Seasons change, days go by, time progresses — and yet, Duke and UNC will always want to beat each other in men’s basketball. It’s nice to know some things never change, especially with how different the upcoming rivalry game will be.
No, there won’t be thousands of screaming fans in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 6. And no, there won’t be a matchup of two high-ranking Tobacco Road teams that are vying for a top spot in the conference — both will be unranked in the game for the first time since 1960.
But despite these new challenges, players and coaches alike discussed their continued excitement for the Duke-UNC game during Thursday’s media availabilities, and there was a consensus amongst personnel from both organizations: this historic rivalry will be just as intense as ever.
“We know what’s all at stake,” UNC sophomore big man Armando Bacot said. “Bragging rights for the fans, just like us wanting to beat Duke, and that never changes.”
It’s the same need-to-win attitude Duke players feel, too.
“Being a part of the two games last year against UNC, there’s nothing better in sports than that,” Duke’s Matthew Hurt said. “With no fans, we have to bring our own energy, but hopefully we can come out with the W around 8 p.m. on Saturday night.”
Duke-UNC games consistently produce noteworthy moments in college basketball history.
From Danny Green’s dunk on Greg Paulus in 2008 and Austin Rivers' buzzer-beating 3-pointer as Duke stunned the Tar Heels in 2012, to Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson finally beating Duke in Cameron Indoor on Senior Night in 2016 after winning only one of their last seven tries, there's no shortage of memorable highlights between these in-state rivals.
And with history as evidence, this year’s matchup is likely to produce more moments to add to the ever-growing list — but it will require more effort without fans to create a competitive atmosphere.
“I’ve coached in over 90 Duke-North Carolina games and the ones in Cameron, how lucky have I been to be able to walk out of my locker room and boom, the buzz, the energy that you get from a crowd like that is amazing,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “What has to happen is we have to get to a certain level of energy without that.”
Part of the appeal of the historic rivalry is the pre-game theatrical antics, with students camping out for tickets and waiting in lines outside the stadiums all day, followed by the packed stands and nationwide coverage that draws millions of viewers.
That’s not quite possible this year, but it doesn’t mean the game is lacking in meaning for those who will be in Cameron Indoor on Saturday night.
"It’ll always be intense," UNC head coach Roy Williams said, "because it’s Duke and North Carolina."