Commentary

Rivals UNC, Duke meet with title on line

Updated: March 2, 2012, 12:35 PM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

I feel it is the greatest rivalry in college basketball. I know fans in Kentucky may beg to differ, but there is so much at stake when North Carolina and Duke tip it off on Saturday night.

My top five rivalries in college sports are Duke vs. North Carolina basketball, Ohio State vs. Michigan football, Alabama vs. Auburn football, Louisville vs. Kentucky basketball, and Missouri vs. Kansas basketball.

You know a game has meaning when the two teams are playing for the 44th time when both are ranked in the AP Top 10. That makes the rivalry even more meaningful. What's at stake here?

For starters, the ACC regular-season title and top seed in the conference tournament is on the line. It is a great goal for these schools to have the pride and joy of being the best in the long term. They face such stiff competition, especially on the road, over the season.

The schools also play for pride. Players talk about the Duke-North Carolina game for years. Separated by just eight miles, you know the fans are fired up about this one. There is so much passion and spirit when these clubs meet.

Both teams are coming in on hot streaks. Duke has won seven in a row since the shock city loss at home to Miami. North Carolina has won six straight since losing in the last meeting against the Blue Devils.

A number one seed in the big dance could be in play too. Michigan State's loss at Indiana actually makes the Carolina-Duke game even more exciting. There is still a little time before that is determined, but a Duke win would give the Blue Devils a leg up with a series sweep, plus victories over Kansas and Michigan State.

[+] EnlargeAustin Rivers
Bob Donnan/US PresswireAustin Rivers made his mark on the Duke-UNC rivalry with his game-winner in their first meeting this season.

You have two Hall of Fame coaches going at it. Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams will be at their best, wanting this game so badly. Both guys are incredible competitors. They want to add to their resume, baby!

There will be great players taking the court, led by Tyler Zeller. To me, he is the ACC Player of the Year, getting a slight edge over Mike Scott of Virginia. Zeller has been a key factor in the interior and his ability to run the court makes him special and will be a big factor against the Plumlees.

Carolina was in great shape in the first meeting until Duke made a late run. It all came down to another magical moment in this rivalry as diaper dandy Austin Rivers hit the winning trifecta. He said he wanted to have an impact and he certainly showed it, making the clutch three-pointer to get his team to the winner's circle. Rivers finished with 29 points and a memory he will cherish forever.

The three-pointer is a weapon that makes Duke tough. The Blue Devils are hitting a solid 39 percent on the season.

How mentally tough is this Duke team? It went 8-0 on the road in league play. Now the Blue Devils wrap up the regular season at home, where they are 13-2. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels are out to avenge that earlier loss in Chapel Hill.

The Cameron Crazies will be in full force and it should be a wild scene in Durham. Their place will be incredible as it is the last home game for the seniors. I have done 40 of these games and it is so special. I cannot wait to get in the gym and call the game with Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas.

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.