Preview: Duke (18-5) vs. N. Carolina (20-3)

Previewing the Blue Devils and Tar Heels who tip off Wednesday night in Cameron in the first round of the nation's top college basketball rivalry. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN Mike Patrick (play-by-play), Dick Vitale (analyst), Doris Burke (sideline) calling the action.

16 Duke (18-5) vs. 5 North Carolina (20-3)
Durahm, N.C. (Cameron Indoor Stadium)
9:00 p.m., ESPN

Program Vitals
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Nickname: Tar Heels
Colors: Pastel Blue & White 
Head Coach:   Roy Williams   (4th year)
Career Record at North Carolina: 95-26 (513-127 overall in 19 years)

Projected Starters:
 5 Tywon Lawson (5-11, 193, Fr.) – 10.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 5.2 apg

 2 Wayne Ellington (6-4, 195, Fr.) – 12.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.0 apg
50 Tyler Hansbrough (6-9, 245, So.) – 18.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg
34 Brandan Wright (6-9, 205, Fr.) – 14.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg
 3 Reyshawn Terry (6-8, 232, Sr.) – 9.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg

Key Reserves:
14 Danny Green (6-5, 210, So.) – 6.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg
21 Deon Thompson (6-8, 245, Fr.) – 5.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg
 1 Marcus Ginyard (6-5, 220, So) - 4.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg
32 Alex Stepheson (6-9, 225, Fr.) - 3.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
22 Wes Miller (5-11, 190, Sr.) - 2.6 ppg


Series History:
Sunday night's game will mark the 222nd time the two teams have met with the Blue Devils trailing the all-time series 125-96. Despite North Carolina's dominant advantage in the series, the recent match ups have been a complete "180" with the Blue Devils winning 16 of the last 20 meetings, including eight of the previous 10 match ups at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski maintains a positive win/loss ratio against the Tar Heels, with a 31-30 all time mark. The same cannot be said for UNC's Roy Williams who has won just three of nine games against Duke in his career.

How They Will Enter The Match Up:
It seems odd, but both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils will enter Wednesday night's game coming off losses in their previous contests. While North Carolina was upset at NC State, Coach K's Blue Devils have lost two consecutive games by a total of three points to drop to 5-4 in the ACC. A loss to the Tar Heels would be five defeats in the ACC, tied for most since the 1996-1997 season.

Injury Report:
Duke enters the game with a roster full of available players, while North Carolina's Bobby Frasor is questionable as he attempts to round back into shape after suffering a foot injury earlier this season. After going scoreless in 12 minutes in UNC's victory over Kentucky on December 2, Frasor didn't reappear in the Tar Heel lineup until January 3rd against Penn. He then missed four straight games beginning January 17th at Clemson before playing in the previous two against Miami and NC State.

It's "THE" Rivalry For A Reason
And that reason is all around excellence of both programs. North Carolina will enter Wednesday's game ranked 5th in the country, with Duke checking in as the nation's No. 16 team. It's the 122nd straight game with at least one team ranked in the AP poll. That streak dates back to Feb. 27, 1960. Of those 122 games, 110 of the games have featured a team in the top 10. Both teams have been ranked in each of the last seven games and in 42 of the last 55.

Another Talented Backcourt To Contend With:
The common thread in each of Duke's five losses has been the high major quality of each opponent's backcourt. Though not nearly as seasoned, the starting Tar Heel duo of Lawson and Ellington is as talented as any pair that has or will appear on the Duke schedule this season. The 5'11 Lawson is probably the quickest player Duke has faced this season, while Ellington's all around scoring ability has elevated him among the conference's best perimeter players very early in his career. With Frasor's injury problems throughout the season, North Carolina has been forced to put the ball in Lawson's hands almost exclusively this season. Though he's had a few small bumps in the road, the freshman has been as good as his pre-college accolades suggested - posting more than five assists per game against just 2.4 turnovers. Against ranked opponents Lawson has compiled 23 assists and 14 turnovers in five games.

