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article imageDuke-UNC men's college basketball rematch preview

By Paul Bright     Mar 2, 2012 in Sports
Durham - The last time these teams met, it took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Duke’s Austin Rivers over the 7-foot Tyler Zeller to end the game. Will Duke triumph at home this time, or will North Carolina exact revenge?
Saturday’s match up between men’s college basketball giants University of North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils could be one of the highest rated televised NCAA games ever (tip-off is at 7 pm Eastern). Duke is coming in as the #3 ranked team in the nation, while North Carolina is not too far behind at #6. However, this isn’t just a match-up between two top-ranked teams; it’s a game between two bitter yet cordial ACC rivals with decidedly different playing styles.
In the last meeting, which took place at Carolina’s Dean Smith Center, coach Roy Williams’ Tar Heels used their athletic ability, speed and deft passing from Kendal Marshall to continuously put up points against the Blue Devils. Despite facing stretches of double-digit margins, Duke stayed in the game thanks to coach Mike Krzyzewski’s strategy slowing down Carolina with a half court offense and ordering a barrage of 3-point shooting (14 of 36 made among five shooters). The last 3-pointer was the deadliest, coming from Duke’s Austin Rivers shooting over the 7-foot senior Tyler Zeller with no time left on the clock. The game ended 85-84 Duke.
Rivers' shot completely stunned the Carolina crowd because Zeller's play had been stellar. He dominated Duke in the paint, shooting 8 for 15, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing them two blocks. But in the last two minutes, Zeller had tipped in a Duke basket, missed two free throws and gave Rivers, who was 5 of 9 behind the arc, too much space to shoot the buzzer-beater.
Since that game, neither team has lost, although both have been challenged in some respects. Duke’s 3-point shooting is still hot, but their perimeter defense has been lacking and resulted in a few close games. Duke needed overtime to defeat Virginia Tech, who was barely above .500 at the time. They almost blew a 20 point lead over Wake Forest, and needed to overcome a 20 point deficit of their own to override NC State. Duke did avenge an early season defeat against Florida State and they dominated Boston College with a 25-point victory.
Several of Carolina’s victories required overcoming large obstacles as well. Had Virginia not missed 11 every shot (including open layups) in the last two minutes of the game, they surely would have beaten the Tar Heels instead of losing by three. The Tar Heels also shot poorly against Maryland before opening up a 16 point run in the second half to win. Yet their run-and-gun offense finds a way to wear down opponents and lock up victories in what is arguably the toughest college basketball conference in the nation. The most consistent player in their recent victories has been, ironically, Tyler Zeller.
Two top-ranked college basketball teams meeting in the conference’s final regular season game and only two weeks away from March Madness? This could be the must-watch basketball game of the year.
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