But being the perceived favorites is a role the Blue Devils have held in most other instances other than against North Carolina the past few years.
So Duke is conditioned to take the best shots from opponents.
"We are going to keep going and doing our thing and seeing what the heck happens as we develop," coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
The Blue Devils are aware of the type of passion opponents play with when they're in need of a signature victory. It's rare that North Carolina falls into this position because this game usually carries plenty of weight, even without the Tar Heels taking the court with a degree of desperation.
Both teams have several freshmen and sophomores in key roles. How they handle the fanfare associated with this game could determine the outcome.
--Duke's 15-for-26 free throw shooting at Boston College was troubling for a team that began the week shooting an ACC-best 77.4 percent on foul shots. The outing against Boston College would have been worse if not for G Jon Scheyer making all six of his attempts.
--G Jon Scheyer and G Nolan Smith each played 40 minutes against Boston College in a road game that came about 41 hours after a home victory against Georgia Tech. "You can't think about how many minutes you played," Smith said. "Can't care if you're banged up, you just have to continue to play."
ON THE SPOT: Duke's altered defensive strategy of reduced extended pressure might be most evident by the fact that the Blue Devils were credited with only four steals in the victory at Boston College. They had only six steals in the previous game at home against Georgia Tech. In previous years, the Blue Devils preyed on opponents so they could try to score often in transition. With North Carolina's guards struggling at times, it might be tempting for the Blue Devils to raise the pressure in their next game, which comes at North Carolina on Feb. 10.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We wouldn't (have this 19-4 record) unless we've played very, very well. We're not going to define ourselves by four games. We're going to define ourselves by our full body of work." -- Coach Mike Krzyzewski, on his first-place team that seems under regular scrutiny because of some losses. The Blue Devils have won their past two ACC road games.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Blue Devils are one victory away from another 20-win season and, despite a few dips, they've established themselves as front runners in the ACC. They showed grit in turning back Boston College about 41 hours after winning a rematch with Georgia Tech. They've already swept league opponents Clemson and Boston College.
- Georgetown 89, Duke 77
- Duke 86, Georgia Tech 67
- Duke 66, Boston College 63
- at North Carolina, Wednesday, Feb. 10
- vs. Maryland, Saturday, Feb. 13
- at Miami, Wednesday, Feb. 17
- vs. Virginia Tech, Sunday, Feb. 21
- vs. Tulsa, Thursday, Feb. 25
IN FOCUS: Duke faces two fierce rivals in back-to-back games with North Carolina and Maryland next on the schedule. As big as the clash with North Carolina normally is, the following game with Maryland could have direct implications on first place as they're the top two teams in the league at the midway point of the conference schedule.
--G Jon Scheyer has played all 40 minutes in three games this season. He has made good use of that time; by scoring 21 points at Boston College, he has 11 games with 20 or more points. He has reached 20 points in six of the team's nine ACC games.
--F Ryan Kelly was an unlikely player to be on the court at the end of the game against Boston College, but coach Mike Krzyzewski said Kelly had shown improvement in recent weeks even though he hadn't been playing a lot. Kelly is considered the team's fifth-best post player and it's hard to break into the rotation behind Kyle Singler at a perimeter forward slot. But with Lance Thomas fouled out, Kelly gave the Blue Devils another defender with good wing span, though he picked up four fouls in eight minutes.
--F Kyle Singler's sizzling shooting didn't last against Boston College. He went 1-for-5 on 3-pointers one game after hitting 8 of 10 against Georgia Tech. That gives Singler a two-game total of 1 of 7 on 3-pointers against Boston College this season after he made 6 of 12 from long distance last season vs. Boston College. The next opponent is North Carolina, and Singler has averaged three made 3-pointers in four career games against the Tar Heels, hitting at least two in each of those games.