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Next Up - UNC

Time: 6:30 || Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium || TV: ESPN

It's Senior Day so expect Marshall Plumlee to be in the thick of things against UNC.
It's Senior Day so expect Marshall Plumlee to be in the thick of things against UNC.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Next up is The Carolina Game.

We enjoyed the win in Chapel Hill, but we'd be lying if we said that things seemed the same. After the academic scandal, it's hard to feel like we're in the same thing anymore. Duke (and most of the ACC for that matter) has one standard; UNC set another for itself.

But in the heart of it? When the game is tight, do we still want to stick it to them? Of course we do.

It's just hard to overlook what's happened. Before that, we thought we were more or less doing things the same way.

That's on them, though - the worst academic scandal in the woeful history of the NCAA.

In the first game, UNC had a lot of advantages which Duke managed to overcome: superior depth, vastly more inside power and a number of defensive matchups which seemed impossible to overcome.

At the end though, there was Grayson Allen throwing the ball high in the air to let the clock run out and a stunned, near silent Dean Dome.

Duke's won a lot lately in this rivalry, but that might have been the most satisfying win since the Austin Rivers game.

And by the way, for what it's worth, we agreed with Roy Williams: he was right not to call a timeout. You have a much better chance of catching a disorganized defense in that situation if you don't.

About the Rivers game.

Like everyone else here, we're guessing, we screamed when he nailed that shot. It was an exultant moment, a moment of greatness in a series which has so many that it's hard to find one that really stands out.

That one did.

It's worth remembering what happened in the rematch though.

UNC came into Cameron and just took Duke apart. We always watch the opposing team when the videos play during intros. Our theory is that if they're watching that, they're already in trouble.

We watched with dismay that day as the scoreboard showed River's shot. It was a dumb decision, almost a taunt. It's not the sort of mistake that Duke usually makes, and we have no doubt that it aggravated an already surly Tar Heel squad. One hopes they don't make the same mistake again Saturday because UNC beat Duke like a drum in that rematch.

And in truth, it could happen again.

Duke, down to 6-7 depending on how well Chase Jeter is playing, has run out of gas lately. It showed at Louisville, it showed at Pitt and it showed against Wake. It's a very demanding sport and with just two subs...that's tough.

This team has fought through an incredible amount of difficulty and it's really come together as a tight, tight group. We admire it as much as any team we've seen in years.

But as much as we admire this team, we'd like to take a minute to talk about one particular player. It's not Brandon Ingram. It's not Grayson Allen. It's not even the much-missed Amile Jefferson, who seems certain to redshirt.

We'd like to take a minute instead to talk about Marshall Plumlee.

He's always been a gregarious, likeable guy. As a skinny freshman, knowing he wasn't going to play, he was instead a bon vivant of basketball. He did interviews of his teammates. He was goofy and immature, but in a sweet way. He was just a big kid, really.

After his redshirt year, Plumlee played sparingly until last year, when he established himself as a hard-nosed backup for Jahlil Okafor.

In his life, he's spent plenty of time playing against his brothers Miles and Mason, who preceded him at Duke, but spending a solid year dealing with Okafor must have done a lot for his game.

We say that because this year, we see the result of his hard work over the last five years.

It's not just the transformation of his body, which is impressive. MP3 today looks more like the Mountain That Rides from the Game of Thrones than he does the kid who came to Duke. You don't mess with him. He's a massive man now.

It's more his overall maturation. Earlier, he was like a big St. Bernard puppy on the court. He would get so fired up that you could see his teammates urging him to calm down.

The intensity was beautiful, but the puppy was just not ready.

Well the puppy is a junkyard dog now and he's made all the difference for Duke. Plumlee is legitimately a warrior - he's joined the military via ROTC - but he's also a basketball warrior.

He's also become our favorite Plumlee. Miles had the most talent, Mason had the best basketball sense.

Marshall? That guy has worked his ass off to make himself a really fine basketball player. His brothers have abilities he does not possess, that's true. But he has more heart than either of them.

It's hard to imagine that the era of Plumlee Plenty is drawing to a close It's been eight solid years of Plumlees for Duke! We hope it's a happy ending for Marshall.

Incidentally, we realized this some time ago and can't find a good answer: are there three other brothers anywhere who all have championship rings? We know Scooter and Rodney McCray earned rings at Louisville, but we can't think of other brothers. There are bound to be some though.

It'd be a real long shot, but it would be very cool if Marshall ended up with two to show off to Miles and Mason.

As for the game itself, Duke faces the same problems it did in Chapel Hill, compounded by UNC's certain irritation and possibly tired legs. The Blue Devils have had more time to rest this week so might be fresher.

The same concerns are there though: fatigue, foul trouble, guarding a superior opponent inside.

It's not going to be easy.

And yet, given the mental toughness we've seen from this team we wouldn't rule anything out. Every person who pulls for Duke, went to Duke or covers Duke has to be impressed with what this group has accomplished. We've said it before and we'll say it again: this team is about triumph. We don't mean just wins, although that's part of it. We mean it has triumphed over that which could have, and arguably should have doomed it.

Win or lose, we couldn't be prouder.