College Basketball

UNC vs. Duke: Key Storylines to Watch in Rivalry Showdown

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 20:  Marcus Paige #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels drives to the basket against Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 20, 2014 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 74-66.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

While there are a number of rivalries in each sport, there are a few permanently ingrained in the national consciousness of fans across the entire sports landscape. 

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in baseball, Ohio State and Michigan in college football and the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics in the NBA immediately come to mind.

The college basketball showdowns between Duke and North Carolina certainly belong on that list.

Saturday’s contest between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels promises to add another chapter to the rivalry’s storied history.

Let’s dig into a few storylines to watch.


Postseason Positioning

It is officially March in college basketball, which means one thing—the madness is upon us.

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 20:  Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils against the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 20, 2014 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 74-66.  (Photo by Grant Halver
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Saturday’s game between Mike Krzyzewski’s squad and Roy Williams’ team will be the last regular-season contest for each before the ACC tournament begins. Just one game separates Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina in the second, third and fourth positions in the ACC, which adds even more emphasis to Saturday’s rivalry.

More importantly, both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have a realistic opportunity to seize a No. 2 or 3 seed come the NCAA tournament. (Duke probably lost its chance at a No. 1 seed with the loss to Wake Forest, although given the recent attrition at the top of the polls, it could play its way back into contention.)

North Carolina has played its way into contention for a high seed because of its 12-game winning streak.

Superstar point guard Marcus Paige recognized how well his team was playing after the win over Duke on Feb. 20 in comments passed along by "I'm not going to say we're a finished product because we've got games left, but man, we're playing really well right now and we're winning games in a lot of different ways," Paige said.

Whichever team wins Saturday will have momentum on its side heading into the ACC tournament.


Blue Devils Bouncing Back

Duke may have been overlooking its game against Wake Forest with the rematch against the Tar Heels looming.

WINSTON-SALEM, NC - MARCH 05:  Devin Thomas #2 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons tries to stop Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Joel Coliseum on March 5, 2014 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Im
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

One 82-72 loss later, the Blue Devils have lost some of the luster from winning 11 of 13 games, along with the chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

However, Duke shouldn’t be too embarrassed about the loss to Wake Forest, because it isn’t the only team in college basketball’s best rivalry to do so this year, as CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein pointed out:

While Saturday’s game with the Tar Heels represents a chance to bounce back from the loss to the Demon Deacons, it also gives Krzyzewski’s squad an opportunity for revenge against its archrival.

The Tar Heels defended home court against the Blue Devils on Feb. 20 to the tune of 74-66. 

Losing twice to North Carolina in the same season would certainly not sit well in Durham. Expect the Cameron Crazies to realize the importance of this game and respond accordingly.


Battle on the Boards

In the first matchup, North Carolina eviscerated Duke on the glass.

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 20:  James Michael McAdoo #43 of the North Carolina Tar Heels battles Marshall Plumlee #40 of the Duke Blue Devils for the ball during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 20, 2014 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Nort
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Tar Heels controlled the inside of the lane on both ends and finished with a 43-30 rebounding advantage. What’s more, North Carolina grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, and five players had at least five rebounds total.

James Michael McAdoo set the pace with 10 boards, while J.P. Tokoto added seven, Kennedy Meeks grabbed six and Brice Johnson tallied six.

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

The issue for the Blue Devils was the lack of help on the boards for Jabari Parker. He grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, which was three more than the rest of Duke's starters combined. Marshall Plumlee managed six rebounds off the bench, but the Blue Devils aren’t going to win if Rodney Hood goes rebound-less and Amile Jefferson only gets three again.

As long as Duke remains competitive on the glass, its impressive offense and home-court advantage should be enough to carry it to victory in the rematch.


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