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Freshmen performances have keyed Duke's recent run of success against North Carolina

With Duke fully embracing its newfound status as a landing place for perspective one-and-dones, it's only right that freshmen have been carrying the Blue Devils in their recent meetings with arch rival North Carolina.

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Serious college basketball fans can tell you who won the Maui Invitational. They remember catching the bulk of the 24-hour tip-off marathon in November and have thoroughly enjoyed the first six weeks of conference play. For the rest of the sports world, the hoops season begins after the Super Bowl, and the first of the two annual showdowns between Duke and North Carolina could just as easily be labeled the "Tip-Off Classic."

In essence, college basketball's unofficial second season begins Wednesday night when the Blue Devils and Tar Heels tip off in Chapel Hill.

For the defending national champions from Durham, all eyes will be on Brandon Ingram. The freshman guard enters the game playing his best basketball of the season. He dropped 25 points in Saturday's enormous win over then-No. 7 Virginia, and has notched a double-double in three of Duke's last five games. The question for Ingram, who just might be a better NBA prospect than the much-ballyhooed Ben Simmons, is now how he responds to the brightest lights of the regular season.

If recent history is any indication, college hoops fans tuning in tonight should expect Ingram (or fellow frosh Luke Kennard) to post some big numbers. Though the all-time series between the two arch rivals is still led by North Carolina, 133-107, Duke is on a run where it has taken 10 of the last 13 from the Tar Heels, and freshmen have played an enormous role in that success.

Here's a brief walk down recent memory lane:

Duke 92, North Carolina 90 (OT) (Feb. 18, 2015)

With all eyes on fellow freshman Jahlil Okafor, it was Tyus Jones who stole the show when the Blue Devils took the first of its two meetings against North Carolina last season. The point guard was the star of stars in the rivalry game, scoring a then season-high 22 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds.

The Blue Devils' other two freshman stars weren't bad either. Okafor dominated the paint to the tune of 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, while Justise Winslow chipped in 16 points and seven boards.

Duke 84, North Carolina 77 (March 8, 2015)

Jones was once again at his best when the regular season lights were the brightest, breaking the previous season high of 22 points that he posted in the first meeting with UNC by dropping 24 on the Tar Heels. The freshman became the first player in Duke history to record at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first two games against North Carolina.

Duke 93, North Carolina 81 (March 9, 2014)

Another year, another Duke freshman posting a career-high against North Carolina. This time it was Jabari Parker, who scored 30 points and added 11 rebounds as the Blue Devils prevailed in the regular season finale for both teams.

Parker, who scored a team-high 17 points in the first meeting with UNC (which the Tar Heels won), downplayed his youth after the game.

"No more freshman," Parker said. "I don't like getting in that category anymore because my team needs me more than just an 18-year-old. They need somebody with experience through the whole game. ... It's time to grow up."

Duke 73, North Carolina 68 (Feb. 13, 2013)

Although things ultimately didn't work out for him in Durham, arguably the biggest moment of Rasheed Sulaimon's first season with Duke came against North Carolina. The freshman scored 13 points, dished out a team-high five assists and knocked down a pair of huge free-throws in the game's final minute to ice the victory for the home team.

Duke 85, North Carolina 84 (Feb. 9, 2012)

Perhaps the most memorable moment for a freshman in the history of this series came four years ago when Austin Rivers scored a game-high 29 points, including this three at the buzzer:

Duke 64, North Carolina 54 (Feb. 11, 2010)

The numbers don't shine as brightly as the others on this list, but freshman Mason Plumlee gave Blue Devil fans a glimpse into the future when he played 27 big minutes (as opposed to older brother Miles' 13) and grabbed nine boards to go along with seven points. His offensive rebound followed by an emphatic reverse dunk gave Duke a 47-45 lead in the second half that it would not relinquish.