NCAA Bracket 2011: Comparing Duke and North Carolina's Championship Hopes
Once again, the Atlantic Coast Conference finished off another season with its usual two on top, this year ending with North Carolina as the regular season champions and Duke the conference tournament champions.
The Duke Blue Devils have dominated all season, and now with guard Kyrie Irving back from injury, the Devils are back with their original superstar lineup.
With North Carolina's preseason ranking at No. 9, the Heels lived up to the hype in the second half of the season, as freshman sensation Harrison Barnes found his niche in Chapel Hill.
With both teams having now reached the Sweet 16, will we see a meeting between the two in the Final Four?
Lets take a look at both Duke and North Carolina's championship chances this year.
Led by senior Nolan Smith, the Blue Devils have several threats at the guard position including Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry and now Kyrie Irving (back from injury).
The Blue Devils' guard domination is made possible by constant ball movement. The team's ability to keep the defense moving and to find the open man is second to none.
The Tar Heels' guard rotation includes Kendall Marshall, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and Justin Watts.
Since Larry Drew's mid-season departure, the team has molded around PG Kendall Marshall. With nearly 140 assists in only 18 starts, Marshall has been able to spread the ball around and improve the entire offense with his great awareness and timing.
Guard Play Advantage: Duke
Unlike Duke, North Carolina has yet to find their go-to guy on the perimeter. With McDonald, Strickland and F/G Barnes having sporadic success from beyond the arc, they have yet to find a consistent three-point shooter.
Duke's Kyrie Irving, Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry all average over 40 percent from three-point range, posing a wide threat from around the arc.
To complement their great three-point presence, the Blue Devils have a great lineup in the paint. Senior Kyle Singler leads the big men including, Ryan Kelly and the Plumlee brothers, Mason and Miles.
It is a necessity for a championship basketball team to have presence both inside and on the perimeter. In order for each of the respective groups to be successful, they must work off of each other.
Moving the ball around on offense is critical in order to get good position in the paint or to find the open shooter.
Plain and simple, Duke is great at this.
Seven-foot junior Tyler Zeller has improved tremendously since his sophomore season. His field-goal PCT leads the team at .544, providing a consistent inside threat along with sophomore ACC Defensive Player of the Year, John Henson.
With his 7'4" wingspan, Henson has recorded over 100 blocks on the season. Henson's impact is undeniable on both sides of the court.
Big Men Advantage: North Carolina
In North Carolina's win over Washington in the second round, John Henson tipped the in-bounds pass in the late seconds of the game resulting in a steal to seal the game.
It's reasons like this that make the big men of North Carolina the more influential factor of the team's performance.
Throughout the main stretch of the season, the Blue Devils circulated nine players. Now with Kyrie Irving, 10.
Seven players on the squad have well over 600 minutes each, while earning playing time in all 36 games so far.
Having Irving back is a bigger advantage for the Blue Devils than many would think. Irving, playing alongside Nolan Smith will help share minutes, provide depth to the team and simply provide another go-to guy for Coach K.
The Tar Heels' situation is the opposite, regularly rotating 10 players, Larry Drew's departure and Reggie Bullocks season ending injury has cut it to eight.
Still, Coach Roy Williams has no problem taking out his starting five periodically to coach them on the sidelines, while his second team goes out onto the court.
Depth Advantage: Duke
Both teams have benches packed with talent, but Duke's numbers get the leg up on North Carolina.
Again, Kyrie Irving back as an option for Coach K is huge for the Blue Devils.
Seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are undoubtedly the poster kids of this Blue Devil squad. However, aside from them and junior Miles Plumlee, the Blue Devils are relatively young.
Experience is a huge factor in college basketball, especially in tournament play. This team is young, which worries every coach when it comes to the possibility of rookie mistakes in clutch tournament minutes.
With that said, Coach K's young players have performed well in clutch moments.
While there is still the uncertainty of being able to close away teams in the last seconds, don't expect players to get any discrimination with playing time due to experience.
The Tar Heels are a very young team, with their starting five consisting of two freshman, two sophomores and one junior.
The only scholarship senior on the team is Justin Knox, a graduate student from Alabama who is finishing out his last year of eligibility.
Again, North Carolina has young but clutch players. Freshman Harrison Barnes has been outstanding in the final seconds all season, making huge shots at the end of games, including three last-second game-tying or game-winning shots.
Experience Advantage: Duke
Singler and Smith bring a lot of maturity to Duke's team. Having experienced players on the court helps tremendously in that they can give on-court coaching to teammates.
Although North Carolina has proved to be equally successful in close games by making smart decisions, Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland have shown to be intimidated in a few big matchups this year, making it hard to give them the edge over Duke in this category.
Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski has maintained a dynasty in Durham, NC.
Coach K has earned over 900 career wins and has taken the Blue Devils to 13 ACC Tournament Championships, 11 NCAA tournament Final Fours and four NCAA Tournament Championships.
Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Krzyzewski has been with Duke for 30 years, declining several coaching offers from the NBA.
Coach K and his coaching staff know basketball, and have prepared this team day in and day out to be here searching for the school's fifth NCAA Tournament win.
Head Coach Roy Williams came to North Carolina in 2003 after Coaching at Kansas for 15 years.
In his time in North Carolina, Williams has won five regular-season ACC Championships, two NCAA Tournament Championships and has gone 224-61 with the Heels.
Like Krzyzewski, Williams has also been inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame after re-establishing the program at North Carolina from it's success under Hall of Fame Coach Dean Smith.
Coaching Advantage: ?
Did you really expect me to pick sides in this one?
Both Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams are phenomenal coaches. Each one brings in respectful and talented recruits, and have withstood the test of time already in college basketball.
These teams have no holes in their coaching staffs. As long as they listen closely and perform the calls to the best of their ability, they will be successful.
Overall the chances of reaching the Final Four for both teams is very good, which could result in a meeting of the two.
There would be nothing more exciting for College Basketball for these to rivals to face of in an NCAA Final Four game, but reaching that point will be tough for both teams.
In order to get to the Final Four, the Blue Devils will have to first get past a talented Arizona team who upset No. 4 seed Texas last week, then get by the winner of the Connecticut-San Diego State game.
The Tar Heels' road-blocks consist of No. 11 seed Marquette, then the winner of the No. 1 overall seed Ohio State-Kentucky game.
Both teams have the talent to get there. It will take determination, persistence, and yes, a little bit of luck.
Don't forget, this is March Madness. Anything can happen.