Over the last few decades, when Duke and UNC came into the final game of the season,
and one was down, it was almost always Duke: 1973-76, 1981-83, 1995. Recently,
though, that has flip-flopped, and Duke has dominated the rivalry since the retirement of
Dean Smith. This year, with UNC near the cellar and barely above .500, it's bad for
Tar Heel fans. Still, going into this game, Duke has an NCAA bid wrapped up, a
decent seed, no worse than third place. So who has the advantage? UNC, without
In this rivalry, though it's an old Vitale-type cliche, you can throw everything out
the window. UNC can nail down an NIT bid with this game, can stick it to Duke, and
put some distance between themselves and the cellar. Moreover, in the Durham game,
Carolina gave Duke fits, and Duke had a terrible time trying to contain Raymond Felton.
For Duke, the good news is that UNC tends to run out of gas in the second half, with a
very thin bench. The bad news? Despite a fairly amazing year in some ways (you try winning
20 games with a team largely made up of freshmen) Duke hasn't always closed games out with
a bang this year, either. And unfortunately, UNC's crowd for Duke will almost
certainly be more intense than Cameron was against FSU.
All things considered, Sunday's game is a golden opportunity for UNC, and Matt Doherty
is surely approaching it as such.
Incidentally, a small note for Coach Doh: despite this team's woes and question
marks, it has nonetheless almost doubled last year's victory mark. After an
eight-win season, that might sound like faint praise, but really, it's a sharp
improvement. And like Duke, UNC is a freshman-dominated team. So it should be
interesting, to say the least.