The 217th meeting between the two arch-rivals will mark UNC coach Roy Williams first return to Cameron Indoor Stadium since he was an assistant under legendary coach Dean Smith. His not-so-fond memories of the hallowed hall includes once being nailed in the back of his neck by a rotten grapefruit that was intended for Smith.
"It's a hornet's nest," Williams said. "It will be in a big-time environment, but we also played at Kentucky, which is a tough environment. North Carolina State is a big-time environment."
Red-hot Rashad McCants, who is 12-for-20 from three-point range in his last two games, will look to continue his scoring tear that has catapulted him into serious contention for ACC Player of the Year honors. In Duke's epic 83-81 overtime win in Chapel Hill on Feb. 5, McCants scored 27 points, and hit a pressure three-pointer that tied Duke with six seconds left in the extra period, before Chris Duhon drove the length of the court and scored the winning basket.
But while the Tar Heels (18-8, 8-7 ACC) have won four of its last five contests and the Blue Devils (24-4, 12-3) are .500 over their last six, a win in Durham would be quite an accomplishment; especially considering prior to Duke's 78-68 loss to Georgia Tech on Wednesday, it had won 41-straight on its home floor.
"It is difficult," McCants said of playing at Duke. "We had a fairly good game down there last year, we could have won. It gets loud in there and it gets crazy. It is an atmosphere you can't really explain."
The Blue Devils are particularly tough following a loss in recent seasons, posting a 20-3 record after setbacks since the 1997-98 season (not including season-ending NCAA Tournament losses). Duke, which will celebrate its Senior Night, has already clinched the ACC regular-season championship – its 16th and its 15th outright title.
"It's a great night and the fact that we're playing North Carolina, which is an outstanding team with an unbelievable tradition, makes it the showcase game in college basketball," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "That's what's going to happen. We had a classic game against them the last time, and we were fortunate our layup went in. And I expect it to be like this time. It will be a fitting end to conference play. It's one that you look forward to that generates a lot of excitement.
"Both teams have just gotten more mature and gotten to know each other better," he said. "McCants is as good a scorer and big-time player as any in this league. [Sean] May is a great inside player and I've always loved [Raymond] Felton – he just loves how to play. They have developed their depth a little more. And our guys have gotten better, and if that is the case, then the game should be even more exciting."
In its Nov. 18, 2003 issue, Sports Illustrated on Campus confirmed what triangle-area fans have known for years, naming the Duke-Carolina game the No. 1 "Hottest Rivalry" in college basketball, and the No. 2 rivalry in all of American intercollegiate athletics.
The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with Duke, 123-93, with Duke holding a slim lead in Durham, 45-42. Carolina has lost six of its last seven in Cameron, with the lone win coming in former coach Matt Doherty's first visit in 2001. The Blue Devils have won 13 of the last 15 meetings.
The two teams have met 55 times when both teams were ranked in the Top 25, and this match-up is no exception.
UNC has won the ACC regular-season title 23 times and either Duke or Carolina has participated in the Final Four in 17 of the last 23 seasons.
"Just like Duke, wherever they go they are going to get everybody's best shot," Williams said. "I think we are going to get Duke's best shot, but I think we are going to give them our best shot."