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Duke

vs.

North Carolina

College Basketball Pick

3/9/13

This is the last game of the season for a reason: it's going to be really intense and really fun to watch. Neither team has had an ideal year for their standards, but through it all, both will end up with pretty decent seeds in the NCAA tourney.

Duke has dealt with injuries and some road problems, yet find themselves as the No. 3 team in the country. And through everything, North Carolina is only one game back of the Blue Devils and has a chance to be even with them after this game. The Tar Heels have now won six straight games since their last loss at Duke on Feb. 13 and just beat Maryland on the road, something Duke couldn't do. They also have wins over Virginia and NC State in that same time period. And to think, North Carolina was a bubble team not so long ago. They could easily make it up to a 5-seed when all is said and done.

The Blue Devils got a much needed boost with Ryan Kelly returning to the squad last week. He adds another big man to the lineup and can stretch the floor even more for Mason Plumlee down low. Against Miami (FL), Kelly finished with a career-high 36 points and seven rebounds. In the last game against Virginia Tech, he had 18 points, nine boards and five assists. The versatility of Kelly makes Duke a true title threat. Their current problem is that the players around Kelly still haven't fully acclimated to him being back. Plumlee has taken a smaller role and Rasheed Sulaimon has once again taken the back seat to Kelly. Sulaimon is their fifth-best starter, but showed flashes of what he could do in a 27-point performance just four games ago. Once he gets comfortable, it's going to be very tough to beat these Blue Devils, much more so than last year when they lost to 15-seed Lehigh.

While Duke got their stud back, North Carolina just keep on winning. Not only are they playing their best defense of the season, but their scoring has been more consistent. Even though James Michael McAdoo struggled to score against Maryland (3-for-11 shooting), Reggie Bullock (19 points) and P.J. Hairston (22 points) stepped up for big games. With their usual blend of athleticism and range, these Tar Heels are starting to realize their potential. Early in the season, they were still young and were often playing out of control. At the peak of their struggles, they had 18 turnovers and shot 21-of-67 from the field in an 18-point loss at Texas. In their most recent win at Maryland, they had 12 turnovers and shot 25-of-55 from the field. Smarter play and better shots is the name of their improvement. Combine that with how they can stretch the floor on the defensive end and this team is a problem.

Even the last time these teams played at Cameron Indoor Stadium, UNC was able to force 17 turnovers. That game ended up being closer than expected in an 83-78 Duke win. With Kelly back for the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels playing their best basketball of the season, there's only one way this game can go.

It's going to be back-and-forth from the start with the winner not being decided until the very end. There's no better way to cap off the regular season with a classic battle in Chapel Hill with two teams that we could once again see come Final Four weekend.

Predicted Score - North Carolina 74 Duke 72

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