Sometimes it's not about having the better team, it's about having the right players.
At 16-7, the UNC Tar Heels haven't been nationally ranked since December. That isn't exactly a reassuring fact as thy head to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on the No. 2 ranked Duke Blue Devils in the latest matchup of their perennial rivalry. There's no question who the better team is.
But with Duke coming off of a nail-biter at Boston College, barely securing a 62-61 victory, there's a chance that the Tar Heels can upset the Blue Devils if the right players step up. In fact, many of UNC's players are comparable to the Eagles that just gave Duke trouble a few days ago.
For BC, the one-two punch of guard Olivier Hanlan and forward Ryan Anderson combined for 37 points in Sunday's narrow defeat. That's the model that UNC will need to follow; and luckily for them, they've got a similar pair of leading scorers in forward James McAdoo (14.9 points per game) and guard Reggie Bullock (14.0).
McAdoo, whose size (6-foot-9, 230 pounds) matches up well with Duke star Mason Plumlee (6-foot-10, 235), is also much more proficient at rebounding than BC's Anderson. Meanwhile, Bullock can replicate Hanlan's 11-for-12 performance from the free throw line; at .881, Bullock leads UNC's starting five in free throw percentage.
But the biggest difference—the one that could enable the Tar Heels to do what the Eagles could not—might come in UNC's bench. Ten Tar Heels average over 10 minutes per game, compared to only eight Blue Devils, meaning that UNC coach Roy Williams may have the depth to spread minutes around. Currently, P.J. Hairston is the team's leading bench scorer with 12.3 points per game.
That being said, Leslie McDonald may be the bench player motivated to step up the most. After sitting through an academic suspension, McDonald has only scored 22 points over the Tar Heels' past three games. But he's also led the team in scoring three times this season, including a 24-point performance in a December 1 victory against UAB.
North Carolina hasn't beaten Duke with an unranked team since 2003, and they haven't done so at Duke since 1990. But years after those stunning upsets, we could be on the verge of a similar result tonight—if the right players step up.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.