Duke and North Carolina are the ACC's highest-scoring teams, but neither looked strong in their final games before the renewal of college basketball's most storied rivalry.
The Blue Devils, averaging 78.2 points, nearly slipped up on the road against an ACC cellar dweller. The Tar Heels lead the conference at 78.3 per game but struggled again in a loss to a ranked opponent.
Nonetheless, a road win over No. 2 Duke on Wednesday night would certainly change the tune of the Tar Heels' season - at least temporarily.
Duke (21-2, 8-2) has won 12 straight home games since an 88-70 loss to North Carolina in last year's regular-season finale. Only players who produced 20 of the Tar Heels' points - Reggie Bullock, James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston - remain on the roster, as four starters are no longer with the team.
Mike Krzyzewski's team has won five straight overall following a 62-61 victory Sunday at Boston College, which entered tied for last in the conference and is an ACC-worst 10-13 overall. Duke trailed by five points with 2:15 to play and took its only lead of the final five minutes on Mason Plumlee's free throw with 26 seconds remaining.
While the Tar Heels (16-7, 6-4) have certainly had a disappointing season - they were ranked among the top 10 in November - that means little to the Blue Devils.
"We can't just think because of their record or their prior losses that they're going to come in here and it's going to be a blowout," sophomore guard Quinn Cook said. " ... We have to really come in here and execute what coach wants us to do."
A win would tie Krzyzewski with Adolph Rupp for the most career victories at one school with 876.
Counterpart Roy Williams is concerned about how his team will deal with the pressure of playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Tar Heels are 3-5 on the road and 1-3 against ranked teams following an 87-61 loss at then-No. 8 Miami on Saturday.
"We've got to be able to withstand some adversity in a hostile environment," Williams said. "... If the other team gets rolling and rocking, we have not bounced back in being able to handle that very well yet."
Williams' team saw the Hurricanes hit a school-record 15 3-pointers, and now it must face one of the nation's best long-range shooters in Seth Curry.
The senior has hit 22 of 45 (48.9 percent) from 3-point range over his last six home games while averaging 20.7 points. He's averaging 16.8 for the season despite rarely being able to practice due to lingering pain in his right shin.
"That's all I really need - rest," said Curry, averaging 16.0 points in five career games against the Tar Heels while hitting 52.9 percent of his 3s. "Get my shots up and try to focus on staying sharp."
Duke's other star remains Plumlee, one of 14 Division I players averaging a double-double. He posted his 13th of the season Saturday with 19 points and 10 rebounds after scoring at least 30 in two of his previous three games.
However, Plumlee often doesn't get much help on the glass, and the Blue Devils are surrendering 11.9 offensive rebounds a game. They could be exploited by a North Carolina squad that ranks ninth in the country with an average of 14.8 offensive boards.
Two key forces in the Tar Heels' rebounding attack are McAdoo and Bullock, who average 2.7 and 2.1 offensive rebounds, respectively. McAdoo also is the team's leading scorer at 14.9 points per game, but he was held to six on 3-of-12 shooting against the Hurricanes.
"We need him to play better," Williams said. "We need all of our guys to play better."
North Carolina will be without freshman forward Joel James, who suffered a concussion last week against Wake Forest. James is averaging 2.7 points and 2.9 rebounds over 11.3 minutes per game.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved