UNC-Duke: Who has the edge?

acarter@newsobserver.comMarch 3, 2012 

STARTERS

Kendall Marshall (6.8 ppg, 9.6 apg)vs. Tyler Thornton (3.6 ppg, 2.0 apg)

Thornton has done a nice job for Duke at point guard since permanently entering the starting lineup nine games ago, but Marshall is having a historic season for UNC, and no one in the ACC runs his team better than Marshall does the Tar Heels. Marshall earlier this week set UNC's single-season record for assists (289 and counting) and he's averaging 8.9 assists per game.

EDGE: UNC

Reggie Bullock (8.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg)vs. Seth Curry (13.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg)

Both of these guards have been somewhat overlooked when compared to their teammates, but both players have the potential to make a difference from the outside. Curry has been playing especially well of late, and he has made at least three 3's in four of Duke's past six games. He made four 3's against UNC in the first game between the teams. Bullock is UNC's best outside threat but he hasn't scored more than 12 points in a game since December.

EDGE: Duke

Harrison Barnes (17.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg)vs. Austin Rivers (15.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg)

Barnes didn't last long guarding Rivers during the first game between these teams. But Barnes' ankle is healthy now, and it wasn't then, and that should help Barnes stay with Rivers if they're matched up. Rivers torched UNC for 29 points - and that game-winning 3 - earlier this month, and he's a lock for ACC Freshman of the Year. Barnes has been UNC's most consistent scorer, but he has yet to completely take over a game this season.

EDGE: Even

John Henson (14.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg)vs. Ryan Kelly (12.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

The 6-foot-11 Kelly is another perimeter scoring threat for the Blue Devils, and he scored a career-high 23 points in Duke's 79-71 victory at Wake Forest earlier this week. Henson, though, has been the best defensive player in the ACC, and he can impact in many ways: With his shot-blocking ability and his rebounding and effective hook shot in the lane. UNC coach Roy Williams wants to see Henson do his damage on offense in the paint.

EDGE: UNC

Tyler Zeller (16.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg)vs. Miles Plumlee (6.5 ppg, 7 rpg)

Plumlee has been dominant at times on the boards during the past six games, and he's averaging 12 rebounds per game during that span. And though he's two inches shorter than Zeller, Plumlee will present a challenge given his physicality. Zeller, though, has been the most consistently good player in the ACC since the start of conference play. He's especially effective at generating second-chance points and in getting to the free throw line.

EDGE: UNC

BENCH

UNC's P.J. Hairston, James Michael McAdoo, Justin Watts and Stilman Whitevs. Duke's Andre Dawkins, Mason Plumlee, Quin Cook and Josh Hairston

Mason Plumlee (10.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and Dawkins (9.3 ppg) play starters' minutes for Duke, and they bring enviable experience and production from off the bench. UNC's McAdoo (5.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) has improved as the season has progressed, but P.J. Hairston (5.9 ppg) is still trying to regain his outside shooting form. The Tar Heels need solid contributions from their bench, while Duke expects them.

EDGE: Duke

INTANGIBLES

It doesn't get any more significant than in the Duke-UNC rivalry, at least in the regular season. This is the seventh time in series history that the teams will meet in the final game of the season to decide the ACC's regular season champion. UNC is 4-2 in the previous six games, including a victory last year in Chapel Hill. The winner here will also have the edge - at least for now - over the other to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Duke has the benefit of playing at home on senior night, while UNC is seeking a victory that would help numb the pain of its 85-84 loss at home against Duke on Feb. 8. No shortage of story lines here, as always.

EDGE: Even

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