Well folks its that time again. Time for the biggest rivalry in all of college basketball: North Carolina vs. Duke. This year the stakes are just as high and the teams are as evenly matched as can be. Duke ranks #2 in the country and North Carolina falls right behind them at #3. In this case however, the rankings are misleading. At full strength these rankings stand true, but thanks to a sprained ankle suffered by North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson on Sunday versus Florida State, the Tar Heels will likely be without their star point guard in Wednesday night's grudge match.
Although the Tar Heels are known for a star-studded lineup with great depth, the loss of Lawson is scaled even more by the fact that they lost backup guard Bobby Frasor earlier in the year (torn ligaments) for the season and Marcus Ginyard, another guard, is suffering from an injury (turf toe) as well. This would mean that 3rd string guard Quentin Thomas would have to lead the offense in the biggest game of the year; a task difficult for most, in a game of this magnitude and importance to the school.
Duke is one of the hottest teams in the country right now, riding on a 9 game winning streak as they have mercilessly coasted through the ACC, winning by an average of more than 15 points a game in route to its 7-0 (19-1 overall) conference leading record. North Carolina's road through the ACC has been much more difficult. The Tar Heels rank second in the conference with a record of 6-1 (21-1 overall), playing in 3 games decided by 2 points or less and another that went into overtime. Aside from their one loss though, they have proven that they can make the shots they need to win when it matters.
Even though Duke appears to be the evident favorite (assuming Lawson will not be in the lineup), you can never count either team out in this rivalry. The two teams always seem to make it a thriller. So do not expect a blowout for Duke, even if Lawson does not play. Hansbrough's dominant post presence is capable of slowing down the run-and-gun Blue Devils offense. If he has a big game, North Carolina has a shot. And do not think Hansbrough has forgotten the cheap shot that broke his nose last year from Duke guard/forward Gerald Henderson. I expect Hansbrough to be angry and fired up for a big game tonight.
Duke 85 - North Carolina 76 (without a healthy Lawson)
North Carolina 90 - Duke 84 (with a healthy Lawson)
Image taken from Yahoo! Sports