The rivalry has been cyclical. When you hear talk on either side that one team has separated itself, what is your reaction?
“Don’t have much of a reaction because I’ve got more things to worry about in trying to get our team ready. And I would think Mike is trying to get his team ready. I have a tremendous amount of respect – and I say it every year and I believe it – I have a tremendous amount of respect for Duke and especially for the job that Mike has done there. It’s a rivalry and from my side, it’s based on respect.
"So I don’t get into those little [nuances] about who’s the strongest right now or who’s the weakest. We try to play as hard as we can play and as well as we can play. You said the answer to it yourself – we had a good run there for a while and they’ve had a good run here recently. And I hope to live long enough to have another good run for us.
"But I don’t really focus on those kinds of things. I focus on this game, our North Carolina team this year against Duke’s team this year, but sitting back and looking at it, I think it’s the greatest rivalry there is in college sports. I’m a basketball guy, so I’m always going to think basketball is a better rivalry than anyone in football, but it’s a very healthy rivalry. It’s one I think, again, is out of respect on both sides. We’ve got to worry about tomorrow night. I’m not going to have Tyler Hansbrough. Austin Rivers is not going to make another shot tomorrow night, so it’s got to be these two teams.”
What do you like about the way your team is playing right now?
“We’ve got a much greater sense of urgency than we had earlier. That’s the biggest thing. We’re playing with our heart, which is the whole purpose of getting out there and having that, but we’re also playing with our brain. I think the kids genuinely care about how their teammates are doing. It’s not as much of a ‘me, me, me’ focus as culture tends to make basketball these days.
"But I really like my team. I liked them when we were getting kicked in the face because I kept thinking that we were going to get better. We had better get a lot better by tomorrow night because the team we’re facing is really, really good and creates so many problems for us. But I do, and sense of urgency would probably be the first thing.”
How much of a matchup problem is Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood?
“It depends on who else is in the lineup with them because it can get to be an almost unbelievable matchup problem or it can be that we have a couple of guys who are similar that maybe have some kind of chance of staying with them. If they play them at the four and five, for example – Mike’s never been a guy that puts numbers on guys, but I always do it just to know who’s taking the ball out of bounds – but if they play them at the two big spots, their two biggest players on the team, it’s almost impossible for us to match up with them.
"The difficulty lies in the fact that we don’t present the same kind of problems for them on the other end. When we had Tyler as our 5-man, he created tremendous matchup problems for them on the offensive end and we don’t have the low post scorer this that presents a lot of matchup problems for them. So if they play them on the perimeter as the 2-3-4, we’ve got a little better chance because we’re more athletic there than we are at the 5-spot, but it’s going to be how everybody else handles the help situations just as much as how effective the guy is guarding either one of those guys.
"But they have 6-8, 6-9 [guys] that shoot the ball from the three and do it successfully; our 6-8, 6-9 guys don’t do that.”
The stats indicate that UNC is defending the 3-ball better than any team in the ACC. How do you think your team is playing in terms of guarding against the 3-ball?
“We’ve played some games where the other teams have missed some open shots, that’s part of it. Let’s be honest. We’ve given a few teams some open shots that they missed and I hope they keep doing that. We are trying to emphasize guarding the ball period. If we guard the ball better, it gets less penetration and then we have to help less and then you’re closer to the 3-point shooter.
"So I’d say that’s the biggest thing because we’ve emphasized that part probably more so this year than any other team I’ve ever coached… I’m not Notre Dame or anything like that, but if there’s a leprechaun hanging around on the other team’s rim, I hope he hangs around for about 30 more hours.”
Will you stick with the same starting five against Duke?
“We’ve had some discussion in our staff as to whether or not we will or not. A decision hasn’t been made yet. Brice has really done some good things. You’ve got to think a little bit about matchups. If they’re playing a post player or not, those kinds of things. But the decision hasn’t been made yet.”