THE RIVALRY RETURNS: Duke basketball set for showdown with UNC

Duke's stars Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood get their first taste of the Tobacco Road rivalry Wednesday when they head to Chapel Hill to square off with the Tar Heels.
Duke's stars Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood get their first taste of the Tobacco Road rivalry Wednesday when they head to Chapel Hill to square off with the Tar Heels.

Mike Krzyzewski said he is preparing for a matchup with his arch rival like it is "the next ACC game." This year, many are treating Duke's first showdown with North Carolina the same way.

This change could not be more indicative of the way that ACC expansion has affected the conference's landscape. Despite a century of history and hatred between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, the most-anticipated game remaining on Duke's schedule is a rematch with undefeated Syracuse after the teams' first ACC matchup was an overtime thriller at the Carrier Dome.

Duke's stars Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood get their first taste of the Tobacco Road rivalry Wednesday when they head to Chapel Hill to square off with the Tar Heels.
But a Duke-North Carolina matchup has something Duke and Syracuse—or any other team—never will: eight miles, 94 years and 236 games between them. When the ball goes up for installment No. 237 between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the Dean E. Smith Center, don't tell the players that the Tobacco Road rivalry has lost its luster.

"This is a great rivalry because it's stood the test of time," Krzyzewski said. "We're lucky people to be a part of it.... It brings out the best in both of us."

No. 8 Duke (19-5, 8-3 in the ACC) has won seven of its last nine matchups against North Carolina, and is seeking to win its third consecutive matchup in Chapel Hill for the first time since the 2001-02 season. After recovering from early-season struggles, the Tar Heels (16-7, 6-4) enter play riding a five-game winning streak.

One of the key proponents of North Carolina's recent string of success has been the play of sophomore point guard Marcus Paige, who is the Tar Heels' leading scorer at 17.0 points per contest and dishes out 4.6 assists per game. Paige's ability to play both on and off the ball could present a matchup problems for the Blue Devils in the backcourt.

"He's a different animal this year," junior guard Quinn Cook said. "He's way more aggressive. I think he has that confidence where he's played in big games—Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky—and he's performed well.... It's going to be a challenge for us to make him work."

North Carolina boasts a sizable front line thanks to a pair of players that stand at 6-foot-9. Junior James Michael McAdoo and freshman Kennedy Meeks have used their bulky frames throughout the season to help the Tar Heels pull down 41.1 rebounds per game as a team—good for ninth in the nation. In addition to McAdoo and Meeks up front, North Carolina boasts considerable frontcourt depth with 6-foot-9 Brice Johnson and 6-foot-10 Joel James coming off the bench.

An often undersized Duke squad has still suffered occasional lapses in interior defense but has significantly improved its rebounding efforts since the beginning of the year. The Blue Devils dominated the glass Saturday against Boston College, outrebounding the Eagles 37-23 in the contest.

"It's been a fight not having a true big a lot, but sometimes that happens and I think our guys have adjusted really well," sophomore forward Amile Jefferson said. "It's just about fighting because a lot of times they're bigger, stronger... so it's just about fighting the entire game and making sure they feel me on every possession."

The Blue Devils are led into the contest by a pair of players who have yet to take the court as a part of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. Freshman Jabari Parker and redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood will each make their mark on Tobacco Road basketball for the first time Wednesday. Parker, a freshman from Chicago, is fresh off a career-high 29 points and 16 rebounds in the Blue Devils' most recent victory against Boston College. Hood has been one of Duke's most consistent offensive weapons this season and will have a height advantage when matched up against North Carolina sophomore J.P. Tokoto on the wing.

Although Hood has yet to experience the ACC's most famous rivalry, the team captain said facing the Tar Heels is "one of the reasons why you come to Duke." Hood added that he has followed the Tobacco Road rivalry since he was growing up in Meridian, Miss., and that his first memories of Duke and North Carolina came back in 2001.

"It was a Duke-UNC game at Carolina," Hood said. "Shane Battier was here, and I think he had the block on [Joseph] Forte. I think that was my first encounter. I was about eight or nine at the time."

With Hood and Parker set to make their debuts against North Carolina, the duo—along with the rest of Duke's freshman class—will receive no shortage of advice from the team's seasoned veterans.

"You'll be nervous I think, at the beginning. And once that gets out—that'll probably go away once the ball is tapped—it'll be loud. It'll be noisy," Jefferson said. "Until the game starts you'll hear about it, read about it, see it on TV.... Once that ball gets tipped, the butterflies go away and you just play."

Newcomers to the rivalry making a major impact has become par for the course on Tobacco Road. In the past three years, the Blue Devils have seen Seth Curry and Austin Rivers—one as a recent transfer and the other as a freshman —play major roles in their first game against the Tar Heels. It now may be Parker and Hood's turns to take part in the writing of the rivalry's next historic chapter.


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