Commentary

Duke-UNC is still a classic battle

Updated: February 9, 2010, 5:47 PM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

I can't wait to get to Chapel Hill for the North Carolina-Duke showdown. My friends, it is the greatest rivalry in college sports. I know some fans in Ann Arbor and Columbus may disagree, but when two schools separated by eight miles face off at the Dean Dome, it should be excitement galore!

I know some people may be questioning the Tar Heels right now. But just think back to 1995, when the Tar Heels were heavily favored against the Blue Devils. Everyone thought it would be blowout city that night, but Jeff Capel had other ideas. His brilliant shot extended the game. Yes, North Carolina eventually escaped with the W, but it was a classic contest that has been talked about for years.

Roy Williams' team has dropped six of its last seven games. North Carolina has to get on a serious run if it wants to make it back to the big dance. It is hard to imagine Williams not coaching in the tournament! That has only happened once before -- in his first season as the sideline leader at Kansas back in 1989.

This Tar Heel team has struggled because of several factors. Let's start with the absence of four players from last year's championship team -- Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. Come on, how many programs can lose that kind of talent without a big-time dropoff?

North Carolina was expected to reload in a hurry. The Tar Heels were picked as co-favorite with the Dukies in the ACC preseason poll. They have had some injury issues, but their inconsistent play has really hurt them. The defense has been victimized too; opponents have put together big runs to pull away in several games.

The lack of a super long-range shooter to help bail the Heels out of tough games has also hurt. Opponents try to slow down Deon Thompson and Ed Davis inside, and their numbers in ACC play reflect that.

If North Carolina is going to have any shot at saving the season and pushing for an NCAA berth, it must come out strong and beat its archrival. The defense must slow down the trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. That is a difficult task as the trio combined for 54 of the team's points in a 66-63 win at Boston College last weekend.

There is always such a special atmosphere when these two teams hook up. Throw away the records and the passion and emotion comes out. The Dukies and the Tar Heels will be awesome baby, awesome with a capital A!

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.