A win by No. 14 North Carolina tonight in the Smith Center would mark the golden anniversary of a streak of frustration rarely equaled in Division I collegiate sports lore.
Forget the fact that the Tar Heels (17-8, 7-7- ACC) fell decisively at Clemson (10-16, 3-12) on Jan. 31. Would it really make any difference if Wayne ‘Tree' Rollins, Larry Nance, Skip Wise, Horace Grant, Elden Campbell and/or Dale Davis were available? Or are the Tigers simply snakebitten in Chapel Hill?
Yet all of that is of little importance to anybody other than the fans of both teams. It's just another game to the players and coaches, especially since the streak could come to an end at anytime.
"I'm sure that our kids know about it, because the media keeps bringing it up," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "With me, even though I've been around this place a long time, I haven't been here for all those other 49 years myself. I don't think what happened 49 years ago makes any difference. We've got to play our best basketball in order to win. That's the way we're looking at it."
There have been close calls, and Clemson is bound to win in Chapel Hill sooner or later – unless you believe there is indeed a supernatural force that controls the fates of the victimized teams.
"That streak doesn't mean anything," Jawad Williams said. "I was here when we blew every streak there was, so it means nothing to me. We just have to go out there and play."
While coaching at Kansas, Williams' teams won 15-straight when they traveled to Manhattan to meet Kansas State. So he does have a similar type of experience to draw on.
"I would always tell my team, ‘Hey, the streak is going to end sometime, but let's put it off for another year," Williams said. "And I think our kids did take a lot of pride in continuing that streak and making sure that it didn't stop.
"But I don't think Coach [Dean] Smith ever mentioned it while I was here."
However the game will be played on the floor, not in the heads of the fans. That is the mindset Clemson coach Oliver Purnell is hoping to instill in his players.
"They're obviously going to be a bit on an up-tick after just beating N.C. State," Purnell said. "We were fortunate enough to beat them on our court when we shot the ball exceptionally well and we rebounded and defended very well. The same thing has to happen for us to beat them again.
"But they're a little bit different now; they're playing better and the setting will be much different."
Whether or not the Tar Heels will have the available services of Raymond Felton and/or Jackie Manuel will likely be a game time decision as both are listed as questionable. And since it is also senior night, Roy Williams said he will start his three senior walk-ons Phillip McLamb, Jonathan Miller and Damien Price. Williams said he is not sure yet who the other two starters will be.
Senior writer Andy Britt is in his second year with Inside Carolina. His work has appeared in newspapers across the country such as The Raleigh News & Observer, The Chapel Hill News, The State (Columbia, S.C.), The Seattle Times, The Houston Chronicle and The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.