For Duke, it's like March in February


DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke forward Jabari Parker, primed to make his first appearance in the Blue Devils' rivalry with North Carolina, said in retrospect, he was actually glad their originally scheduled game in Chapel Hill last week was postponed because of inclement weather.

The freshman from Chicago, who marveled at how so little snow could be so crippling in the South, said his team was too charged for the game.

"That was a blessing in disguise to have the game delayed," Parker said. "I think we were too hyped, too emotional, too over the top in our heads, and now we're letting it flow naturally."

Now, there's a natural guardrail preventing them from getting too emotional. The Blue Devils have to save something for a hungry Syracuse team -- fresh off its first loss of the season -- invading Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.

Those two games in three days have Duke feeling like its already March Madness in the regular season.

Duke guard Andre Dawkins, the only player remaining from the 2010 national championship team, said the weekend has a Final Four feel.

"It's basically the same set up, it's going to be a quick turnaround we just got to be ready for it. ... I think it gives us good preparation for the tournament because that's how the tournament is set up," Dawkins said.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn't back away from the comparison. He may have added to it. Not only did he liken Thursday and Saturday to a Final Four, he said Duke was "playing two teams that might be in the Final Four."

Duke won at Georgia Tech on Tuesday, and Krzyzewski said he planned to keep things light during Wednesday's practice for UNC. The Blue Devils could afford to do that since they already had scouted and prepared for the Tar Heels last week.

Krzyzewski reiterated the decision not to play Carolina last week was the right one and Thursday was the only feasible time that fit the schedule for both schools. It may have put Duke at a disadvantage, but really, Krzyzewski wondered, who cares?

"So would you rather not be in that game even if you played the night before?" Krzyzewski asked. "Of course you would rather be in this game [Carolina] and the game on Saturday [Syracuse], no excuses and let's play. We should be really excited."

First, the rivalry.

Carolina is one of the hottest teams in the league having won seven straight games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the past 85 meetings in the series have produced 43 wins for the Tar Heels and 42 for the Blue Devils. Duke outscored UNC by just two points during that span.

Then, the rematch.

The Orange eked out an instant classic in the first meeting with Duke, a 91-89 overtime win on Feb. 1 in the Carrier Dome. Saturday will mark the first trip to Cameron for the Orange, a revenge game of sorts for the Blue Devils.

This is one occasion when coach and players alike are believable when they say they're taking it one game at a time.

"If you don't, you won't give each game what it's supposed to be given and that's really for each game," Krzyzewski said. "You should have a physical, emotional, a mental investment for a game. You can't do that if you're looking ahead to something. You only get a physical investment and then you won't be worthy of winning."

Duke guard Quinn Cook doesn't need to be reminded of it. He recalled last season's game at Virginia on a Thursday before facing a rematch with Miami on a Saturday. The Blue Devils were a bit unfocused in losing to the Cavaliers, but they beat  Miami at home, avenging a 27-point loss that came in the first meeting with the Canes.

Cook stressed that last season's two games in three days didn't have nearly the magnitude of what Duke is about to face. Since the Carolina game was rescheduled, he said he has noticed fans all over social media talking about both games.

"It's a good thing I don't have a TV in my house," Cook said.

Forward Rodney Hood, who is Cook's roommate, said the Blue Devils haven't been looking ahead at games, especially since a week ago at this time, they were looking at playing four games in eight days.

After beating Maryland at home and the Yellow Jackets on the road, Hood said North Carolina didn't become a priority until Tuesday night. But, he added, Duke's focus really hasn't been on what any other team is doing.

"We're getting better, that's the biggest thing, we're running our own race," Hood said. "A lot of teams are doing a lot of things around the country, we just have to continue to get better and focus on our mission and try to get better by March because March is coming fast."