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Thursday, March 3, 2011
Dexter Strickland kicks off UNC-Duke talk

By Eamonn Brennan

We still have a couple of days of hoops, including a bunch of thrilling mid-major conference tournament games, to enjoy before we arrive at Saturday's marquee tilt between Duke and North Carolina. Still, that game is coming quickly, and it should be pretty awesome for a variety of reasons.

For one, it's Duke-UNC, and the rivalry therein means this game is always worth watching even when, like last season, nothing much is on the line. But something is on the line this season, as both teams head into Saturday's game tied atop the ACC standings. According to ESPN Stats and Research, Saturday will be just "the fifth time in history that Duke and UNC will face each other in the final game of the regular season when tied atop the ACC standings. The only other time it’s happened in the last 15 years was back in 2008, when top-ranked North Carolina beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium behind 16 points and 15 rebounds from Tyler Hansbrough." So, yeah, this is a big game.

And since it is in the opinion of this writer that every UNC-Duke game should come with an edge -- an edge most easily accentuated by pre-game trash talk -- let's go ahead and give a hand to Tar Heels guard Dexter Strickland, who told the Charlotte Observer's Robbi Pickeral that he knows his team is going to win. The quote in question:
"I'm glad it's home; that will give us a little advantage,'' the shooting guard said after Wednesday's victory. "I feel like the last time we played them, we just made mental errors that can be mentally corrected. I think that on Saturday, we're going to win. I know we're going to win on Saturday. I have a lot of confidence in myself and in my teammates. And if everybody has the same attitude I do, I know we're going to win."

OK, so that's not exactly a Joe Namath guarantee. Actually, Strickland sounds more like a coach. He's relating confidence, creating if-then scenarios, trying to bolster his team's attitude for the challenge ahead. The "if everybody has the same attitude I do" caveat is a rather crucial one.

Still, you can bet Duke hears about Strickland's confidence. You can bet Roy Williams winced, if only slightly, at the likelihood the media would see the quote and turn it into "STRICKLAND GUARANTEES UNC VICTORY." And you can bet -- thankfully -- this will only increase the intensity from both teams as the ball is tipped Saturday. Duke-UNC with the ACC title on the line wouldn't be the same without a bit of smack talk in the week that preceded it ... even if that smack talk is of the decidedly positive, believe-it-to-achieve-it variety.

(Hat tip: Eric Angevine)