The College Basketball Notebook

February 9, 2011 12:01 AM

Duke & Carolina Battle For ACC Lead

UNCDuke.jpgThe house will be rocking tonight in Cameron Indoor Stadium as surging North Carolina comes to take on Duke in a battle for first place in the ACC (9 ET, ESPN). It's a chance for the Blue Devils to re-assert their control over their conference race and it's an opportunity for the Tar Heels to show they are all the way back as a national contender.

Duke and UNC bring a contrast in approaches to tonight's game. The Blue Devils are backcourt-oriented, with Nolan Smith leading the way both scoring and distributing. They are deep here as well, with Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry each able to contribute. Forward Kyle Singler is an inside-out threat, although he's at his best when he steps out to hit the three. If the Dookies can finesse this game they're going to win.

North Carolina is pure power with a tough frontline of Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller. All three can hit the boards and score in double-digits. If the Heels turn this game into a physical brawl, they'll deny Duke second-chance opportunities, get to the foul line and pull the road upset.

When you step outside each team's core strength, Duke's center, Mason Plumlee has been playing well of late, especially rebounding where he's going to face his toughest test tonight. North Carolina revitalized its backcourt when Roy Williams inserted Kendall Marshall at the point. The change resulted in deposed starter Larry Drew leaving the team, a circumstance that has drawn him some harsh press for selfishness. We really know little about the internal dynamic of the UNC locker room, so I'm not going to call Drew selfish if he wants to go somewhere else and play. What I will say is that the performance of North Carolina is better with the freshman Marshall on the floor, both now and in the future.

Playing at home, it's hard to go against the Dookies, and I think Plumlee is going to answer the challenge down low, while the freshman Marshall will have some turnover problems in the face of the hostile crowd and North Carolina's going to have a hard time winning the free-throw battle in Durham. I'm looking for this game to be close for about 30 minutes or so, with Duke holding a mostly narrow lead and then pulling away down the stretch.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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