Watson: A number of reasons. Most notable is the media attention paid to these two programs. Both of them are on TV nearly every time they play. Both have Hall of Fame coaches. Both have an arsenal of McDonald's All-Americans. All of the accolades are built on the fact that each program has a tradition of excellence. That the two have played some truly memorable games against one another only adds fuel to the fire as does their proximity to one another -- as Coach K said a few years back, "these two programs share the same dry cleaners". No where else in the country do you have such a concentrated amount of basketball excellence.
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Barnes: The key to this rivalry's popularity is that it touches people on so many different levels. It's public school versus private school. It's elite versus middle class. And in case you haven't heard, these campuses are are only eight miles apart. But while those things add flair to the rivalry, it's the programs' immense success that is the cornerstone. North Carolina and Duke rank No. 1 and 2 all-time in the ACC in wins, ACC regular-season wins, ACC Tournament wins and NCAA Tournament wins. More importantly on the national level, they combine for 31 Final Fours and six national championships.
Is this the best rivalry in sports?
Watson: I guess that depends on your preference. It's certainly college basketball's best rivalry. But fans of the Red Sox and Yankees; Celtics and Lakers; Michigan and Ohio State football; and so forth may very well disagree.
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What's your favorite memory from the rivalry?
Watson: I personally enjoyed the 1995 season's thriller at Cameron where Jeff Capel hit a shot that shouldn't have gone in, but did for a team that should have been blown out, but wasn't. Duke lost that game, but they fought against a clearly more talented opponent by playing their game instead of falling into a gimmick game plan during their down season. The 2004 game at the Smith Center was also a lot of fun to watch as was the 1998 game in Cameron where Duke rallied from nearly 20 down to win on Wojo's senior day.
Barnes: There have been so many good battles in this rivalry, but the Feb. 2, 1995 game stands out. Coach K was sitting the season out due to back problems, and Duke was destined for the bottom of the ACC standings while the Tar Heels stayed in the top-5 for most of the season. In just another example of why the records don't matter in this rivalry, the two teams exchanged double-digit leads in Cameron, before needing two overtimes for UNC to secure a 102-100 victory. Duke fans remember Jeff Capel's running 40-footer to force the second overtime, while Carolina fans prefer to focus on Jeff McInnis' steal and layup in the final seconds.
What's one thing the regular college basketball fan doesn't know about the rivalry?
Barnes: That Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski recruit a lot of the same players. Roy went hard after Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson, and Coach K fought for Brandan Wright and Tyler Hansbrough. While the obvious link between those players is their talent, they also represent the team-first mentality and character strength that is prevalent at both schools.
How important is Wednesday night's outcome for each team?
|Can Kyle Singler go off against UNC's defense? (Getty Images)|
Watson: I think there's more riding on it for UNC than Duke. The Tar Heels were preseason favorites to steamroll through the ACC (and the rest of the country). They have been rolling of late - winning seven straight, but a loss in this game would drop them a game back of the Blue Devils who were picked as a distant second. When you consider they brought back four players who took a long look at leaving Chapel Hill for the NBA, anything less than an ACC Championship and, ultimately, a national title has to be considered a big disappointment.
On another level Duke could really use a big win after getting hammered at Clemson and then falling behind big against Miami. The team seems to be somewhat unsure of itself and a loss would mean a third defeat in the last five games. Beating the Tar Heels at home - and preventing the UNC senior class from a perfect sweep at Cameron that would make Jawad Williams proud - would be a big shot in the arm for Duke.
Barnes: I think this game is more important for Duke than it is for North Carolina, simply because it's at Cameron Indoor. The Tar Heels do not face Wake Forest or Clemson the rest of the way, so for the Blue Devils to fall one game behind with six ACC contests remaining, including Tyler Hansbrough's senior night in Chapel Hill, would be a bitter pill to swallow.
What's your prediction?
Watson: It all comes down to Duke's shooting and K's ability to scheme around his team's obvious disadvantages (speed at the point guard spot + inside game). If the Blue Devils are hitting their perimeter shots and crash the boards like they did against Wake Forest, Duke can win at home. If the shooting woes continue - partly due to some questionable shot selection - and Duke can't stop dribble penetration from Lawson and his ability to feed the post, UNC's going to come out on top.
Barnes: North Carolina 80, Duke 74