Inclement weather could only put off college basketball’s premiere rivalry for so long.
After last Wednesday’s scheduled matchup was called off due to ice and snow from a winter storm that smothered the Triangle, No. 5 Duke and North Carolina will collide 9 p.m. Thursday at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
The season’s first installment of the age-old rivalry will be Duke’s third of four games in an eight-day span. With victories against Maryland and Georgia Tech in the rearview mirror, the Blue Devils will travel down Tobacco Road seeking an eighth win in their last nine games.
Tuesday’s game at Georgia Tech ended just after 11 p.m., meaning the Blue Devils (21-5, 10-3 in the ACC) didn’t make it back to Durham until the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Although the keys to a victory against the Tar Heels will lie largely in the X’s and O’s, sleep and physical recovery will be just as important.
“The main thing for our guys is to get some rest and go to class,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said following Tuesday’s win. “We’ll practice in the afternoon [Wednesday], probably nothing physical, and then try to get a great night’s sleep [Wednesday] night and play. It’s just the way it worked out. Obviously the decision not to play last week was an outstanding one. It puts you at a little bit of a disadvantage, but there was no other time to play the game.”
The rescheduling was just as burdensome on the Tar Heels (18-7, 8-4). Winners of their past seven contests after an ominous 1-4 start in conference play, Roy Williams’ squad will host Duke after wins against Pittsburgh and Florida State, with a matchup against Wake Forest waiting on Saturday. Regardless of the circumstances leading into the game, Krzyzewski doesn’t expect any problems in getting his team motivated or energized to play North Carolina.
“It is what it is. Would you rather not be in that game, even if you played the night before?” Krzyzewski said. “Of course you would rather be in this game and the game on Saturday. No excuses and let’s play…. Hopefully we’ll play well because North Carolina is playing great.”
Duke prepared for the Tar Heels last week expecting to play Feb. 12, so the gameplan is still fresh in the team’s mind even with two other games sandwiched in between.
“We went over [the gameplan] a lot last week when we had limited games—I think we had a bye week because of the snow,” freshman forward Jabari Parker said. “We just need to refresh ourselves briefly.”
North Carolina’s two games between the postponed contest and Thursday’s makeup game have been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story for forward James Michael McAdoo. The junior had one of the most impressive showings of his career Saturday against Pittsburgh, notching 24 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Tar Heels down the stretch. But in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday night, McAdoo was scoreless in just 13 minutes of action as he battled severe foul trouble, eventually fouling out. North Carolina survived without him, however, thanks to a career-high 23 points from freshman center Kennedy Meeks.
Adding Meeks to a dangerous roster that includes four double-figure scorers in McAdoo, point guard Marcus Paige, shooting guard Leslie McDonald and forward Brice Johnson, Duke’s defense will have its hands full all over the floor Thursday night. After a lockdown defensive performance against the Yellow Jackets, the Blue Devils will head back to the film room looking to pick up on some Tar Heel tendencies.
“They’ve played a couple more games since then, so [we’ll] watch that new film and what guys have been doing,” captain Tyler Thornton said. “We’ll be ready to play on Thursday.”
With a highly anticipated rematch looming Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium against No. 1 Syracuse - which suffered its first defeat of the season Wednesday night in overtime to Boston College - the Blue Devils cannot afford to look past North Carolina, crazy as it may sound. Given the Tar Heels’ recent stretch of dominance and the game’s implications in the ACC standings—a North Carolina win would put the Tar Heels half a game behind the third-place Blue Devils—the chances of taking the Tar Heels lightly are slim.
"We haven’t even talked about these two games, so there’s not build-up with us,” Krzyzewski said Tuesday about playing North Carolina and Syracuse back-to-back. “We said we were going to try to just play one game and then another game and then another game…. We’ve got to look at now, we’re playing North Carolina, and whatever the result of that is, then get ready for Syracuse.”