It’s one of the most passionate rivalries in sports and it’s a big part of what makes the ACC and college basketball history in North Carolina so special.
These are two proud programs where excellence is always expected on the basketball court. The tradition is deep. The memories are unbelievable. And the dislike between the two schools is intense.
Based on how things have gone this season, Duke will likely enter as the favorite on Wednesday night. And with how the Blue Devils have played over the past three weeks and considering what they did in Chapel Hill last season, they deserve to be favored.
However, being favored doesn’t mean anything in this game. It hasn’t for a long time. It’s part of what makes it so special.
Here are five reasons Duke shouldn’t take UNC lightly.
1. The Tar Heels finally have positive momentum.
It’s been an up-and-down year for North Carolina, to say the least. This a team that has wins over three teams that were ranked in the Top 11 at the time of the games, but has also lost to Belmont, Miami and UAB. The off-court drama involving P.J. Hairston certainly couldn’t have done anything to help matters.
But, Hairston is no longer part of the program. He’s moved on to the D-League, which has also allowed UNC to move on with the rest of this season. Now, the Tar Heels have won five straight, their longest winning streak of the season. It should be noted that none of these wins have come against teams in the Top 5 in the ACC, but it’s still offered the opportunity for this group to build confidence heading into Wednesday night’s game against Duke. The Heels will be looking to prove that this winning streak isn’t a fluke.
2. Duke can’t afford to take ANYONE lightly.
Despite playing extremely well since the loss at Clemson on January 11, Duke is still a team with five losses, including three in conference play, that’s looking up at Virginia and Syracuse in the ACC standings. Every game matters now in terms of seeding – for the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. The Blue Devils need to lock up one of the top four spots in the conference to help their position for the ACC tournament, and winning out would give them an outside shot at still competing for a No. 1 (likely No. 2) seed in the NCAA Tournament.
3. North Carolina gets up for big games.
In a comparison that would probably make UNC fans cringe, the Tar Heels have played this season like Seth Greenberg’s Virginia Tech teams used to play. The Heels play their best on the biggest stage against marquee opponents, but they haven’t played with that same purpose and urgency against inferior opponents.
Duke falls into the category of a big stage against an elite program. If North Carolina plays the way it has against other elite programs this season, the Blue Devils will need to bring their A-game to head home on Tobacco Road with a victory.
4. UNC is talented.
Make no mistake – North Carolina is a talented team. It’s part of what makes their struggles this season so bizarre. Teams without talent don’t go to Michigan State and dominate the Spartans on their home floor.
The Heels are still young and inexperienced, but this is a squad with guys who can make plays, including Marcus Paige, who has the potential to give Duke all sorts of problems. There’s also the threat that the light could finally come on for James Michael McAdoo. We haven’t seen it for the past three years, but a home game against Duke isn’t out of the realm of possibility for when it could finally happen.
5. The rivalry.
Above all else, the records don’t mean anything when these two get together. It’s why North Carolina gave Duke all it wanted in Cameron Indoor Stadium last season. It’s why unranked UNC knocked off No. 10 Duke in Chapel Hill in 2003. It’s why a clearly overmatched Duke squad in 1995 was able to take one of the most talented teams in UNC history to double overtime. It’s why Duke was able to erase a 10-point deficit with 2:09 remaining in 2012.
In this game, no lead ever feels safe.
You never know what might happen. You never know who will step up and make the big play. And between these two teams, it could come down to one play that makes the difference.
Duke needs to be ready for that moment on Wednesday night, and they need to assume UNC will be just as ready.