by Joseph Mattern - 02/07/2006
Duke makes the trip to the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill tonight as the next chapter is written in one of the most storied rivalries in college basketball. Will the two-man wrecking crew of JJ Redick and Sheldon Williams be enough to stop the Freshman Phenom Tyler Hansbrough and the recently resurgent squad from UNC?
Online sportsbook Bodog opened Duke as a five-point favorite and Blue Devil money has been pouring in all day long. At press time, the line had moved to 5 ½ and that number could get even bigger up until game time. Carolina bettors might want to wait until just before tip off in order to get the best number.
"We still don't think we have seen the last of the line moves of this classic match-up," said Greg Jorssen, Bodog spokesman. "Whenever these two teams battle, there is always so much hype and excitement and the game usually always delivers. I can tell already that this game will have the most action of any game this season based on the handle already booked."
The Blue Devils have covered two straight meetings in this series but the Heels have beat the spread in six of the last nine meetings overall. Carolina has notched three straight ATS victories this season while Duke has been a bit overvalued by the oddsmakers recently, having failed to cover in three straight games and four of their last five.
On the court, however, Duke has been dominant all year with the exception of the Georgetown game and the overtime game against Florida State last Saturday. FSU, a 15.5-point underdog, took Duke to the limit, but the Blue Devils were able to escape with a narrow victory in the friendly confines of Cameron. Redick is a top contender for Player of the Year honors, and Sheldon Williams is a beast on the boards and a powerhouse in the paint. He's also a good shot-blocker.
Carolina, on the other hand, has been up and down so far this year. After losing to BC late last month, the Tar Heels are on a three-game winning streak, having beaten Arizona, Maryland and Clemson in those contests. They seem to have flipped a switch recently after lackluster performances in midseason against an underrated Miami team, a good Virginia team and a tough Boston College squad. Hansbrough has been great, and David Noel has provided leadership and the wisdom of experience as the young team's senior statesman. Which Carolina team will show up tonight, though?
The truth is, you can probably throw momentum and conventional analysis out the window with this one. It's going to be a good old-fashioned slugfest. This game is as big as it gets in college basketball outside of the conference tournaments and the Big Dance. The tension is palpable leading up to this game. It's for bragging rights, and as with all the great rivalries, the two teams bring out the best in each other.
In looking at the game, there will be several battles being fought. Who will win the battle of the boards? Who will have the better outside shooting game? How will Roy's game plan compare to that of Coach K? What role will turnovers play? What about the foul situation, how will that affect play? What about the officiating? How big is the home-court advantage in Chapel Hill? How much of a factor will bench depth make? These are just some of the questions that will be answered at game time.
One thing you can be sure of though, is that both teams will come to play. This is an intense rivalry. It is what college hoops is all about. This is a game that both teams have had circled on their calendars since last year, and the intensity of the rivalry probably is a great preparation for the post-season tournaments. Games like this really have a tournament-type atmosphere, and they feel like every possession counts. The winner comes out of this game better off in the conference, naturally, but also it is a huge confidence booster as well.
Whatever you do, don't miss this game. You don't have to bet it, but at least watch it. And if you ever get the opportunity to see it in person, jump at the chance, because it is a rivalry unlike most others, one that is a real spectacle to behold and an experience that you won't soon forget.