With Duke and North Carolina entering their annual showdown both outside the top 10 for the first time in five years, the two rivals are hungry for a critical ACC win this weekend.

Each team will have the opportunity to bounce back from a disappointing loss last week in Sunday’s 7 p.m. matchup at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, with the No. 12 Blue Devils looking to snap a two-game losing streak against North Carolina. Duke fell to No. 5 Syracuse 12-11 in overtime at the Carrier Dome last Saturday, and the No. 18 Tar Heels were dominated at home 15-7 by No. 9 Maryland.

Despite being in danger of slipping to .500 with a loss, the Tar Heels represent a formidable threat to Blue Devil head coach John Danowski’s team as the defending national champions.

“We were angry at ourselves,” Danowski said of the loss to the Orange. “Everybody was angry. We don’t think we played well over the course of the 62 minutes of the game. You don’t win or lose a game in overtime. There are plenty of opportunities to distance yourself over the course of the game. You win as a team and you lose as a team, and I think anybody who stepped on the field would say that if they had made one more play ,it would have turned the tide.”

With a core group of freshmen that routinely see game action, there has been a bit of a learning curve for Duke (7-3, 0-1 in the ACC), especially on the road. Two of the Blue Devils’ three losses have come away from Koskinen Stadium, and Sunday will be another test to see if a youthful Duke team can withstand a hostile environment. Two of the losses have also been decided by one goal, a frustrating statistic for a team that has only won one close game all year.

“At the end. you’ve got to play to win. You can’t be thinking ‘What if?’ or ‘I don’t want to make a mistake,’” Danowski said. “You’ve got to trust yourself, you’ve got to trust your teammates, you’ve got to trust your preparation, you’ve got to trust the plan.... You’ve got to think less and play fast.”

After making an impressive run in the NCAA tournament last spring en route to their fifth national championship—and their first since 1991—North Carolina (5-4) has seen its share of ups and downs this season. The Tar Heels dispatched perennial powerhouse Denver on the road before dropping consecutive games at home to Richmond and Hofstra. All four of North Carolina’s losses this season have been in Chapel Hill, and the team will need more offense to win its ACC opener Sunday.

The Tar Heels’ two leaders have kept them afloat, as Luke Goldstock and Chris Cloutier have combined for 35 goals this season and lead a team averaging close to 40 shots per game. North Carolina does not have much depth in its attack, though, and is last in the ACC with 10.6 goals per game.

But the Tar Heel defense has kept it in most of its games this year, starting with its ability to prevent opponents from gaining possession. Stephen Kelly has won just shy of 60 percent of his faceoffs this season to lead the ACC, but the Blue Devils have also enjoyed moderate success in that area.

Duke has won just more than half of its faceoffs this season, and senior Kyle Rowe—fourth in the ACC at 56.6 percent—will have his hands full with Kelly in a battle of two veterans in the faceoff X.

“They’re extremely capable,” Danowski said. “It all starts with their faceoff guy, a senior, who is terrific. Attack-wise, they have two of the more dominant players in Goldstock and Cloutier. Defensively, they’re long, lean and aggressive. The goalie had a bad game last week and that’s not going to happen again this week. It’s the next game for them just as it’s the next game for us.”

The Blue Devils will need to capitalize on their man-advantage possessions when they have the ball in order to walk away Sunday evening with a victory. Duke possesses the eighth-best man-up offense in the country, converting on 50 percent of its opportunities—North Carolina converts at a meager 21.7 percent rate, the fourth-worst in the nation. Junior Justin Guterding and sophomore Brad Smith are the go-to options on the man-advantage for Duke and have combined for nine of the team’s 14 goals in those situations this season. Bur the Blue Devils went a costly 0-for-3 in man-up opportunities against the Orange.

Duke is in the middle of a daunting four-game conference slate leading up to next weekend’s tilt with No. 1 Notre Dame, but Sunday’s game in Chapel Hill wraps up the road half of its ACC schedule.

“One thing we’re pretty sure about is that these games will be one-goal games,” Danowski said. “They will be 60-minute battles. But this is the fun, this is what everyone signs up for. The weather gets nicer, the crowds get bigger, the games are on national television. If you’re a young man and you decide to come to Duke, these are the games that you look forward to.”