What Happens When An Irresistible Force Meets An Immovable Object?:
We'll find out Wednesday night as the ACC's top scoring defense (Duke) faces the top scoring offense (North Carolina). Duke enters the contest eighth nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 57.1 points per game. The Tar Heels are second in the nation in scoring offense at 88.1 ppg. On the contrary, the Tar Heels are surrendering 66.1 points per contest, while Duke is scoring an average of just 69.4 points per game.

Battle Of The Big Men:
Ranked as the top two big forwards in the nation by's final high school rankings of 2005, big things were expected immediately of both North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and Duke's Josh McRoberts. From day one in Chapel Hill, Hansbrough established himself as the team's go-to scorer and interior presence - running away with the Rookie of the Year honors last season as well as a First Team All-ACC nod after putting up incredible numbers as a freshman (18.9 points, 7.8 rebounds per game). The Missouri native continues to produce this season, despite having much more help on the roster and is the likely frontrunner for Player of the Year honors in the league having scored 13 or more points in 21 of 23 games this year - and recording six double-doubles. Meanwhile, McRoberts spent his first season serving as an understudy to Shelden Williams, but has come on as a sophomore and shown a high level of versatility - something his young team desperately needs. McRoberts ranks second in the ACC (18th in the NCAA) in blocked shots (2.57 bpg.), has 59 blocks this season (14th most in Duke history) and 105 blocks in 59 career games. A Midseason Top 30 candidate for the Wooden Award, Josh also ranks 22nd in the ACC in scoring (13.2 ppg.), fifth in rebounding (7.7 rpg.) and 10th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.62:1). McRoberts has scored in double-figures in 13 straight games and in 16 of the last 18 contests.

In the two meetings between the two sophomores have seen their teams split. In Chapel Hill McRoberts' 17 points and five rebounds helped Duke hold on for a 4 point victory while Hansbrough struggled from the field (4-of-11). The rematch was the Tar Heel's turn to shine as he spoiled senior night with 27 points and 10 rebounds compared to just four points and three rebounds from McRoberts.

I Know You:
Prized Tar Heel freshman Brandan Wright was considered one of Duke's top recruiting targets a year ago before ultimately choosing to attend North Carolina. The 6'9 Tennessee native, who became a viable recruiting target when the NBA age limit was put into place, has been as good as any freshman in the country not named Kevin Durant. On the season Wright has reached double figures in 20 of his 22 appearances, and has blocked at least one shot in seven straight games. Guarding Wright will be the job of both freshman forward Lance Thomas and third year sophomore David McClure. Thomas and Wright faced off against one another throughout the week leading up to the McDonalds All-American game, with the Duke prospect showing well against the highly rated Tar Heel. Thomas has struggled with severe foul trouble for much of the last month for the Blue Devils, opening the door for McClure to log minutes as Duke's second big forward.

A Class Reunion:
Duke's Gerald Henderson and Carolina's Wayne Ellington are certainly familiar with one another after playing the last two seasons together at Philadelphia's Episcopal Academy. The duo led the Churchman to a 52-7 record and two league championships in their final two seasons. Henderson is shooting 52.2 percent (24-of-46) in nine league games. Henderson is averaging 6.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists in ACC action.

What We See Happening:
Both teams need a victory Wednesday for their own reasons. The overwhelming league title favorite in the preseason, North Carolina needs to win in order to keep pace with league leaders Boston College and Virginia in the ACC race. Duke, meanwhile, will be looking to avoid a third consecutive loss and falling to .500 in the ACC standings. In their previous two games the Blue Devils certainly came to play on the defensive end of the floor, but a lack of offensive continuity provided long scoring droughts that were ultimately too much to overcome in a pair of back to back gut-wrenching losses to Virginia and Florida State. Against the high octane Tar Heel offense, there will be nothing of the sort as the kind of extended scoring droughts exhibited against the Cavaliers and Seminoles will result in a hole too deep to climb out of.

Duke will no doubt come out and play inspired basketball, and will most likely take the lead for a good portion of the first half. Unfortunately the Tar Heel depth and Duke's lack of it (due to likely foul trouble for Thomas among others) will eventually provide North Carolina with some breathing room - forcing Duke to press on the offensive side of the ball, which has been the cause of several scoring droughts. Though they'll battle, it's hard to see a Duke victory on Wednesday night. Though, there's never been a better time to be wrong.

North Carolina 77
Duke 68

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