It happens tonight. While snow is falling on Manhattan, to the tune of double digit inches, it's a dry, cold day in Chapel Hill. Tonight, the Dean Dome will be full. Most will be wearing Carolina blue, and a small, brave dispatch behind the visitor's bench will be clad in dark Duke blue.
The proverbial window is wide open, and the records of both teams have been heaved into the elements. Here are the things that matter:
1) Can Carolina put sufficient pressure on the Duke guards? Do they even care enough to try? The Tar Heels have seemed awfully lackadaisical this year, which is very atypical for a Roy Williams team. After it became clear that they weren't a legitimate top 25 team, the bottom seemed to fall out, and lack of ability became comorbid with lack of effort. Tonight, they'll need to exert maximum effort to harry our frontcourt. The crowd energy and the fact of the rivalry may be enough to overcome whatever strain of sluggishness has entered the UNC body athletic. If not, it'll be another embarrassing ACC loss.
2) Can Duke play with any fluidity on the road? If UNC's problem is underachievement, Duke is at the opposite end of the spectrum; sometimes, they try too hard. This is particularly true in situations of stress, which is why they've struggled on the road. Recent wins against Boston College and Clemson seem to indicate that Coach K has achieved some growth in that area, although in general the team still seems to have a separate, more timid identity away from Cameron. Even if the opponent they're facing tonight leaves something to be desired, the crowd will not. Despite the fact that the Tar Heel faithful are behaving like Yankee fans this year (bitter, angry, and disheartened less than a year after winning the national title), they'll still be in full throat when the Devils visit.
UNC has dropped 3 straight ACC games, and 6 of their last 7. Nothing is impossible in Tobacco Road games, but for the first time in a long time, the Heels are definitively inferior. Some might say they have nothing to lose, but I don't see where they have any pride. This isn't a scrappy bunch of fighters who go down swinging; they're more like primadonnas. And that's why I don't believe they can take us down tonight. Not only are we more talented, but we have more mental strength. That's going to overcome any worries about being on the road. This one will get away from UNC early in the 2nd half, and will become the game when UNC fans gave up on the season for good.
Duke 82, UNC 64
Nolan Smith will score 26 points and hit 4 3s. Jon Scheyer will dance on the Carolina logo at midcourt. Singler will do something to incite the crowd late in the game. Duke nation rises again.
In New York, children in snowsuits will make white angels. In Chapel Hill, adults in light blue will fear Blue Devils.
(Live blog possible for tonight.)