For those who grew up on the ACC basketball wars, not much more needs to be said.
Twice a year, usually within a few weeks of each other in February and early March, one of the great rivalries in all of sport resumes with a passion few other games can match.
If you are a fan of the Blue Devils or Tar Heels, there is nothing better than beating the other. And even those without a dog in the fight can’t help but get drawn in to the drama that has long accompanied this series.
North Carolina leads the all-time series 135-110, and Duke has had control lately, winning five of the last six meetings and 13 of the last 18.
And when they meet Thursday night in Chapel Hill in an 8 p.m. start on ESPN, both teams are nationally ranked – as usual.
But both No. 9 Duke (19-4, 7-3) and No. 21 North Carolina (17-7, 6-5) come into the game off recent struggles that have their Hall of Fame coaches concerned.
The Tar Heels were on a three-game losing streak before beating ACC last-place team Pitt 96-65 last Saturday.
On that same day, Duke lost 81-77 and had 18 turnovers against a St. John’s team on an 11-game losing streak.
Inconsistent defense and turnovers are the chief concerns for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“We’ve turned the ball over like 16 times a game over the past six games, and we can’t give up that many,” he said on the ACC Coaches Teleconference.
“A really good team doesn’t beat itself like that. That’s 16 times when you don’t get a shot.”
UNC coach Roy Williams has concerns with how to match up with Duke’s talented front line led by freshmen Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley.
While he has some interior players who are freshmen, the Tar Heels’ most effective lineup has been to go smaller.
“Those two big guys are a load,” said Williams. “They do present big match-up problems for us, but we’re going to be who we are.
“Our smaller lineup has been successful, and that’s what has worked for us. You always do a little tweaking based on matchups, and we have some big guys, but we’re going to go with the lineup that gives us the best chance to win.”
Coach K said the Tar Heels are formidable no matter who is on the floor.
“They are really good and Roy is one of the great coaches in the history of the game,” he said. “They can come out with a smaller lineup or they can go bigger, and either way they are difficult to defend.”
No matter how many times the two rivals who live just eight miles apart play each other, and no matter how good each program is year after year, Carolina-Duke resonates with so many.
“If we were 0-11 and they were 0-12, people would still show up,” said Williams, the Asheville native.
“It is still the names on the front of the jerseys that matter, and however much the players change, it doesn’t change the rivalry.”
“It’s one of the greatest rivalries and it’s a huge game every time we play,” said Duke guard Grayson Allen. “These are two legendary programs and the head-to-head matchups that are so competitive and just the epitome of those programs at their best.”