Duke barely scraped by 11th-seeded Pittsburgh in penalty kicks to advance to the semifinals of the ACC tournament Sunday. Now, a fatigued Blue Devil offense will have to pick up the pieces and return to form in order to beat the nation’s top defensive team.

No. 3 seed Duke will face second-seeded North Carolina Wednesday at 7 p.m. at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. The Blue Devils lost their last matchup against the Tar Heels, a mostly deadlocked 1-0 game two weeks ago in which the usually-potent Duke offense struggled to produce in the face of a dominant North Carolina defensive front. 

“We played them a couple weeks ago, so we know how good they are and how well they press and how potent they are,” head coach John Kerr said. “We took some notes from the last time we played them, so hopefully we can give them a really good game on Wednesday night.”

The Blue Devils generated an abundance of shooting opportunities this season, averaging a conference-best 15.3 shots per game. Sunday, they got off 18 shots against Pittsburgh—six of which were on target. None of them found the back of the net, however, even against a relatively weak Panther back line, and sophomore goalkeeper Will Pulisic’s penalty kick heroism was required to end the marathon match.

The Tar Heels will not offer Duke so many chances, as North Carolina’s unyielding defense has performed at the highest possible level this season. The Tar Heel back line, composed of senior Alex Comsia, junior Mark Salas and sophomore John Nelson, has surrendered a Division I-low six goals in 16 matches on the year. Their 3-0 win against Virginia Tech marked the team’s fourth straight shutout. 

In the most recent match between the Tobacco Road rivals, Duke took only four shots. Especially against North Carolina’s defensive might, the Blue Devils’ characteristic inefficiency will certainly not benefit a stagnating offense.

Injuries and soreness will also likely factor into Wednesday’s game. Duke sophomore midfielder Kristofer Gardarsson, the team’s assists leader, left the quarterfinal game early with cramps. And while the Blue Devils played 110 minutes plus penalties, the Tar Heels took care of business against Virginia Tech in just the 90 minutes of regulation.

“We have to heal quickly and find out who is going to be available,” Kerr said. “We got a couple of knocks, and we’re going to discuss that as we go.”

The North Carolina defense can take most of the credit for the team’s No. 4 ranking, but the Tar Heel offense is red-hot, too. In particular, junior midfielder Jack Skahan has notched six goals and two assists in the past four matches. And although Duke (10-5-2) takes over three shots more per game than North Carolina, the Tar Heels (13-2-1) operate much more efficiently—each team scores about 1.8 goals per game.

In addition to Gardarsson’s injury, senior midfielder Ciaran McKenna received two yellow cards Sunday night, forcing the Blue Devils to make do with only 10 men for the majority of the second half. To have a chance at redemption, Duke needs stricter discipline in the box. If the Blue Devils fall behind early, it will be difficult for junior forward Daniele Proch and the rest of the Duke offense to break through.

Despite the unpromising circumstances, Duke has proven its ability to bounce back all season. Ultimately, both of these top-10 teams have boatloads of talent, and regardless of Wednesday’s result this Wednesday, both are likely to earn high seeds in the NCAA tournament.