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North Carolina State v North Carolina

by Sharon Thorsland

It’s college basketball rivalry weekend and there are certainly plenty of good match-ups on tap. But none is bigger or better than North Carolina-Duke. This is the best rivalry in college basketball and arguably one of the best in all sports. If you’re a Tar Heel fan like me, you’re likely still riding high over the two wins last season that spoiled Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron and sent him into retirement at the Final Four. But enough about that – the latest edition of this rivalry gets underway at 6:30 Saturday night from Durham. And for the first time in a long time, neither team is ranked in the Top 25. The Tar Heels are coming off an ugly one point loss to Pitt that snapped a four game win streak and are now 15-7 on the year, while Duke is 16-6 after a two point win over Wake Forest. Both teams are 7-4 in ACC play.

This is a very different Duke team than the one UNC last played. Coach K has been replaced by longtime assistant Jon Scheyer, Wendell Moore and Theo John graduated, and the “one and dones” all left for the NBA, including top overall pick Paolo Banchero. So this current group of Blue Devils looks a little unfamiliar. But they restocked the larder and now feature freshman Kyle Filipowski, who has drawn comparisons to former Duke great Christian Laettner. The center leads Duke with 15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game and is a threat inside and from the perimeter. Grad transfer Ryan Young is also an excellent rebounder, and while highly touted freshman Derek Lively hasn’t lived up to expectations yet, he is 7’1 and is starting to make more of an impact. They’ll have their hands full with UNC’s Armando Bacot, who leads the ACC in rebounds and is second in scoring. Out-rebounding Duke will be one of the keys for UNC – the Blue Devils are 8-0 when they snag 40 rebounds or more and just 8-6 when they don’t. And in case you’re wondering, the Heels have only given up 40 rebounds once this season, and it took Alabama four overtimes to do it.

Filiposwki and Lively aren’t the only star freshmen on this Duke team. Guard Tyrese Proctor is a play-maker and a threat from three, while forward Mark Mitchell is averaging nine points and four rebonds per game. Projected lottery pick Dariq Whitehead is expected to return to the lineup against UNC after injuring his leg against Virginia Tech nearly two weeks ago and brings instant offense off the bench. About the only familiar face is guard Jeremy Roach, the only starter back from last year’s squad.

UNC counters with RJ Davis and Caleb Love, who is no doubt one of Duke fans’ least favorite players. Love scored 22 last time out in Cameron Indoor, and had 28 in the Final Four matchup, including the 3-point dagger that iced the game. He’s come out of a mid-season shooting slump after scoring 22 against Pitt, and the Heels will need another strong showing from him to win this time around as they continue to struggle from behind the arc.

Duke is undefeated at home this season and UNC is just 2-4 in true road games. But the Tar Heels have won two straight at Cameron and three of the last four. This game might not be the marquee match up that it often is but don’t let that fool you. This rivalry always delivers, no matter what the circumstances. Go Tar Heels!

It’s time for UNC-Duke, Round One  was originally published on