Battle For Tobacco Road: Duke Vs. North Carolina Preview

By Anthony Lenahan
Bob Donnan-USA Today Sports

The best rivalry in college sports takes center stage tonight as North Carolina heads eight miles down the road to square off with the Duke Blue Devils in the Battle for Tobacco Road.  The No. 2 Blue Devils get their first shot at their biggest rival, unranked North Carolina tonight in front of their home court.  A home court that gives them one of the biggest advantages in all of college sports thanks to the Cameron Crazies.

Most people don’t think Duke will even need home court advantage tonight because of how poorly the Tar Heels have played this season, particularly on the road.  Duke is 21-2 on the season with a 12-0 record at home while Carolina is 16-7 overall and a miserable 4-5 on the road.

There will be plenty of talent on display between the two teams tonight to go along with two great coaches.  Duke’s senior leaders, Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee are two of the better players in the country and have really pulled the Blue Devils together when Ryan Kelly went down with a foot injury.  Plumlee is going to have to continue dominating the paint whether he is matched up against James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson or Desmond Hubert.

Curry is an outside shooter, but he has developed a nice mid-range and driving game to really make him an offensive threat.  If he gets going from the outside, it is going to be a very, very long night for Carolina.

Quinn Cook runs the show for the Blue Devils and he does a great job.  He has come a long way from last season as a point guard and his outside shooting has been tremendous.  Cook will be a tough guard for Marcus Paige who tends to struggle at keeping his man in front.  If Cook can get by Paige, it opens up the floor for outside shots and easy dunks for the Blue Devils.

Duke has two talented freshman as well in Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson.  Jefferson did not get much playing time early in the season, but with Kelly going down, he has stepped up and shown his talents.  Sulaimon has been terrific all year shooting from the outside and he is the X factor for the Blue Devils.  If Curry, Cook and Sulaimon are all stroking it from behind the arc, it’s a beat-down in Durham tonight.

For Carolina, they only have three players who can consistently score.  James Michael McAdoo needs to bounce back from his terrible game against Miami (FL) with a big game tonight.  He is supposed to be the Tar Heels go to guy and he needs to step up for a young team in a hostile environment tonight.

Reggie Bullock has been great all year and so has P.J. Hairston.  Both players can light it up from the outside as well as attack the rim.  Hairston comes off the bench for Carolina and brings a great amount of intensity and competitiveness for Carolina.

Marcus Paige is going to have to deal with Duke’s defensive pressure and play very calm in order for Carolina to be in the game.  Brice Johnson will have to come in and provide instant offense in the paint especially with Joel James being injured.

Carolina has the advantage in the paint against Duke with Kelly being out and they are going to have to get the ball down low.  If they can get Plumlee into early foul trouble and get the crowd out of the game they might just have a chance.

It is Carolina vs. Duke, the biggest rivalry in college sports.  Intensity, passion and pride will be shown tonight and this will be a tightly contested game and one Carolina desperately needs to steal.

This rivalry is why you watch college sports, to watch a game like this, with players playing their butts off and giving it all they got.

North Carolina @ Duke at 9:00 P.M.

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