I'm certainly not the first person to come to this conclusion, but the North Carolina offense has been demonstrably better since Kendall Marshall replaced Larry Drew II as the starting point guard.

The esteemed John Gasaway lays out the case (ESPN Insider required) for a greatly improved Tar Heel team. I certainly don't want to pilfer data without proper attribution (and who knew ESPN had a corrections page?), so I'll direct you there to read his argument. I will, however, add a few small bits.

Frequent readers of this site (all four of you) know I like to use a metric called NEM (background here), derived from Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency numbers, to look at game-by-game performance.

Here is a look at the NEM trend for Duke and North Carolina (five-game running average). Five games is a somewhat arbitrary selection, and it just so happens that Carolina's recent hot streak is five games, but it balances showing recent trends and smoothing the randomness inherent in single game performance.

It's always dangerous to draw conclusions from small samples, but with the personnel changes both teams have experienced this year there may be something there. (For the record, I agree with Ken Pomeroy's laptop.)

Conventional wisdom says that a young team like the Tar Heels (who rank 311th of 345 in experience) will suffer in an environment like Cameron Indoor Stadium. In general, I think that young teams do tend to struggle more on the road.

However, there are exceptions, including one in this very rivalry. Flash back to 2006 when a young Tar Heel team, with freshman Bobby Frasor at point guard (and some other freshman you may have heard of), stunned J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams on senior day.

While the crowd will no doubt be a challenge Wednesday night, Tar Heel fans should be heartened to see this nugget after the Florida State game:
And on this Super Bowl Sunday, how was the freshman planning to celebrate his record-setting performance? By looking ahead--with a nod to history, of course. "I've got game film from when Bobby Frasor was a freshman and played at Duke that I'm going to watch tonight," Marshall said. "I want to see what it was like for him and how he handled it."

And, yes, I have been to Cameron before.