Jabari Parker Takes over Duke-UNC, Keeps Blue Devils Hopes for No. 1 Seed Alive

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 9, 2014

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

On a day full of big-name players setting career highs, Jabari Parker joined in on the fun with 30 points and 11 rebounds, keeping Duke in the discussion for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a 93-81 win over North Carolina.

Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins had 41 points in a loss to West Virginia earlier. Creighton's Doug McDermott had 45 in an emotional win over Providence.

But it was Parker who stole the show in the game the entire nation was watching.

Parker drew the fouls that forced James Michael McAdoo to play virtually the entire game in foul trouble. He blocked the Marcus Paige jumper that could have brought the Tar Heels back to within five points with 2:30 remaining. He grabbed the offensive rebound of Amile Jefferson's missed free throw and calmly drained two of his own to put the game on ice.

When the rest of the team tightened up before halftime to let North Carolina close the gap, Parker scored nine of the team's final 11 points before the breakand hit another two-point jumper 11 seconds into the second half.

DURHAM, NC - MARCH 08:  Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after a play during their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 8, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Any time Duke needed someone to step up, Parker was ready and able to answer the call.

As North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said via CBS Sports, "It's hard to say what 'it' is. But whatever the hell 'it' is, Jabari found it." 

This was just the capstone on what has been an incredible streak of individual efforts from Parker.

Parker has registered a double-double in six straight games and 10 of Duke's last 13. During that stretch, he has averaged 19.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

Remember when we worried he was hitting a wall in early January?

Parker shot 10-of-17 from the floor. And unlike the way he was getting the majority of his buckets in early February, only one of the made field goals was a dunk. He hit seven jumperstwo from three-point rangeand made eight of his nine free-throw attempts.

He's finally rediscovering the shooting stroke that made us fall in love with him in November. If he can carry that touch into the NCAA tournament, Duke will be a very difficult team to eliminate.

Parker allegedly hasn't decided if he's going to go pro after the season, but if he does, Saturday night will go a long way toward convincing the NBA lottery winner to make him the No. 1 overall pick this June.

Though it felt like it for large parts of the game, Parker didn't score all of Duke's points.

Rodney Hood had a great game, shooting 8-of-13 from the floor and scoring 24 points. Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon added 11 and 10, respectively.

During the ESPN broadcast, Dick Vitale said, "You're not going to beat Duke very often when both Parker and Hood are having a big game."

Believe it or not, Saturday night was the first time since Nov. 24 that both Parker and Hood scored 20 points in a game. But yes, when they're both cooking, Duke is almost impossible to beat.

Clutch free-throw shooting doesn't hurt matters, either.

Not only must it feel incredible for Duke to beat an archrival at home on senior day without trailing once in the entire game, but the win kept the Blue Devils on the fringe of the never-ending discussion about No. 1 seeds.

Beating the Tar Heels pushed the Blue Devils to 11-5 vs. RPI Top-100 teams. They lost to both Arizona and Kansas, but have wins over Michigan and Virginia. They have also split a pair of games against Syracuse. Unless I'm sadly mistaken, there isn't another high-ranking team in the country that has played against five of the 10 teams most realistically in contention for a No. 1 seed.

(There are only nine teams on that list, but Michigan was an unfortunate omission. The Wolverines are absolutely still jostling for a No. 1 seed.)

If the Blue Devils win the ACC tournament, they'll likely be adding another pair of marquee wins against Syracuse and Virginia.

Whether that's enough to earn the final No. 1 seed will heavily depend on what transpires in the other major conference tournaments.

But there's still a chance. There's still hope for the Blue Devils to play their first two games in Raleigh before traveling to their home away from home for two games at Madison Square Garden.

They can thank Parker for that.


Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.