Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 8:52 AM
Stop...Can you tell us exactly how many times you've seen the replay of that Austin Rivers three-point bomb that propelled Duke past six-point favorite North Carolina 85-84 back on February 8th in Chapel Hill?
No doubt about it that's the shot most often replayed this 2011-12 College Basketball season and it's one that has absolutely haunted a UNC Tar Heels team that still wonders privately how it blew that first meeting this year when Carolina once sported a 13-point second-half lead (hey, we were watching intently and still don't know quite how it happened!).
So, the rematch is set for this first Saturday night in March and - of course - the "experts" out there are strongly suggesting that there will be a Part III come next Sunday in the ACC Tournament Championship Game but, now, doesn't that seem a long way off when we all first have to settle this little feud? P.S., hope you noticed the pick 'em price here!
North Carolina at Duke is just one of a quartet of games we're previewing in this weekend edition of Jim Sez and keep in mind there's lots of great conference tournament or mini-tourney action on the docket this weekend including Saturday's Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game (paging Murray State!) and Sunday's Missouri Valley Conference title tilt from the great city of St. Louis.
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Now, here's the headline games this first weekend in March (note the current Associated Press Top 25 rankings are listed below).
On Saturday, it's ...
#6 NORTH CAROLINA (26-4, 13-2 ACC) at #4 DUKE (26-4, 13-2 ACC) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Here's some of the key numbers relating to that aforementioned first meeting this season between Carolina and Duke:
13 - That marked the largest lead of the night for Roy Williams' Heels who owned that neat cushion moments into the second half but it turned out to be not big enough.
29 - That's how many points frosh phenom Rivers wound up scoring (a game-high total, by the way) and keep in mind that deep wing three-point jumper that won it at the buzzer marked Rivers' sixth triple of the evening and note Carolina shot a collective 1-of-6 from beyond the arc player on either side.
6 - Okay, so that's how many points the Tar Heels' bench contributed in that first meeting and - we know, we know - Carolina isn't exactly known for its depth but the road guys here better get something in terms of points/rebounds/assists from its reserves here or Duke will smell out the regular-season sweep.
Meanwhile, what else did the teams learn about each other since that early February meeting?
Well, Carolina learned to get tougher skin as Williams' crew has won six in a row since that "Dean Dome" setback and no question the Tar Heels' single-biggest key will be how PG Kendall Marshall fares as his 14 points, 8 assists and just 3 turnovers were not enough to save North Carolina in Round I.
On the flip side, Duke is also 6-and-oh SU (straight-up) since that come-from-way-behind win against North Carolina - it just may not seem that's the case as the Blue Devils struggled mightily to get into the famed winner's circle against the likes of N.C. State, Florida State and Virginia Tech - and it's worth noting that Mike Krzyzewski's squad relied on some folks not named Rivers to defeat Wake Forest 79-71 as 12-point road favs earlier this week: Rivers netted just 10 points in that tilt while smooth-stroking F Ryan Kelly poured in a career-best 23 points and so the recipe here is Duke needs more points/boards from its front line to combat a North Carolina wall that features Harrison Barnes (17,4 ppg), Tyler Zeller (16.2 ppg) and John Henson (14.2 ppg).
Hey, that holy trinity combined for 60 points and 31 rebounds in the first meeting against the Dookies this year and that all got wiped away by the famed Rivers game-winner ... or do you need to see the highlight again?
#19 LOUISVILLE (22-8, 10-7 Big East) at #2 SYRACUSE (29-1, 16-1 Big East) - 4 p.m. ET, CBS
How's this one for an "appetizer" before we get to the main meal of North Carolina versus Duke? The host Orange - the best offensive team in the Big East (75.9 ppg) with the league's third-best scoring defense (60.6 ppg) - is being told by everyone out there that a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament is a "sure thing" but there's the matter of finishing this current campaign unbeaten at home and so Jim Boeheim's club has plenty to play for here and remember that the 'Cuse has had a week to listen to Boeheim ramble about almost blowing the big second-half lead in last Saturday's 71-69 non-cover win at Connecticut.
The Orange was led last weekend by hot-and-cold F Kris Joseph (21 points) who drained 8-of-15 FG tries and chipped in 7 boards too and he's a major key here as Louisville will try to get this into an up-and-down game with PF Peyton Siva pushing the rock at every opportunity and so Joseph must step into the fray and not have one of his infamous 6- or 7-minute scoring droughts.
One key for the visiting U of L Cardinals: Key reserve Chris Behanan - who registered 9 points and 7 rebounds in that 58-51 home loss to South Florida this past Wednesday night - must give Rick Pitino's squad some big minutes here and must think offense should that 'Cuse zone befuddle senior shooter Kyle Kuric.
On Sunday, it's ...
#1 KENTUCKY (29-1, 15-0 SEC) at #16 FLORIDA (22-8, 10-5 SEC) - 12 p.m. ET, CBS
If we are making too much of North Carolina-Duke Round I than maybe you want to list the Florida Gators as folks who would like to forget their first go-around this year in a high-stakes game:
Back on February 7th the Kentucky Wildcats - a hefty-sized 9-point betting favorite for that clash - routed the not-so-mighty Gators 78-58 as Doron Lamb scored 18 points and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist chipped in 13 points and 13 rebs but what really stood out in that initial tilt this year between these long-time SEC East rivals is that Florida shot 35 percent from the floor (that's 22-of-64 FGs) and never seemed to get comfortable against this freshmen-heavy 'Cats club.
After that clash, Kentucky guard Marquis Teague (12 points and 10 assists) declared out loud, "It's fun winning by 20" and that didn't exactly endear him to Gator Nation.
If Florida wants to hand Kentucky its one-and-only league loss this year than quieting Teague and Company on the court will be key but keep a close eye here on how Florida defends the three-point shot as Billy Donovan's crew was awful in that category in a 77-67 loss at Vanderbilt this past Tuesday and allowed the 'Cats to go 9-of-15 from beyond the three-point stripe in that 20-point loss last month.
#10 OHIO STATE (24-6, 12-5 Big 10) at #5 MICHIGAN STATE (24-6, 13-4 Big 10) - 12 p.m. ET, CBS
Last but not least here is this humdinger from Big 10 country - you know, the league that nowadays is considered to be the best thanks to the fact there are six teams with double-digit wins including these two clubs who most surely will get either a #1 or #2 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Ohio State ventures into this road tilt having alternated wins and losses in their last seven games - the Buckeyes are "due" to lose here based on this recent trend - and keep in mind Thad Matta's gang was stung badly back on February 11th when 8 ½-point pup Michigan State waltzed into and out of Columbus with a wire-to-wire 58-48 win that featured great defense as O-State shot a wobbly 14-of-53 from the field (that's an ugly 26.4 percent).
If the 'Eyes are gonna get their "pound of flesh" here than F/C Jared Sullinger (just 5-of-15 FG shooting in Round I) must come up big as he did in that last-second win at Northwestern this week - and isn't is something that Sullinger is rarely mentioned as a National Player of the Year candidate one year after he wowed so many hoops folks? Hmmm.
NOTE: Get our NBA Weekend News & Notes in tomorrow's Jim Sez.