Duke-North Carolina Rivalry Preview, Part Four: Who Has The Edge?
There may not be a rivalry in all of sports that compares to Duke and North Carolina in college basketball.
Sure, there's the Yankees and Red Sox.
They have plenty of history, hatred, and a close proximity. However, the Red Sox' seven World Series titles are just a blip on the radar compared to the Yankees' 27.
What about the Lakers and the Celtics?
In terms of overall history, the 34 championships shared by both teams certainly eclipses the nine NCAA championships shared by Duke and North Carolina.
But the Celtics' two-decade absence from NBA prominence prior to the last few years makes the rivalry lose a little of its luster.
The Duke-North Carolina rivalry is a different animal.
Since 1981, there has been only one (1995-96) in which neither Duke or North Carolina failed to start the season in the top 10 according to the AP poll. Both schools have started in the top 10 in 16 of those 30 seasons.
But that's just preseason rankings. What about end-of-season results?
Duke and North Carolina have combined for 22 Final Four appearances in the last 30 seasons. They have won 40 percent of college basketball's national titles in the last decade alone.
In a sport known for its parity, that's just ridiculous.
The simple truth is that the Duke and North Carolina rivalry has it all—the titles, the consistency, and just eight little miles of separation.
The upcoming season promises more of the same for the best rivalry in sports. Both teams have the talent to compete for the national title, and the head-to-head matchups will be as intense as ever.
We've already examined who's gone, who's back , and who's new for next season. The only left to do is determine who has the edge.
The Tar Heels' 2009-10 season was disastrous—there is no way around that.
There is also no way around the fact that North Carolina will be a better team in 2010-11.
The arrival of Harrison Barnes gives the Tar Heels the go-to scorer they were missing last year.
Barnes is a special talent who has the size, versatility, and athleticism to give almost anyone serious matchup problems.
He can create for himself from anywhere on the court, and he will definitely be North Carolina's No. 1 option on offense from Day One.
It's very rare that a freshman has the talent to make a team a Final Four contender as the primary option on offense, but Barnes has the potential to do just that.
Last season, North Carolina's shooting deficiency was apparent. The Tar Heels made nearly 100 fewer three-pointers than the 2008-09 squad.
The addition of Barnes and incoming freshman Reggie Bullock instantly gives North Carolina firepower from beyond the arc. With Will Graves in the backcourt as well, the Tar Heels will have three consistent options from outside.
The combination of Larry Drew and Kendall Marshall gives North Carolina some much needed point-guard depth.
Dexter Strickland served as the backup point guard last season, but it was clear that running an offense and taking care of the ball were not his strengths.
Though it's uncertain who will start at the point next season for North Carolina, it doesn't really matter. Having two point guards will be a luxury for the Tar Heels compared to last season.
Although they will certainly be a much better team, there are still some serious obstacles the Tar Heels need to overcome in order to overtake the Blue Devils.
John Henson and Tyler Zeller comprise a mobile and versatile frontcourt, but neither has shown the kind of consistency the Tar Heels need in the paint.
Henson will need to add strength and serious polish to his offensive game to live up to his billing as a recruit.
Zeller has missed a ton of playing time due to injury in the past two seasons. For North Carolina to be as good as they hope to be, both will need to become consistently productive.
Although Barnes and Bullock bring in some much-needed offensive firepower, the loss of Deon Thompson and Ed Davis means North Carolina loses its only consistent scorers for the second consecutive season.
To give some perspective, Will Graves is the only player on the Tar Heels' current roster ever to score 20 points in a college game.
Barnes and Bullock might be able to replace the offense of Davis and Thompson (and even eclipse it slightly), but other players will need to become consistent offensive threats for North Carolina to return to title contention.
Duke returns five of the eight players who averaged double digits in minutes last year, and the Blue Devils look poised to have a serious shot at repeating as national champions.
The most prominent returning players are Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, two of last season's top five scorers in the ACC. Their return gives the Blue Devils ample senior leadership and enough scoring ability to build an offense around.
If Smith and Singler are the cake for Duke's season, freshman Kyrie Irving is the icing.
Irving is the most talented player Duke has recruited since Jason Williams. He will be one of the best point guards in the nation when the season begins, and most experts expect him to have the kind of impact that point guards like John Wall and Chris Paul had as freshman.
He's fast, poised, and incredibly gifted on offense—if anyone is going to beat out Barnes as the best freshman in the ACC, it's Irving.
With Irving at the helm, Duke's backcourt may be the best in the country when the 2010-11 season begins.
Containing Smith and Irving at the same time will be a difficult task for opposing teams' defenses as both players have the speed and ball handling ability to get into the lane frequently.
With so many good shooters combined with the Plumlee brothers' ability to finish above the rim, Duke's offensive options will really open up when Smith and Irving get into the paint, especially since both players can score creatively around the basket.
Speaking of shooters, the Blue Devils will have an abundance of players capable of hitting threes at a high percentage.
Singler, Smith, Irving, Seth Curry, and Andre Dawkins are all proficient shooters. Duke should be one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country as a result.
That's not to say that Duke won't have weaknesses.
Their rebounding margin will likely take a hit with Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas gone.
Duke's rebounding was the Blue Devils' greatest strength last season. The Plumlee brothers will need to adopt Thomas and Zoubek's aggressive rebounding mentality to keep Duke competitive on the boards.
Although Irving looks ready to be a star, the loss of Scheyer is a lot bigger than most think. He scored over 2,000 points in his career at Duke, and he gave the Blue Devils steady leadership and a clutch decision maker in close games.
Irving should be special, but he's taking over for one of the best Blue Devils to play in the last decade.
So who has the edge?
Barnes and Bullock will be impact players from day one, and Henson and Zeller have the talent to develop into big time performers.
Like North Carolina, Duke brings in a big time freshman in Irving with the chops to be a dominant player.
Several of Duke's returning players (Miles Plumlee, Mason Plumlee, Dawkins) could have big leaps in production as well, easily as much as Henson and Zeller.
What North Carolina doesn't have are two proven stars like Singler and Smith.
The return of Duke's talented seniors gives the Blue Devils two potential first team All-Americans to lead a plethora of supporting talent.
Duke's backcourt alone could carry them to a Final Four—when you bring a player like Curry off the bench, you know your backcourt is loaded.
The Blue Devils' front court is long and athletic, and they have depth at every position.
At the end of the day, Duke has obvious answers where North Carolina has serious questions. They have an NBA-caliber point guard, two senior stars, athletic bigs, and quality players coming off the bench.
North Carolina has a ton of potential, but they have just as much uncertainty.
The Tar Heels will definitely be a better team next season, but the question at hand is will they be better than Duke.
The answer to that question is no.
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