North Carolina vs. NC State: Tobacco Road’s Hottest Rivalry

By: 07.28.10  •  48 Comments

No college basketball rivalry can touch Duke vs. North Carolina, but with the defending national champion Blue Devils a notch above the ACC right now, there is a less talked-about Tobacco Road rivalry that should be wildly entertaining, fiercely competitive, and could grow to approach that Duke/UNC bitterness in due time:

That would be North Carolina vs. NC State.

After writing my college basketball preview last week, most of the feedback was about ranking NC State at the 10th spot and leaving the Tar Heels out of the Top-10. Don’t worry, I wasn’t being a hater. Had we done a full Top-25, I would have had UNC right behind NC State. I’ve always been a huge UNC fan and think they’re the best college basketball program ever. But even I have to admit, the Wolfpack are looking tough this year. You can easily flip-flop them in the preseason rankings.

UNC and NC State are evenly matched, as both are coming off seasons where they missed the NCAA Tournament — UNC finished second in the NIT, while NC State was knocked out in the second round — and are in a rebuilding mode with stellar recruiting classes on the way. How do these two young and talented squads matchup? Let’s put them head-to-head:

John Henson (UNC) vs. Tracy Smith (NC State) — At first glance, you have to give this one to UNC, but don’t sleep on Tracy Smith of the Wolfpack. Smith averaged almost 17 and 7 as a junior last season, but let’s be honest, he’s no J.J. Hickson. He had experience and muscle on the skinny sophomore Henson, but I think even Wolfpack fans would agree UNC takes this one.
EDGE – Tar Heels

Tyler Zeller (UNC) vs. C.J. Leslie (NC State) — Two former high school All-Americans. Tar Heel fans will definitely have something to say about this, but I honestly think C.J. Leslie is a 2011 Lottery pick lock. Now will he dominate Zeller? No, but he could run circles around him and jump over him. I’ll have to go with NC State on this one.
EDGE – Wolfpack

Harrison Barnes (UNC) vs. Lorenzo Brown (NC State) — Harrison Barnes is The Man, the best incoming freshman in the country and a surefire Top-5 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Brown is part of NC State’s highly-ranked recruiting class, but doesn’t have near the exposure (or the talent) of Barnes.
EDGE – Tar Heels

Will Graves (UNC) vs. Javier Gonzalez (NC State) — Calm down. Why do I have Graves starting over 2010 high school All-American Reggie Bullock? While I agree that Reggie is better, remember how Roy Williams started senior Jawad Williams over freshman star Marvin Williams on the 2005 national championship team? I think this is a similar situation, as Graves was at times UNC’s best offensive player last season and he’s got the ACC experience. Gonzalez averaged 9.5 points for NC State last season, but he shined in his team’s biggest games.
EDGE – Push

Larry Drew III (UNC) vs. Ryan Harrow (NC State) — Although Drew will be better this year, I still am not convinced that he’s the right type of player to lead UNC to the national championship; I don’t even think Drew is better than incoming freshman Kendall Marshall. Ryan Harrow will have a chip on his shoulder all year for getting an All-American snub and with everyone in the ACC talking about Duke freshman PG Kyrie Irving.
EDGE – Wolfpack

Reggie Bullock, Kendall Marshall, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald (UNC) vs. Scott Wood, Richard Howell, C.J. Williams (NC State) — They may not have much depth down low after the Wear twins decided to transfer, but UNC still has one of the deepest benches in the ACC. The four listed above could start for a lot of teams around the country.
EDGE – Tar Heels

Roy Williams (UNC) vs. Sidney Lowe (NC State) — While I love Sidney Lowe (pause), you just cannot give him the nod over Roy. If Lowe hadn’t landed Leslie in recruiting, this might have been his last year in Raleigh.
EDGE – Tar Heels

Overall: North Carolina wins, 4-2-1

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