The stakes aren’t as high as their last couple of meetings, but a North Carolina-Duke game is still a big deal to these teams and their fan bases.
It’s a strange setup for Saturday night’s game on Duke’s home floor in Durham, N.C., because neither team holds a national ranking.
Both teams, though, need to crank up some momentum for the final month of the regular season.
North Carolina (15-7, 7-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) lost Wednesday night at home to Pitt by one point, so the Tar Heels are trying to prevent a February slide.
“I’ve told (our players) this a number of times,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “When you get knocked down and when you’re disappointed, you have the choice of to whine and complain, point fingers, make excuses. Or you can get back up and you can compete and fight. That’s my expectation for them.”
The buildup for this game can’t ignore the disappointment that the Blue Devils felt after their last two historic meetings with North Carolina.
Last March, in former coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game, North Carolina pulled off a stunning upset at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Four weeks later, the Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils in the Final Four in the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the teams.
“You move on,” first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer said. “It’s such a different team, different circumstance for us.
“Obviously, for them, they have a lot of returning players and Hubert was the coach last year. It’s not going to be about that. It’s about where we are right now, where they are and winning this game for Saturday.”
Duke (16-6, 7-4) has won it past two games and will be aiming to change the narrative from the past two showdowns with North Carolina.
“Obviously, what happened last year, happened last year, but we don’t want to focus on that too much,” Blue Devils guard Jeremy Roach said. “Want to focus on ourselves and what we have to do to just get the win. It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a war.”
Of the last 100 meetings, each team has won 50 times. North Carolina holds a 143-115 all-time edge in the series.
North Carolina won 81-77 in the Final Four semifinal game in New Orleans in a matchup with 18 lead changes and 12 ties.
North Carolina needs a pick-me-up after the Pitt game.
“It’s our opportunity to move forward, not forgetting what happened but using what happened in the past to make you even better moving forward,” Davis said. “My hope is that we’ve learned and that can put us in a better position for when we play at Duke.”
Much focus is falling on the rebounding component, particularly with North Carolina’s Armando Bacot such a force on the boards. He averages a team-leading 17.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
“I think it speaks for itself, his numbers that he’s had, the job that he does rebounding the basketball on both ends,” Scheyer said.
Freshman Kyle Filipowski leads Duke with 15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per outing.
–Field Level Media