Carolina will own the emotion on Senior Night against Duke.
Besides the emotion, however, the Tar Heels have more pressure. They have lost five times to Duke on their home court in the last seven years, and last season gave away what looked like a sure win with poor play down the stretch. ESPN’s Game Day is back, which means all the hoopla beforehand and lots of bad press if Carolina ends the day by losing again to Duke at home.
Once the game starts, however, the pressure switches to Duke to stay in it before an overflow crowd of 22,000 that will be roaring on every possession. The loss at Virginia will certainly hype the Heels into playing extremely hard on both ends of the floor so they can win the ACC regular season outright and go to Brooklyn on a high.
Just like Duke knows what it must do to win, Carolina understands that getting more shots and more two-point baskets will offset whatever advantage the Blue Devils net out from making more three-pointers. So the single key to this game is on the glass, holding Duke to one shot and playing like the best offensive rebounding team in the country by converting numerous second-chance opportunities.
Senior Night is special at UNC, ever since Dean Smith began the tradition of starting five seniors in their last home game. That means guards Kanler Coker, Stillman White and Nate Britt will likely join departing big men Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks for the tip. Only once did that backfire on Smith, when in 1996 Florida State blew out to a quick 10-0 lead before Smith could get the real starters in the game. More times than not the sub starters play an inspired first few minutes, and they can’t let Duke get out fast in this one.
The old sum of the parts theory is in play for these two teams. With numerous McDonald’s All-Americans and several potential one-and-dones, Duke has better individual players. But the Tar Heels have both talent and experience and all together they make up a better TEAM. That’s why I like them to go out on top and start playing both post-season tournaments from the No. 1 line on the brackets.