It’s not just you: The Duke-North Carolina rivalry is played a little later these days.
The two Tobacco Road foes meet for the first time on Feb. 18 this season. Last year, they didn’t meet for the first time until Feb. 20. Compare that to years past when the first game generally will be played in early February.
The late start doesn’t make the meeting any less interesting. Perhaps even it raises the stakes as both teams have more of their regular season resumes behind them. A win for Duke would be another item on a ledger for a potential No. 1 seed. A win for North Carolina would be a key building block for the Tar Heels’ postseason run.
North Carolina at Duke
Site: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
Time: Wednesday, 9 p.m. Eastern
What’s up for grabs?
Duke will look to continue its recent dominance of the rivalry. The Blue Devils are 8-3 against North Carolina since 2009 with only one of those losses coming at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Beyond that, postseason considerations are at play. Both teams will have trouble catching Virginia for the ACC regular season title, so both will try to hang onto a top-four finish in the standings and a bye to the quarterfinals in the ACC tournament. Duke is No. 3 in the league at 9-3 while North Carolina is tied for fourth with Louisville at 8-4.
You’ll tune in to watch:
Another strong Duke performance or a bounceback effort from North Carolina. The second-half comeback against Virginia on Jan. 31 seemed to re-energize Duke. At that point, the Blue Devils had gone 3-3 in their last six games. Starting with the Virginia win, Duke has won five in a row, including a 30-point rout of Notre Dame. North Carolina will need to be better than what it has shown if it’s going to stop Duke’s momentum. The Tar Heels are starting to look like a team with a clear ceiling. They’ve lost three of their last four to Louisville, Virginia and Pittsburgh and have not defeated a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team since Jan. 10.
Pivotal player: Justise Winslow
Duke’s Big Two freshmen of Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones is back to being a Big Three. Winslow is averaging 14 points per game since going scoreless against St. John’s on Jan. 25. Duke is averaging 120 points per 100 possessions during Winslow’s hot streak.
Biggest question: Can North Carolina stop anyone?
North Carolina is coming off a miserable defensive performance against Pittsburgh. The Panthers couldn’t miss against the Tar Heels, averaging 1.44 points per possession, shooting 65 percent from the field and assisting on 30 of 37 made field goals. Roy Williams says North Carolina guarded capably in that game, and Pitt just made shots. That may be true, but UNC is 10th in the ACC in defensive efficiency and hasn’t held an opponent to under one point per possession since facing Wake Forest on Jan. 24.
David Fox: Duke 80-67
Mitch Light: Duke 76-70
Jake Rose: Duke 78-66