Duke fans in April 2010, after watching the NCAA title game versus Butler

Ah, Duke and UNC, the rematch. Two treats that occur twice a year, in quick succession. Just like Christmas is followed a week later by New Year’s Eve, just like Memorial Day is followed a month later by Independence Day, just like Valentine’s Day is followed by… you get the idea.

Yes, there’s a game tonight in Cameron Indoor Stadium. You don’t have tickets, so you’ll be watching ESPN at 7 p.m., at a safe distance from Dick Vitale’s expectorant and the body odor of those so-crazy Crazies. Triangle Offense’s Adam Sobsey will be there, however, wearing his most water-resistant yet breathable clothing as he sits at his courtside perch. Follow his tweets @sobsey, and also the rest of us @IndyweekSports.

Adam gives us some thoughts below about the staggering consequence of this game, alongside some thoughts from Rob Harrington. But also stick around for Neil Morris’ insights into why N.C. State MUST WIN their game in Blacksburg, Va. that no one outside of the Players Retreat and the Triangle Offense situation room will be watching.

But first, if you’re not following Mike Potter’s dispatches from the ACC women‘s tournament in Greensboro, you should be. N.C. State had its biggest basketball success of the year when Kellie Harper’s team knocked off the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils to advance to the semifinals.

We have Mike on the line here—probably tweeting as he races past the Burlington outlet stores on I-85: “Duke needs for Maryland to not win the ACC Tournament to give the Blue Devils the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the Raleigh Regional.”

What else do we know, Mike?

“UNC will be playing on its home court in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 17.”


“And if N.C. State beats Georgia Tech Saturday, there is an outside chance the Wolfpack gets an NCAA berth.”

Follow Mike’s tweets @mikepotterrdu now!

There are two 26-4 teams playing tonight, but one of them is an underachiever.
I don’t think there’s any question that Carolina needs this game more than Duke does. Most pundits consider the Tar Heels a mild underachiever this season, and the nature of their loss to the Blue Devils in Chapel Hill speaks to UNC’s inability to compete ferociously for 40 minutes. Of course, people have short memories, and beating Duke in Durham to claim the conference title would silence criticism and, more importantly, give the players momentum and confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament.

While the game may be less emotionally pivotal for Duke, the Devils are playing for a No. 1 seed. If they sweep Carolina, they may not need to win the ACC Tournament in order to earn one. —Rob Harrington

Yes, there is a fair amount riding on the UNC-Duke game, let’s not pretend there isn’t.
And it’s more than bragging rights and symbolic stuff. A win for Duke seals their deal as the ACC’s premiere team this season—it erases whatever hint of “fluke” surrounds their comeback win at Chapel Hill on Feb. 8—and probably sets them up for a No. 1 NCAA Tourney seed barring a first-round collapse in the ACC Tournament.

A win for UNC exorcises the demons of 85-84, puts them on even footing with Duke in the conference (and not incidentally wins them the ACC regular season title), and greatly strengthens their case for a No. 1 NCAA Tourney seed, which right now looks very doubtful. On a more player-specific note, a big game from Tyler Zeller should clinch ACC Player of the Year honors for him. Also, if UNC wins, Duke will have lost three games at home this season. I imagine that hasn’t happened since the Taft Administration or something. —Adam Sobsey

It feels as is N.C. State has been playing“must win” games for two months.
The Wolfpack have squandered seemingly every opportunity to solidly stake their claim to one of those last at-large bids in the upcoming NCAA Tournament—ranked opponents, tough road games, national telecasts, etc. Tweets of glee erupted across the Internet last Wednesday when the Pack won a home game against unranked Miami. “That oughta be enough to get in” was a common (and paraphrased) refrain.

Going into this weekend’s regular season finale at Virginia Tech, N.C. State has 11 losses and stands in a four-team tie for fourth in the ACC standings. Depending on the outcome of other league games, the Wolfpack could finish anywhere from fourth to seventh entering next week’s conference tournament.

Those who contend those numbers are still robust enough to go Big Dancing should remember the examples of Clemson, Virginia Tech and Boston College from a year ago. After the top three teams in the league—North Carolina, Duke and Florida State (sound familiar?)—the NCAA selection committee reserved only one additional spot for the rest of the ACC. By virtue of tiebreakers, 12-loss Clemson won out over the Hokies and Eagles, who settled for NIT invites. Maryland, the league’s seventh-place finisher, didn’t even earn that.

Of course one year doesn’t necessarily correlate to the next. But it’s important to note that barring a spectacular and utterly unexpected run through the league tourney next weekend in Atlanta, N.C. State will have at least 12 losses entering Selection Sunday. And barring said run, none of its wins will be against Top 25 opposition (0-7 in that department). Indeed, the Wolfpack is only 2-8 against teams with a top-50 RPI.

With the dearth of quality wins, the Wolfpack’s flickering NCAA fortunes are most attributable to two losses in particular: the awful Jan. 11 loss in Raleigh to cellar-dwelling Georgia Tech and the three-point defeat at Clemson last weekend. All of N.C. State’s other conference losses were to nationally ranked opponents—Virginia, Duke, Florida State and North Carolina (twice). Without those two other stumbles, the Pack would be sitting at nine losses and vying Virginia for fourth place. Their NCAA hopes would feel firmer, if not assured.

N.C. State’s trip to Blacksburg gives them a stab at another conference road win. Unfortunately for the Pack, every game from now on is a “must win game.” —Neil Morris

The ACC Tournament is still a big deal, just not for UNC and Duke.

Duke and UNC are merely jockeying for No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Big Dance, but there are a multitude of mid-level squads upon whom the Atlanta trip could have a make-or-break impact. Clemson, Miami, N.C. State and Virginia are all 8-7 in the ACC going into Saturday. Teams that finish 9-7 are going to look a whole better than those that finish 8-8, and significant postseason damage done in Atlanta could punch their tickets.

Virginia is probably the only current lock, but they could dramatically improve their plummeting seed-stock with a couple of good wins. We all know about the trials of N.C. State, the equivalent of that athletic but unsound boxer with the good jab and footwork but a weak uppercut and (sometimes) glass jaw, with the cauliflower ear and swollen-shut eye, one of them self-inflicted, who somehow just keeps getting up off the mat. Their eked-out win this week over Miami, a talented team that can’t quite put it together, was their latest stagger-to-the-feet. No one has paid much attention to Clemson, but they have weapons and could take someone (or someones) by surprise. In other words, watch the whole tournament this year, for a change, and widen your angle from Tobacco Road. You might as well, what with two Big East teams arriving imminently. —Adam Sobsey