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UNC Is Closing The Gap

After watching most of the game again on tape, we were struck with how much
UNC has improved over the past few weeks. Yes, they are still
inconsistent, but on the other hand, they are capable now of really great
basketball. So what's the difference between these two teams? Why can Duke
win these close, passionate games? To us, the difference can be summed up in
five words: Chris Duhon and Nick Horvath.

Duhon's senior season has been celebrated all over the place, including here,
so maybe you're wondering why we mentioned Nick Horvath as well.

Simple. While Nick would probably have liked to have been a more
prominent player during his time at Duke, he has been here for five seasons
now. He has been on a national title team, and has a chance for an
unprecedented fifth ACC ring.

But that in itself is not it. Nor is it entirely the fact that when he
comes in, he is a competent reserve who doesn't make terrible mistakes. He
doesn't score a lot of points always, but he is reliable, plays good defense,
rebounds well, and in a nutshell, holds the fort.

What it is as much as anything is practice and conversation.

Nick has long since learned the ins and outs of the program, and Coach K for
that matter, and he is in a position to be a tutor, a leader, and the voice of

When practice started last year, Nick was able to help get Shelden and
Shavlik up to speed quickly on drills and expectations. When an official
has a particular bent, he can tell Luol, hey, this guy calls charges a
lot. When a game is close, we're betting he can tell his younger teammates
what Coach K will say, and often times, do.

Just as importantly, he is able to size up big problems and small problems
and deal with them accordingly.

It sounds trivial, but it's not. When you have a group of 10-15 young
guys, having someone who really knows the ropes is invaluable.

Carolina does not currently have this. They have no seniors
on scholarship. No one has won a title of any kind. In addition,
they are still feeling their way out of the post-Doherty wilderness.

If anyone has been in a dysfunctional office, you know what we're talking
about. The new guy might come in and say all the right things about the
old guy, but suspicions will linger, and scars have to heal.

In spite of Ol' Roy's comments about how this team drives him crazy, this
young team has begun to listen to him. And it shows on defense most of

Earlier this year, UNC was listless at best. Now, though, they are
becoming predatorial. Jackie Manuel leads the way, of course, and it's
hard to realize what a good defender he is without seeing him do it. He's
really, really good.

But the other guys are starting to do it, too, and Sean May, who sometimes
played soft earlier, is starting to play a very physical game.

Our point? Even though Duke won both games, the difference is really
just a question of experience and confidence. They are very, very close to
being able to beat Duke. The scores of course indicated that, but don't be
at all surprised if UNC does very well this coming weekend - and beyond.

So while Nick Horvath has occasionally been criticized, Duke fans should be
really happy we have him. UNC would love to have the equivalent.