If it's the final weekend of college basketball's regular season, that means the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels are about to go at it. The only difference this time is there isn't any ACC title stake in the outcome...or is there?
The Blue Devils will make the short trek from Durham to Chapel Hill for Saturday night's 9 PM (ET) tip at Dean Smith Center. The oddsmakers like a close affair with unranked UNC a 1-point basketball odds favorites at home over a highly ranked Duke. The first total was 152.5.
We will know by game time if Duke is playing for a share of the regular season ACC title. The Miami Hurricanes have already clinched at least half, and can wrap it up all to themselves with a win over Clemson in a mid-afternoon start. It would seem unlikely for the 'Canes to lose that contest, but then, few expected Wake Forest and Georgia Tech to take down Miami recently, two of the three defeats the Hurricanes have suffered in their last four contests.
Even if Miami loses and Duke tops UNC, the Hurricanes will still be the No. 1 seed at the conference tourney set to begin next Thursday in Greensboro. And should the Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils to share second place in the conference, Duke will still be the No. 2 seed.
That really leaves pride as the only thing to play for Saturday, and these two rivals will definitely bring plenty of that to the floor.
Heels Bring 6-Game Win Streak Into Rematch
This has been a trying season for Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. They climbed as high as ninth in both polls, but the bottom started to fall out with a decisive loss to Butler in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational. Sound beatings by Indiana and Texas followed, and UNC then started the ACC slate with setbacks to Virginia and Miami.
A second loss to Miami in embarrassing fashion just over a month ago prompted some changes to the lineup, and things are looking up. The Tar Heels are on a 6-game run that could've been seven if not for a defeat at Duke on Feb. 13. Coming off the rout at Miami, North Carolina came out strong in the first meeting with Duke and built a 10-point lead 15 minutes into the first half.
A five minute dry spell on the scoreboard in the second half ended any thought of a UNC upset in the contest, but Tar Heels backers still managed to grab the cover as 11-point underdogs in Duke's eventual 73-68 triumph.
The lineup change was sophomore guard PJ Hairston taking on a starting role for the Heels instead of coming off the bench, and the first start came in the loss to the Blue Devils. Hairston has averaged 17.6 points per game since the switch after scoring at a 12.3 PPG clip prior.
Blue Devils Still Have Eyes On No. 1 Seed At NCAA Tourney
Duke can't grab the top seed for the conference tournament, but Mike Krzyzewski knows his team can still earn a No. 1 spot for March Madness. If that's going to happen, a win over their archrivals Saturday is a must.
The Blue Devils also look to avoid a 5-loss ACC schedule, the last time that happened in 2008-09 when the fifth loss came in the finale at North Carolina. Duke did go on to win the ACC Tournament, but ended up a 2-seed and bowed out in the Sweet 16. All four losses this season have come on the road to ACC foes, the most recent at Virginia a little more than a week ago.
Krzyzewski's kids have rebounded nicely from that defeat with wins and covers vs. Florida State and at Maryland, and Duke has had some luck at Smith Center with a 12-15 mark since the building opened. The Blue Devils won the last time they were on this floor, an 85-84 win as 6-point underdogs about 13 months ago when Duke rallied in the final few minutes from a 10-point deficit.
I like the UNDER for my college basketball picks in this contest. The recent trends in this series in that direction make that decision for me pretty easy.
My College Basketball Pick: Duke-UNC Under 152.5 at Bookmaker
Season: 39-33 ($2.70)