What's really on the line in Thursday night's matchup of the nation's top two college basketball teams?
Bragging rights along Tobacco Road for all of 23 days.
After this week, No. 1 Duke (20-1) and No. 2 North Carolina (22-1) will face each other again Feb. 28. Then, quite possibly, a third time in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and maybe a fourth time if both reach the Final Four.
Both coaches acknowledge too many games remain to give the winner of this No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown any big edge for NCAA tournament seeding.
"In college basketball today we lose our stars earlier, and having games of this magnitude are terrific," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team is off to a 9-0 ACC start, its best in the league in 34 years. "It just so happens we are both ranked in the top two in the country and it gives it just a bigger spotlight."
The 199th meeting of these rivals separated by 12 miles and the 32nd time No. 1 has met No. 2 in college basketball has scalpers drooling. The reported asking price for a ticket is $1,000.
"A game like this always matters, especially when both teams are playing really well and we are atop of the basketball polls," said North Carolina's Antawn Jamison. "A game like this is very special for the team because it can really put you on the top of the hill."
"You have to be lying if you say a game like this doesn't matter, you have to be lying to say you are not really thinking about facing a team like Duke. It's always going to be in the back on your mind," the ACC's leading scorer added. "There was all this hype before the season even started. It has been in everybody's mind ever since we started playing basketball."
Who has the edge? Depends on which shade of blue you favor.
Both teams are ranked 1-2 in the ACC in scoring, scoring margin and field goal percentage and both teams have a host of future NBA draft picks.
"Our biggest concern is that team," Duke point guard Steve Wojciechowski said of North Carolina, 8-1 in the ACC. "It's a given you're going to have to play in tough environments. You play in them all year. But I don't know that we've played a team that has as many weapons as Carolina has."
Granted, but the Tar Heels have some major concerns of their own, like Duke's fast starts, knockout punch, 3-point shooting and pressure defense. The Blue Devils have begun most ACC games with a vengeance and have beaten ACC teams by an average of 21.6 points.
"Our readiness to play has knocked people back and helped us to start really well," Wojciechowski said. "I don't know what to attribute that to other than the fact that we're ready and excited to play each game."
Duke also causes an ACC-high 22.3 turnovers a game and leads the league by a wide margin in turnover ratio.
"It's so hard to prepare for Duke and visualize or try to simulate what they do, their pressure and their quck hitting," North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said. "It's something you have to experience. I just hope our players are experienced enough and can adjust quickly."
The Tar Heels have won eight of the last nine in the series and are 5-0 in No. 1 vs. No. 2 games, beating the Blue Devils in one in 1994.
"You work hard as a player and a coach to get into games like this," said Guthridge. "Of course, this is a regular-season game and the postseason games are when the real rewards come. But it's one of the reasons players go to North Carolina and Duke and Kentucky and Kansas to play in games like this."
Written by David Droschak AP Sports Writer
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