Duke Blue Devils (19-4) at North Carolina Tar Heels (17-7)
Last night was a hard-luck loss when we backed the Texas Longhorns at home against the Kansas State Wildcats. The game was a competitive one all night long and the Wildcats were able to hold on for the huge road win. I mentioned in my article yesterday that I didn’t know how K-State was going to be able to contain Texas big man Mo Bamba. And for the most part, they didn’t, as the big man went for 18 points and 12 boards.
They did, however, limit the prolific shot blocker to just one block and Bamba’s inability to protect the paint is a big reason why they came up short at home. Things stay tough for both teams after this one in a loaded Big 12. The Wildcats play against a very good Texas Tech team and the Longhorns must play against a game TCU squad. But that is life in the Big 12 this season, it never gets easier.
Today I will shift focus from the Big 12, the league that I think is the best in the land, to the ACC, the league that many others think is the country’s best basketball conference this season, as I break down a classic matchup between Duke and North Carolina.
It does not get any better than this. Duke and North Carolina. Blue Devils vs. Tar Heels. This is what college basketball is all about. The defending national champions playing at home against a team that has spent much of this season ranked number one. In the last one hundred meetings between these two teams, they are split exactly even at 50-50. Something has to give tonight, as we renew one of the best rivalries in all of sports.
The Duke Blue Devils will take that short, yet familiar, trip down tobacco road to play the North Carolina Tar Heels Thursday night. The Blue Devils are reeling a bit as they have lost two out of their last three games, including a loss to a last place in the Big East, St. Johns team, in their last game.
The Tar Heels have hit a similar mid-season slump as they were losers of three straight before beating up on a hapless Pittsburg team their last time out. This game is currently at an even pick ‘em. The game total over-under is set at 165 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:00 PM PST from the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
Marvin Bagley is the best college freshman big man I have ever seen. There have been some great big men in college basketball history, Alcindor, Walton, Russell, but all of those guys were before my time. With my own two eyes, I have never seen a big man, so skilled, this young. Bagley can do whatever he wants on the basketball court, and his positioning and footwork reminds me of a young Tim Duncan. But Duncan was nowhere near this good at eighteen. Bagley had to petition to even get to play this season, he could have still been in high school this year.
The big man is leading the ACC in scoring at 21 points a game and rebounding at over 11 boards a game. He helps lead the Blue Devil who are the nation’s number one scoring offense at almost ninety points a game. As good as Bagley is he isn’t having to do it alone as he is joined by another sure-fire lottery pick, in Wendell Carter Jr. If Bagley weren’t stealing all the limelight we would be talking about how great Carter is, he is likely the second best big man in the country.
It is a comedy of talent for the Dukies this season. And that is without even mentioning longtime sharpshooter Grayson Allen, who even though he has been inconsistent at times, can get hot and beat you single handily if he needs to. It is no wonder that Duke leads the country in scoring. They are going to need all of their best players to be on point tonight if they want to do something that is very hard to do, go into Chapel Hill and walk out a winner.
The North Carolina Tar Heels have yet to recapture that magic that led them to a national championship last season. The emergence of Luke Maye as a scorer has been a big boost to the rotation, but they just haven’t quite gotten over the hump yet in the ACC.
This team seems to rise and fall with Maye as in recent losses to Clemson and Virginia, Maye basically no-showed. Maye scored just four points against Clemson and just six points against Virginia. They will need a big performance out of Maye if they want to protect their home court tonight.
This line opened at Duke -1. A bit of a shocking number as the home team tends to dominate in this rivalry. The sharps quickly bet it down to a pick ‘em, and that is where we stand now. This is a tough game to handicap. Both teams are loaded with talent yet struggling at the moment.
This has always been a rivalry where you can throw out the records though, so I am not going to try and dissect how Duke could have possibly blown it against St. Johns, or why the Tar Heels lost three straight to average ACC teams.
To me, this is all about the matchups down low. I just don’t know how the Tar Heels are going to stop Bagley and Carter. There aren’t many teams in the country that are going to be able to stop those two, and I expect the big men to give the Heels fits tonight. The one knock on Bagley has been the fact that he sometimes doesn’t show up for the less marquee matchups. I don’t see that happening tonight in what is his first time participating in this storied rivalry.
I think Bagley goes nuts and scores thirty as I don’t see any way that Carolina can hold him. This game is much too evenly matched for it to be a blowout, but I think Duke controls the game all evening long and wins a tight and competitive game. Coach K is the best, or second best, depending on your opinion of coach Wooden, college basketball coach ever.
You wanna know when he is really good? After his team is coming off a loss, especially to a team they should have beaten like St. Johns. I expect coach K to have his boys running on all cylinders and walking out of the Dean Dome with the win tonight.
Give me the Duke Blue Devils at an even pick ‘em tonight from Chapel Hill.