NEW YORK (WTVD) -- For the second consecutive year, Tobacco Road will be on full display in Brooklyn, as fierce rivals No. 5 Duke and No. 12 North Carolina meet in the ACC Tournament semifinals, right after the first semi between No. 1 Virginia faces No. 19 Clemson.
So what to expect from the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, who split two games in the regular season?
ABC11's Mark Armstrong and Bridget Condon weigh in on tonight's big game.
"Everybody and their mama gonna be watching the game ... everybody knows that."
Those were the words last night of poet-philosopher and all-around basketball menace Theo Pinson. He speaks the truth. Duke and Carolina for the third time in a month is a treat we should all appreciate. Yes - even you, State fan, scowling as you read this. (I kid, I kid)
Both the Heels and Blue Devils looked exceedingly good in dispatching their quarterfinal foes yesterday. Both were headlined by exceptional individual performances. 33 and 17 from Marvin Bagley, who makes it looks so maddeningly easy, and it bears repeating, should STILL BE IN HIGH SCHOOL. A player has gone for at least 30 points and 15 rebounds five times in Mike Krzyzewski's coaching time at Duke. Four of those have been this season by Bagley. The guy's a force of nature.
Theo Pinson meanwhile was tearing Miami to ribbons with a career-high 25 points and 11 rebounds to boot. For a guy who's spent his career as primarily a facilitator and defender, the newfound aggression on offense is a welcome sight. My favorite Theo plays are the slashes into the lane, where his body gets a basketward lean. You just know he's finishing when the lean shows up. Theo's made it clear after each game that he's playing for his legacy right now. He wants his Carolina career to last as long as possible.
So who wins? I'll cut right to the chase: Duke.
My reasoning is simple. They have better players. Bagley is an uncontainable phenomenon. The only thing you can do with him defensively is hope he misses. Wendell Carter Jr. ran into foul trouble against Notre Dame, which limited his effectiveness, but he's far superior to anyone UNC can throw into the post. That's no slight to the likes of Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley, who've been positives for the Heels. He's just that good.
On the flipside - both Joel Berry and Luke Maye have been in something of a funk of late. Maye looked exhausted in clanging his way to a 1-15 night against Miami. If Carolina is to have any chance, those guys need to be better, obviously, but the X-factor fellas like Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams will also have to show up in a serious way.
Can Carolina win? Of course. Will they win? I don't see it. This smells like a seventh straight Duke win versus their archrivals in the ACC Tournament.
If I had to make a bet to save my life on who would win ... I don't think I could. Even when we think one team is better and more talented than the other (Duke before playing at Carolina this season) we end up being wrong.
This rivalry is so dynamic there are so many factors that play into it that it's so hard to be sure of who will win. But, that's the best part. No one in Brooklyn, no one in Chapel Hill and no one in Durham knows what will happen tonight.
I do know that Carolina can't wait to score for the first seven minutes against Bagley and company, and expect to win.
It seems like every time we think we know what Bagley is capable of, he outdoes himself. 33 points and 17 boards in a dominating win over Notre Dame yesterday to advance the Devils to the tournament semifinal game. Can he do this again? Oh, for sure. Will he? Honestly, probably.
But then Theo Pinson for the Heels adds some extra drama into the mix. Theo is playing his best basketball down the stretch. A career-high 25 points Thursday night, and the senior is playing like he wants more than just another night in the "really comfortable" hotel bed they're staying in.
So long story short nothing would surprise me tonight. Carolina win or a Duke win. What I can say we know is that it will be a physical, fast-paced, drama-filled game that we all can get behind.
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