On Saturday night, the North Carolina Tar Heels travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on the Duke Blue Devils in one of the most storied rivalries in sports history. There is plenty at stake for each team here—including tournament seeding. However, nothing may be as important as a much-needed confidence boost for these clubs.
Despite each club boasting solid 23-7 records, neither have produced high-quality wins recently.
The Tar Heels are on a 12-game winning streak and look to be the hotter of the two teams entering Saturday's contest. On Feb. 20, UNC took down Duke by a score of 74-66, earning one of its biggest wins of the season.
After that victory, things became a little rocky for the Tar Heels. Over its past three contests, UNC had its hands full with unranked teams. An overtime victory against NC State, four-point win against Virginia Tech and two-point win against Notre Dame were all the team could muster.
Granted, a win is a win; however, these wins were not typical of a team ranked 14th in the nation.
Duke has shared the same struggles.
The Blue Devils rebounded after the loss to UNC by beating No. 1 Syracuse by a score of 66-60. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off shortly after, as the team was upset by Wake Forest on Wednesday, losing 82-72.
Needless to say, each of these teams could use a big boost of confidence with a win on Saturday night after recent upsetting performances.
With the ACC tournament on the horizon, both clubs will look to gain a full head of steam heading into elimination play. Confidence will be a huge part of success in these instances, as a team that is not in its right mindset can be sent home early.
During an interview with Stephen Schramm of the Fayetteville Observer, Duke's Rodney Hood explained that the team's confidence was not affected by the loss to Wake Forest. Hood said, "We've got the right mindset now. Tomorrow is a huge step for our team. It's not just the last regular-season game or Senior Night, it's the first step in March."
Hood is saying the right things; however, it can be speculated that Duke's recent loss still lingers on in the minds of its players.
The Tar Heels are in the same boat. During an interview with Brooke Pryor of The Daily Tar Heel, UNC head coach Roy Williams described the necessity for his team to function effectively, "I remember the feeling I had was that if everything is not working effectively, we're not going to win. We have to play very close to our potential for us to win. And the margin has gotten a little bit bigger."
Even though Williams says the margin for error has grown, the team needs to function more succinctly as a unit if they are to take down the better teams in the nation.
Conflicting opinions of which team will emerge victorious are prevalent around the web:
Everything is at stake for both of these teams on Saturday night. The winner will leave with the confidence boost needed to go deep into tournament play. However, the losing team will continue to search for answers far too late in the year.
Both teams have everything to gain—and lose—in this edition of such a historic rivalry.