This weekend the North Carolina Tar Heels will take on the Duke Blue Devils in the 252nd meeting of what is arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports. The Blue Devils are currently the 7th best team in the country, and have aspirations of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in an attempt to win their 6th NCAA national championship. The Tar Heels, however, have been bruised, battered, and demoralized as of late, and are essentially fighting for pride at this point in the season.
Many UNC fans are likely aware that the Tar Heels have also won 4 of the last 6 meetings between these two teams. Last year was particularly interesting, as Duke was without their beloved freshman star Zion Williamson for each regular season meeting after his sneaker blew up at the beginning of the first game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Without Williamson, Duke was basically a shell of a team in round one, and in the second game it was apparent that while RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish were capable of giving the Heels a run for their money, it simply wasn’t enough. The Heels would finally face off against a Zion-led team in the ACC Tournament, and the uber-talented Blue Devils found a way to win by just one point.
What Duke learned last year is that the rivalry does not take days off even when your best player goes down. As silly as it sounds, considering the talent that Duke had left on their team, their chances of beating last year’s Carolina team went down significantly the second Zion’s sneaker took him out. Why is this worth dwelling on, especially when it comes to UNC? The answer is simple: Roy Williams and his team are going through very similar issues, though it’s been on a level that is surreal to say the least.
Going into Saturday’s game, the Tar Heels will be without Brandon Robinson, Anthony Harris, and Sterling Manley. While we knew that Harris and Manley would not play as they are out for the season, Robinson’s absence was a huge blow in the game against Florida State. While it’s far from the reason why the Heels lost to the Seminoles (please reference poor movement in the second half, poor shots, and poor second-half defense), it would be irresponsible to say that B-Rob’s absence this Saturday won’t have a measurable amount of9 impact. His ability to help spread defenses as a perimeter player and his overall senior leadership are things that this team will need if they want to keep things under control against Duke, but alas, instead the Heels will have to figure out a way to navigate this heated game without him.
It is completely understandable that this game doesn’t have the usual fire and passion behind it this season that it usually does. Roy Williams is frustrated, the team is frustrated, and yes, the fans are extremely frustrated. At this point it feels like Duke will blow UNC out of the Dean Dome, and then proceed to do it one more time next month for good measure. Do the Tar Heels stand a chance? Considering the way college basketball has been this year, yes. However, to say it’s going to be difficult is a big understatement, and this team will need to work a lot of kinks out this week in practice if they want a chance to pull off one of the bigger upsets this season.
Some of the usual hype that surrounds UNC/Duke may be diluted because of how things have gone for the Tar Heels, but alas, the show must go on. Duke won’t be less fired up, their fans won’t be quieter if they win, and you’ll probably even see some attire that gets printed following a sweep. This rivalry will never take any seasons off, and Carolina is going to have to be ready to go to battle and leave everything they have on the floor of the Dean Smith Center. We as fans should also be prepared to do the same.
If you have yet to secure your ticket for Saturday’s game, be sure to check out StubHub by clicking here. At the time of writing this article, ticket prices are now at $119 for the cheapest seats, which is an amazing deal for this heated rivalry game.