5 things to know before Duke men's basketball hosts North Carolina for season's first Tobacco Road tilt

March 5, 2022: Mike Krzyzewski walked off of a court named in his honor, where he had just coached his last home game. The Tar Heel celebration was heard around the college basketball world.

April 2, 2022: Caleb Love sealed North Carolina’s ticket to the national championship game. With the end of this Final Four matchup—one that had viewers gripping the edges of their seats for the full 40 minutes—came the end of Duke’s season and the end of Krzyzewski’s career.

Feb. 4, 2023: The Blue Devils seek their revenge.

Here are five things to know heading into Saturday’s matchup, one with the power to wash away the previous two Duke losses.

Roach and Love

Five times in the last two seasons, Duke captain Jeremy Roach has met his North Carolina counterpart in Love. Despite the different shades of blue, the similarities between the two players are undeniable: both are juniors, both play guard, and both of them were powerhouses for their respective teams in last year’s March Madness. Now, Roach and Love meet again, more familiar than ever with the other’s tricks on the court.

For the Blue Devils, their captain’s role is all about ball management. Roach’s experience and confidence on the court keep Duke organized and effective; he is a team player who seems to know how to make his team the best version of itself. As of late, the Leesburg, Va., native has been a scoring threat, too, hitting double digits in Duke’s last two games and nearing his season-high of 22 points with a 21-point night in Tuesday's win against Wake Forest.

Where the stats line up for the two players is in the assists column: Roach and Love average 3.1 and 3.0 assists per game, respectively, putting them at or close to the top of their respective rosters in the category.

Fair game

What is scary about every Duke-North Carolina matchup is that numbers, rankings and predictions all fly out the window.

In 1984, a 10th-ranked Blue Devil squad beat out No. 1 North Carolina. In 1998, the script flipped, as the ninth-ranked Tar Heels beat out No. 1 Duke by a bucket. In 2006, North Carolina orchestrated another upset, beating the top-ranked Blue Devils while sitting themselves at No. 16. Last year, each team lost to the other on their own respective home court.

The games leading up to these rivalry matchups typically cannot predict the outcomes. This time, there is an added layer of mystery, given that the Tar Heels head into Cameron Indoor Stadium with a nearly identical record to Duke’s. Both teams are undefeated at home, both are 3-2 in neutral territory and both are 2-4 on the road. The only difference is that the Blue Devils have an extra win under their belt at 16-6, while the Tar Heels are 15-7.

Scheyer’s third round

The spotlight is all over Duke’s new head coach, but the Duke-North Carolina rivalry is actually nothing new for Scheyer, who not only staffed a number of rivalry games as Krzyzewski’s assistant coach, but also faced the Tar Heels himself back in his days as a Blue Devil. This game is just another step up from where he has been before; North Carolina is anything but new for the young coach.

“We've had some battles with these guys through the years, dating back to my freshman year,” Scheyer, who first took on North Carolina in 2007, said in a media availability Thursday. “Those are games you dream about playing in.”

Since his start with the Blue Devils, Scheyer has seen 28 total games against North Carolina, of which Duke has won 13. The upcoming 29th game will, of course, be his first as head coach.

“It’s a different feeling, of course, but it’s special,” said Scheyer, on his new role in the game.

‘It's about us’

The Blue Devils have had a wild ride of a season thus far. What is starting to become clear now is that the roller coaster they are riding is on an uphill trajectory.

A slow start to ACC play cannot come as much of a surprise for a team built mostly on freshman talent. Now, as players like center Dereck Lively II and forward Dariq Whitehead—whose status is unclear for Saturday with a lower leg injury sustained against Virginia Tech—fall into more of a rhythm, the Blue Devils are have re-entered the conversation. According to 7-foot freshman Kyle Filipowski, Duke’s progress can be accredited to coaches and teammates alike.

“From the summer to where I'm at now and the strides I've made, that's all because of my coaches and my teammates—if they hadn’t been on me since day one, I wouldn't be where I am now,” said Filipowski.

The most anticipated matchup of the season comes at a time when the Blue Devils are all starting to see their strengths show on the court. Against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, Duke flexed familiar strengths, like Roach’s shooting, alongside hidden talents, like Lively’s jump shot or the presence of freshman guard Jaden Schutt.

“I think this matchup is not really too much about them,” said Roach regarding North Carolina. “It's about us. Obviously, what happened last year, happened last year. But we don't want to focus on that too much. We want to focus on ourselves and what we have to do to just get the win.”

Wake up, it’s GameDay

Along with the 9,314 spectators that can be crammed inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, K-Ville and its accompanying stadium will be visited Saturday by ESPN’s College Gameday. If somehow the memo was missed about the Tobacco Road rivalry, here is the official cue that Saturday’s game is a big one.

“It's gonna be it's gonna be a fight,” said Roach. “It's gonna be a war.”

The dynamics of any competition are bound to be different when the competition in question involves one of the most storied rivalries in sports. Both the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils have something to lose and something to prove, and everyone in the state of North Carolina will have to pick their favorite shade of blue.

Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle and The Daily Tar Heel's annual rivalry edition. Find the rest of The Chronicle's coverage here, and follow along with the full Rivalry Challenge here.

Sophie Levenson profile
Sophie Levenson | Sports Managing Editor

Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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