Mike Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils don’t care about their ranking—only their opponents do.
“They get a chance to get a huge win, a resume win. We are a resume win,” the Duke head coach said. “It’s not only their best shot, it’s a hungry shot.”
North Carolina enters tonight’s 9 p.m. game at Cameron Indoor Stadium as one of those foes starving for a season-altering victory—the Tar Heels (16-7, 6-4 in the ACC) have just one win against a top-25 opponent, a UNLV team that has since tumbled from the rankings. They are sitting on the bubble of this year’s NCAA Tournament and play two of those final games against the Blue Devils (21-2, 8-2), with others against Virginia and N.C. State, teams that they have already lost to this season.
So when Krzyzewski talks about a “hungry shot,” he means the type of one that North Carolina will take tonight.
“They can beat the heck out of us,” Krzyzewski said. “We could play well and lose to them.”
And playing on the road has not stopped either of these teams from bringing the necessary energy to win. Since 2006, the road team has won nine of the 14 games between the two squads.
But the Blue Devils are not worried about matching the vigor of the high-octane Tar Heels, even if their resume needs more beefing up than Duke’s does.
“I would like to think other teams have to match our intensity,” senior forward Mason Plumlee said. “Needing a win—we need every win…. I would say we need it as much as anybody.”
Matching the energy of the Tar Heels, though, is difficult, as they play at one of the fastest paces in Division I. Averaging 78.3 points, 41.7 rebounds and 18.0 rebounds per game, North Carolina ranks in the top-10 nationally in all three categories.
Averaging 14.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest, sophomore James Michael McAdoo paces the Tar Heels in both categories but guards Dexter Strickland and Marcus Paige, who combine for 8.5 assists per game, are the ones who set the offense’s quick tempo.
“They’re one of the best teams in the country in transition,” Duke point guard Quinn Cook said. “We just want to play our game. We’re good in transition as well.”
Cook, averaging 6.0 assists per game, ranks behind only Strickland in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio.
In the Tar Heels’ 26-point loss at Miami last Saturday—reminiscent of the 27-point beating the Blue Devils took in Coral Gables, Fla. less than a month ago—Strickland scored just two points, however, adding just three assists. Dealing with a torn ACL, Strickland didn’t play in either of the two meetings between the two teams last season.
“We just have to play with a sense of urgency,” Strickland said.
Sometimes being the hungry and less-hyped team pays off, as was the case in the first game between the two teams last year. The Blue Devils had lost their last two ACC home games and at No. 10 in the rankings, were just one loss away from falling out of the top 10 for the first time since Nov. 19, 2007, a still-standing and now-108-week long streak.
Then-No. 5 North Carolina fell to that hungry Duke team on the heels of Austin Rivers’ game-winning shot that capped a 10-point comeback in the game’s final two minutes.
“I was crushed,” Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams said.
Then again, it was only the first of two meetings between the two teams. North Carolina got its revenge with an 18-point rout at Cameron Indoor Stadium and watched the Blue Devils lose in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 64.
“Five weeks later, that game was immaterial,” Williams said.
What’s not immaterial: The meaning of the long-lasting rivalry in an ever-changing conference landscape.
“This game is so good for college basketball with all the conference realignment,” Krzyzewski said. “Duke and Carolina will be there forever.”