‘It’s win or go home’: Duke begins final push for NCAA Tournament against North Carolina

DURHAM, N.C. — Mike Krzyzewski openly questioned the basketball gods earlier this week.

Yes, he believes in them, which could explain why his faith has been rewarded with five national titles, 24 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and more wins that any basketball coach that has ever lived. 

That faith, though, seems to have been shaken this season.

"Over the years, we’ve been very fortunate,” he said after Tuesday's overtime 81-77 loss to Georgia Tech. “So I don’t know if the basketball gods are evening things up a little bit.”

It was a second consecutive overtime defeat for Duke (11-10, 9-8 ACC), which may have finally had its NCAA Tournament bubble burst after a four-game win streak put the Blue Devils back into the conversation.

All eight of their ACC losses have been by seven points or less. Duke has not missed March Madness since 1995.

"It's been a year of almost," Krzyzewski said.

Maybe not an ideal time to finish the regular season with a road game in Chapel Hill against North Carolina. Or is it?

The Tar Heels (15-9, 9-6 ACC) are as unpredictable as it comes over the last four games, first blowing out Louisville by 45 points and then losing by 13 to a sub .500 Marquette team. 

They followed up the loss with a 78-70 win over first-place Florida State before falling to Syracuse 72-70 two days later. 

“We go from playing one of our best games of the year and beating Florida State, to losing (Monday night),” North Carolina forward Armando Bacot said. “It’s just tough.”

Tough is the right adjective to sum up Duke and UNC's seasons. But if recent history taught us anything, this game, regardless of circumstance, lives up to the hype as college basketball's greatest rivalry. 

"It’d be great to get back to the old days and have fans, have summer, have 31 games or so and do all those things," Krzyzewski told media Thursday. "That’s my hope, but the game is big. There’s no question about it. We don’t minimize it in any way."

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