UNC, Duke are skidding toward matchup tonight

In rarity, they meet coming off losses

ACC men's notebook

February 07, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

There's a reason North Carolina coach Roy Williams can't remember the last time the Tar Heels played Duke when both programs were trying to rebound from a loss - it's only happened four times in the past 30 years.

Tonight marks the fifth, when No. 16 Duke (18-5, 5-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) hosts No. 5 North Carolina (20-3, 6-2) at 9 p.m.

The conference standings have undergone a makeover from their traditional look, and part of that is because Duke has already lost four league games and entered the week tied for fifth place. The Blue Devils are coming off what coach Mike Krzyzewski called "two heartbreakers" - defeats by Virginia and Florida State. North Carolina is trying to rebound from a loss to North Carolina State.

Not that it matters, Krzyzewski said.

"Coming off a win or a loss, both teams are going to be really well-prepared," he said. " ... North Carolina-Duke teams usually play hard. It's the exception. You don't always win, but in order to achieve the standard of excellence both programs have had, it comes from coming every day and coming hard and playing to win, no matter what you've done in your last game. I just don't think that's even part of it."

Actually, Williams faulted his team for lapsing in "intelligent effort and intensity" against N.C. State.

"Sometimes, losses do hit you right between the eyes," he said.

"I feel like we'll see a great deal of concentration on Duke's part because I can't remember and there probably haven't been many times Duke and Carolina have played [with] both of them coming off a loss."

It's only happened 10 times in the history of the ACC, the last being in February 2003. Despite North Carolina's upper hand in the rankings and standings this week, Williams said the edge goes to the home team.

"If you go play on the road, you've got to be significantly better for somebody to say you're favored, and to be significantly better usually means you're playing out of conference," Williams said. " ... Those kind of games I don't think you can say anybody is a favorite to some degree, but if you do, you're definitely not going to say the road team because it's just a factor in college basketball."

Wolfpack rising

If N.C. State looked like a different team last week with wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina, that's because it is - and it's a point first-year coach Sidney Lowe plans on making to the NCAA selection committee come tournament time if need be.

Since the return of point guard Engin Atsur on Jan. 24 against Virginia, the Wolfpack has regained its identity and beaten two ranked opponents (the Hokies were ranked 16th and the Tar Heels third) heading into this week.

"We certainly have settled down again and understand who we are a little better," Lowe said. "The bulk of that is because Engin is in the lineup. The major difference in our ballclub is that we have a point guard we've missed for 12 or so games. That's the major difference."

Atsur had missed 12 of 13 games because of a hamstring injury and played gingerly in a loss to Virginia. As his health improved, so did his team. Lowe said that should the Wolfpack find itself on the bubble heading into selection Sunday, he will "absolutely" make it clear the difference Atsur makes.

His presence allows Gavin Grant to return to small forward, his natural position, and Courtney Fells to stay at shooting guard. Both struggled to run the offense in Atsur's absence.

"If you watch us play, if you look at us, if you've seen us without him, you can tell the difference in our ball club," Lowe said. "We're calmer on the offensive end, we get into our sets a little better. It allows other guys to play their natural positions, which they're good at."

Overcoming losses

It started with back-to-back nonconference losses to Vermont and Providence. Other consecutive nonleague losses followed against Kansas and Duquesne. Then there were the simultaneous suspensions of Sean Williams, one of the top shot blockers in the country, and reserve forward Akida McLain.

And yet somehow - most likely because of the play of Jared Dudley - Boston College entered this week atop the ACC standings, tied for first place with Virginia at 7-2. The Eagles have won three of their past four heading into today's game at Miami. Dudley leads the ACC in scoring (19.5), rebounding (8.9) and double doubles (eight).

"We are who we are," Boston College coach Al Skinner said. "We have to make the most of what we have, and that's what we're trying to do. Luckily guys are working their tails off trying to do that."

"Anybody could be in this position," he said. "Any team could be in this position right now. I think we knew all along it was going to be very competitive league play."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.