 conference record, with Syracuse two games ahead of them as well. The last 10 games have been promising, however, with a 9-1 record and the only loss coming to the Orange in overtime.
This game is a great opportunity for the Blue Devils to stay in contention for a No. 1 seed, especially considering the fact that the Orange fell to Boston College and the Arizona Wildcats nearly lost another one, this time against Utah. If they can show up big against UNC, they have a chance to solidify a top-four spot in the AP poll.
However, before the week is over, Duke will have to take on the Orange. who just recently lost their first game of the season. But a win here could give the Blue Devils an opportunity to carry some momentum into that game while the Orange come in down.
Regardless of which team wins, a strong performance here could be a valuable experience for star freshman Jabari Parker, who will get another chance to prove himself in a crucial game on a national stage.
This is a big game with quite a bit riding on it, but this game might not mean quite as much as it does for the Tar Heels, who have a lot at stake on this one.
North Carolina Tar Heels
According to ESPN's Bracketology, the Tar Heels are projected to be a No. 7 seed in the tournament, but that seeding could move around quite a bit depending on how the rest of the season plays out.
If North Carolina doesn't finish the season out strong, there's a chance it could be one of the last few teams in, or even be out of the tourney. But a win against a top-tier ranked team like Duke would make their resume quite impressive.
The issue with the Tar Heels is that they had previously struggled to be a consistent team before this solid seven-game winning streak. They've had quite a few excellent wins against some of the best teams in the country, but they've also lost games against some of the worst. You can see the polarizing results in the tables below.
|Tar Heels Key Wins and Losses|
|vs. Kentucky||82-77||11||vs. Belmont||83-80||62|
|at Michigan State||79-65||19||at Wake Forest||73-67||104|
|vs. Pittsburgh||75-71||33||vs. Miami (FL)||63-57||108|
|vs. Louisville||93-84||35||at UAB||63-59||164|
Fortunately, this win streak seems to be showing that the Tar Heels are a legitimately good team, especially with the likes of Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo scoring 17.2 and 14.7 points per game, respectively.
At No. 26 in RPI, the Tar Heels are another big win away from solidifying a pretty high seed, especially if that win can come against the team ranked eighth in RPI. Not only that, but they could also close the gap to half of a game for third place in the ACC standings.
This has been a strange season for the Tar Heels, but given the amount of talent they have, a win here could mean that they're for real and are good enough to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.