UNC Can Spoil Archrival Duke’s ACC Title Hopes As Tobacco Road Rivalry Is Renewed

Brice Johnson, Roy WilliamsIt’s rivalry week on ESPN, and there is no better rivalry in college basketball, if not all of sports, than when Tobacco Road bluebloods North Carolina and Duke square off.

They will meet at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night, and the Heels have a chance to potentially play spoiler.

Unranked North Carolina (16-7, 6-4) won’t be winning the ACC’s regular-season title for the third straight season. An 87-61 blowout loss at Miami (Fla.) on Saturday all but assured that. North Carolina attempted just six free throws in the game, its fewest in an ACC game in nine years. Miami entered this season 2-18 against North Carolina but completed the season sweep with relative ease. The Heels are 0-3 on the road against ranked teams in 2012-13 (0-3 against the spread) and 4-5 overall in road games.

Duke (21-2, 8-2) is No. 2 in the new Associated Press Poll but No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, the Blue Devils’ third time at No. 1 overall this year. They have gone just 5-2 while holding the top ranking, though, losing their last two. Duke enters Wednesday’s matchup having won five straight (3-2 against the spread) since being blown out at Miami. The Blue Devils may have been caught looking ahead to North Carolina on Sunday as they escaped Boston College 62-61. Mason Plumlee hit the game-winning free throw with 26 seconds left, and the Eagles couldn’t get off a good shot with a chance to win in the final seconds.

Duke hasn’t won the outright ACC regular-season title since 2006, but it is the only school with a realistic chance to catch the Hurricanes, who are 10-0 in the conference. The Blue Devils, who are 12-0 at home (6-6 ATS), still have to visit a good Virginia team, host Miami on March 2 and travel to Chapel Hill to close the regular season.

It’s a rarity that both Duke and UNC aren’t ranked when facing off — they have been in 51 of the past 67 meetings. It will be the sixth straight meeting where at least one of the two is ranked in the top five. This will be Duke’s 200th straight game as a top 10 team in the AP poll.

North Carolina backers can take some confidence in the fact that, since coach Mike Krzyzewski arrived in Durham, four unranked underdogs have pulled off a big upset in this series: in 1981, Duke upset No. 11 UNC 66-65; in 1990, UNC upset No. 8 Duke 79-60; that same season, UNC also upset No. 5 Duke 87-75; and in 2003, North Carolina beat No. 10 Duke 82-79. There was also the memorable Jeff Capel game in 1995 when Duke nearly upset No. 2 UNC. Capel hit an improbable running 37-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, but the Heels won 102-100 in double OT.

Last season, each team won on the other’s court. The game in Cameron wasn’t close, with the No. 6 Heels winning 88-70 over No. 3 Duke to win the ACC regular-season title. It was the largest margin of victory for UNC at Cameron Indoor Stadium since a 20-point win on Jan. 18, 1989. UNC hasn’t won back-to-back games at Cameron since 2008 and ’09. The last time an unranked North Carolina team faced a top five Duke team, the No. 4 Blue Devils won 82-50 in Durham in March 2010. It was Duke’s biggest home win over Carolina in school history.

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