Duke and North Carolina will be nowhere near the regular-season championship in the Atlantic Coast Conference when they wrap up the schedule Saturday, but they’re sure feeling good about themselves.
Only one of those teams can sustain those positive vibes when they cap the regular season in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Duke (22-8, 13-6 ACC) is on a season-high five-game winning streak.
“Seeing these wins before the (postseason) is a huge confidence boost,” Blue Devils junior guard Jeremy Roach said.
North Carolina (19-11, 11-8) has won three games in a row, and a strong push might be needed to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament field.
“With our backs against the wall now, we’re playing more stress-free,” Tar Heels senior swingman Leaky Black said.
Roach led the Blue Devils in scoring in the past four games.
“He has done that for us in stretches all year long and this is the most consistent that he’s played,” first-year coach Jon Scheyer said. “We ask a lot of him.”
Duke defeated the Tar Heels 63-57 on Feb. 4 at home, with Roach pouring in 20 points. The outcome of that game gave a Duke coach a victory in his debut in the rivalry for the first time since Bill Foster in 1975.
Scheyer directed the Blue Devils to an undefeated mark in home games, but winning about 8 miles away in Chapel Hill figures to loom as a significant challenge.
“Get refreshed and focused for one more game,” Scheyer said.
With a victory, Duke could rise as high as the No. 3 seed for the ACC tournament next week.
“We’ve had goals this whole season and we’re starting to get where we want to be, so we’re in a really good spot moving forward,” Duke freshman forward Kyle Filipowski said.
North Carolina senior forward Armando Bacot, who’s a candidate for ACC Player of the Year, said he’s unsure if this will be his last home game. He said he hasn’t decided if he’ll use an extra year of eligibility that the NCAA granted because of COVID-19.
At the moment, he’s happy with the Tar Heels’ recent uptick.
“Going into this latter part of the season, it’s all jelling and everybody bringing everything together,” Bacot said.
Black will play in his program-record 153rd game Saturday night. He’s tied with Deon Thompson for the most games in a Tar Heels uniform.
North Carolina, which mostly has struggled with perimeter shooting, connected on 14 of 23 shots from 3-point range Monday night in a 77-66 win at Florida State. At 60.9 percent, that was the third-highest rate in program history.
“Teams have to respect us more, so I think that’s a good thing,” Bacot said.
North Carolina is 12-2 in home games, with the two blemishes to Pittsburgh and Miami — two of the three teams sharing first place.
–Field Level Media