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Duke-North Carolina is always fantastic

This time around, the North Carolina Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 ACC) are the favorite. Incredibly, the Duke Blue Devils (19-6, 8-4)are not being given much of a chance, barely being ranked at No. 20 in the latest Associated Press poll.

The Tar Heels are ranked fifth in the land and get a chance to draw first blood in this interstate rivalry at the Dean Smith Center. North Carolina is hoping to make a run at the top line of the NCAA Tournament, perhaps even get the top-overall seed in the tourney and stay near home.

This is the first of two matchups this year, something that always signals when college basketball emerges form the shadows and enters the American mainstream for the rest of its campaign. Duke will be trying to do more than simply cover the 6.5-point spread, having won four consecutive games. The Blue Devils seem to be peaking suddenly after slipping out of the rankings for the first time in nearly a decade.

After losing to the Miami Hurricanes, Duke has rallied with wins over the unranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and North Carolina State Wolfpack. Then, the Blue Devils pulled off a pair of impressive upsets over the No. 13 Louisville Cardinals and No. 7 Virginia Cavaliers last week, winning the latter by a point. However, both of those games came in the comfortable setting of Cameron Indoor Stadium. This contest will take place down Tobacco Road.

North Carolina is ready and waiting, hoping to continue its march toward the ACC regular-season title and a first seed in the conference tournament. The Tar Heels are playing uneven basketball at the moment, having gone 2-2 in their last four affairs. Roy Williams’ club dropped consecutive games to Louisville and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before rebounding against the Boston College Eagles and Pittsburgh Panthers.

For both Duke and North Carolina, this games serves as the ultimate in-conference barometer. While Virginia and Miami are certainly quality programs that could threaten for a national title this year, the powerhouses in Chapel Hill and Durham still own the night. The winner will believe even more that 2016 could be a banner campaign, while the loser will set off a local firestorm wondering if it can get the job done.

In the final analysis, this game will come down to the stars as it so often has. Can the Tar Heels ride the shooting of Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige to their 21st win of the season, or will they be undone by the prowess of Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram, one of the more dynamic duos in the country?

It’s all getting underway on Wednesday night, and it will be fantastic as usual.

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