Every Tar Heel has their favorite UNC-Duke moments. Others are definitely not your favorite, but they’re memorable nonetheless. Here are some to get you ready for Thursday:
Dick Vitale once said, “There’s no greater rivalry in college sports than Duke and North Carolina.” Some even call it the best rivalry in all of sports. I’ll let you decide your stance on the matter, but the point is, there is always a lot of hype around these games. Twice every year, one day in February and one day in March, you just get a little more amped than normal about a Carolina Basketball. Why? In the words of the Southeastern Conference, a win over duke “just means more.” A win over those dreaded Dukies is better than virtually any other regular season win. It’s just how the rivalry works. However, on Thursday, a loss to our friends from Durham wouldn’t be reason to panic.
Stay with me, because I realize that nobody likes losing to Duke. I certainly don’t. But this upcoming game doesn’t have the implications, or better yet the negative consequences that these game have had in years past. If you have paid any attention to ACC basketball this year, you’ve noticed levels of parity that are seemingly much higher. Upsets and similar records are huge themes this season. Sooner or later, we’ll probably complete the loop of everybody beating everybody in the ACC.
At this point in the season, the top five teams in the conference standings all have at least one game remaining against another team in the top five. The way this season has gone, it’s unlikely that a team will close out the regular season on a 9ish game winning streak and win the ACC going away. A few of these teams currently within striking distance of the Heels will probably drop at least one. This gives Carolina a little bit of wiggle room compared to the other conference competitors, especially in a February filled with tough games for the Heels.
Duke is a talented team. They’ll probably climb up the standings a little bit by the time the season is over. Right now, they’re currently an arm’s length away from Carolina. A head-to-head loss to this team just doesn’t mean as much as a loss to a team higher in the standings. Granted, the ACC does not use head-to-head match ups as tiebreakers for the regular season championship. Two teams can share that title. They do, however, count towards tournament seeding. As we learned last year, being the number one seed in the ACC tourney doesn’t exactly hurt.
Carolina does have second place Virginia left twice, and fourth place Louisville on the schedule as well. As far as I’m concerned those games are more important in terms of ACC standings/seeding than the game at Duke later this week. A win would be great, but a loss wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Thursday’s game is also a rivalry game, an away game, and a game against a top-25 team. For those reasons alone, Duke would not be a bad loss. Would it be a great win? Absolutely. Do I think Carolina has a really good chance to win? Definitely. Which makes this game all the more fun to watch. This is one of the best rivalries in all of sports, and we as UNC fans get to be a part of it. And if the result isn’t what we want, then we can confidently move on and focus on more important games on the schedule. So for right now: Keep Calm, and Beat Duke.
Tipoff is Thursday at 8:00 on ESPN.