The Atlantic Coast Conference has been the king of College Basketball for decades, and for years the conference crown has traveled through either Chapel Hill or Durham.
But, as the ACC kicks off conference action in 2015, the game has changed. Yes, the title may still go through the state of North Carolina, but it’s going to be a hell of a lot tougher to keep it that way over the next 20 years.
And we will all get a first look at this new era of Tobacco Road as the fifth-ranked Louisville Cardinals travel to Blue Heaven to take on the 18th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels at 2 p.m.
The Cardinals head into the contest at tied for first place, 2-0 in conference and 14-1 overall. UNC comes in tied for third at 1-1 and 11-4.
So to say there is a little bit on the line is an understatement.
So in short what does all of that press conference talk mean…
This is going to be one heck of a game…
Both coaches know they are going to try and control another team that is basically a mirror image of itself. Carolina thrives when they can play a little defense and get out in transition. Guess what Louisville like to do…
But that is about it when it comes to straight comparison.
The ACC individual leader board is filled with Cardinals. Terry Rozier. Montrezl Harrell. Chinanu Onuaku. Chris Jones. And on and on.
On the other side of court, Kennedy Meeks has been the only Tar Heel to consistently show up game in and game out. There is no doubt UNC has talent with the potential to match Pitino’s crew. But so far this season, Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto haven’t provided the leadership and spark the Heels have needed.
And that is where this game will be decided.
Tokoto is the key to a Carolina victory. He has to be a presence on defense and get out in the open court to ignite the home faithful. He is a lot like P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock were at the same point in their career. They had no idea had good they were and how important their emotion and potential leadership is to his team.
But is that still enough for UNC?
Head Coach Roy Williams has yet to get that “buy in” game from this team. And there is no better time for things to click than Saturday afternoon.
Carolina’s four losses have been to the Butler Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, Iowa Hawkeyes and most recently to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Dean Dome.
Everything on paper points to Louisville winning this game. But this is already a must win game for the Heels. You can’t afford to lose any game on your home floor in the ACC much less your first two.
The Heels find a way to win a wild one in overtime or three, 98-97.
*Section Photo credit to Lance King, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Bob Donnan, USA Today Sports.