It is, without a doubt, one of the most well-known rivalries in sport – maybe the best one period. And what’s the best part about it? It never fades.
The intense rivalry in college basketball between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils, simply put, has everything going for it. You’ve got the short eight miles between the campuses in Chapel Hill and Durham. You’ve got one school public in UNC, which is a local bastion and admits mostly in-state students, while the other is private, and mostly attracts out-of-state students. And whether a team is going into the Dean Dome, where they encounter thousands of light blue-clad fans, or the Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the rowdy Cameron Crazies are almost an arm’s length away from the court, they will be facing the toughest playing environments in the country.
And then you have their history. From the legacies of legendary coaches like Dean Smith to Mike Krzyzewski to unbelievable collegiate players like Michael Jordan and Christian Laettner, these two schools have impacted basketball in ways that most schools could only dream of doing. The two schools have won a combined nine national championships and appeared in a combined 33 Final Fours. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils have also dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference since its inception. In 14 of the last 15 years, one of the two powerhouses has captured the ACC Tournament crown.
That kind of ACC dominance is on display now more than ever. The only two teams in the ACC ranked in the top 10: No. 4 Duke and No. 7 North Carolina, and both are favorites to get top seeds come March. The inside-outside talent of these squads is evident. Duke relies on speedy and high-scoring perimeter players – Austin Rivers and Seth Curry – with the imposing Plumlee brothers inside. UNC sports the former No. 1 prospect in Harrison Barnes, and has Tyler Zeller and John Henson as threats on the block. So who’s the better team?
The teams’ last meeting singlehandedly showed how close these teams are and how they are still the class of the ACC. The Tar Heels, who led by 13 early in the second half and had a commanding lead of 10 as late as two minutes left on the clock, could not keep the Devils down below. After their lead dwindled to 2 with the final seconds ticking away, they were left stunned by the freshman Rivers, who, after dribbling the ball on the perimeter for a few seconds, drained the game-winning, Chapel Hill-stunning 3-pointer that cemented Duke’s temporary superiority over UNC.
As luck would have it, the Tar Heels will get their shot at vengeance inside Cameron on the Blue Devils’ Senior Night in both teams’ last regular season game on March 3. Depending on the success of Florida State for the remainder of the season, this matchup may decide the champion of the ACC and even predict the favorite for the national championship.