The very essence of being a Blue Blood in men’s college basketball is summed up in a few words: a tradition of winning. This coveted label has only been awarded to a few universities who have set themselves apart from the rest by winning consistently for many years. They have a rich history and have won multiple NCAA and conference championships.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Duke University are the best to ever do it and have created the best rivalry in college basketball since their first meeting on January 24, 1920. The rivalry is made more intense in the fact that almost every year at least one of the schools is a contender to win the national championship. That rivalry is being renewed for the second time this year today at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.
The games between the two frequently determine the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) championship; since the founding of the ACC in 1953, Duke and Carolina have combined to win or share 49 ACC regular-season titles and 38 tournament titles, including 14 of 15 from 1996 to 2011. Both schools have consistently been among the nation’s elite programs for the past 60 years.
Both schools are also two of the most victorious programs in NCAA men’s basketball history; Carolina is third on the list of all-time winningest programs in Division I history, while Duke is fourth. Carolina has won six NCAA championships and appeared in a record 20 Final Fours.
Duke and Carolina have won a combined eleven national championships over the past 36 years, which is 28% of the championships, or greater than one every four years. Over the past 18 years, one of the two teams has been the AP pre-season #1 ranked team in the country 8 times (44%) of the time. Since 1977-1978, Duke or North Carolina has been in the pre-season top three 28 times (70%).
Over the entire 69 year history of the AP poll, the teams have been in the pre-season top four 69% of the time. Over this same period, one has been pre-season #1 18 times, making it an almost 3 in 10 chance that North Carolina or Duke starts the year #1 in the last 50+ years.
One of the two teams has peaked at AP #1 in 32 separate seasons since 1977, a 7 in 10 chance that Duke or North Carolina peaked as the top-ranked team in the country at some point in the season since 1977.
All these stats are interesting and important, but to truly grasp the significance of this great rivalry, you have to take a look at the history of the famous coaches, players and games. The universities are only separated by eIght miles on U.S. Highway 15-501 (also known as Tobacco Road), but their histories stretch much longer.
Since that first meeting in 1920, they’ve played 254 additional times, with Carolina winning 141 of them. Both schools have had historically great coaches starting with Frank McGuire, who was UNC’s first legendary coach. He was the coach from 1952-1961 and led them on one of the greatest runs in NCAA history.
In 1957, led by greats Lennie Rosenbluth, Bob Cunningham, Pete Brennan, Tommy Kearns, and Joe Quigg, they went 32-0 and won the national championship. Only three other teams in NCAA history have done this.
The earliest roots of this modern day rivalry started in 1960 when prized recruit Art Heyman de-committed from McGuire and UNC and committed to Duke and legendary coach Vic Bubas. After a brawl between the Duke and UNC freshman teams during Heyman’s freshman season, tensions were heightened further when Heyman initiated a brawl with North Carolina’s Larry Brown on February 4, 1961. Both players were suspended.
The next year legendary Coach Dean Smith took over and things really took off for UNC. Dean, who some consider the best coach to ever command a team, won ACC conference regular seasons, ACC conference tournaments, and went to Final Fours, but could never win it all.
He finally won a national championship, but not before Coach Mike Krzyzewski arrived at Duke in 1980. Coach Smith and Carolina finally won the big one in 1982. The team was led by greats James Worthy, Jimmy Black, and Sam Perkins. Freshman Michael Jordan made history and poured more fire on the Duke-UNC rival by hitting the iconic game-winning shot against Georgetown in the national championship game.
After Krzyzewski arrived in 1980 the rivalry really ramped up a few notches. For the first few years, Carolina mostly beat Duke fairly handily, but eventually, Duke started catching up. Carolina was the big brother to Duke and they didn’t want anyone crashing their party. By the time Jordan was a Junior, his team was the No. 1 team in the country and the superior team.
But Duke had Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, and David Henderson and the will to win. On March 3, 1984, UNC won 96-84 in two overtimes to become the first team to finish the ACC regular season undefeated in 10 years at 14-0. No. 16 Duke, however finally beat Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament a week later.
Tensions were really high between coaches Dean Smith in Mike Krzyzewski in 1989. When Carolina defeated No. 1 and undefeated Duke in Durham in March, 91-71, Duke’s student section had a nasty sign directed towards UNC Forward J.R. Reid. Reid was one of UNC’s best players and the sign read “J.R. Can’t Reid.”
These tensions boiled over to the Final of the ACC Tournament when Carolina prevailed over Duke 75-73. Both teams were ranked in the Top 10 and the atmosphere was like a heavyweight title fight. J.R Reid outplayed Duke’s Naismith Award-Finalist and ACC Tournament MVP Danny Ferry.
In 1991 Duke won the national championship, but Carolina beat Duke in the ACC Tournament final by 20 points. Heading into 1992, both squads were pretty much the same and the revenge desires for both were in full swing. Duke was the overwhelming title favorite and undisputed No. 1 team in the country as they came to Chapel Hill in February 1992.
Not many gave Carolina a chance to win, but the Tarheels had other plans. Both teams had trouble scoring in stretches of the second half, but two free throws by Derrick Phelps with 44.5 seconds remaining gave Carolina the 77-75 lead. Christian Laettner, who was Duke’s All-World and Player of the Year senior, missed two free throws in the last 24 seconds to give UNC the upset.
This game is also remembered for the bloody face of UNC’s sophomore Eric Montross. He looked more like a boxer than a center but sank two late free throws with blood streaming down his face. Duke would, however, win their second straight championship a few weeks later.
Carolina wasn’t to be outdone, as they won the NCAA championship the very next year to give Dean his second title. Senior George Lynch led the way as Donald Williams won Final Four MVP by scoring 25 points in each Final Four game.
The next few years UNC would do more winning than Duke, as Dean regained his dominance over Duke. But this didn’t matter in February of 1995. Carolina came to Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke’s home court, ranked No. 9 and with the amazing triumvirate of Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, and Jeff McInnis. Duke had a losing record but was determined to win.
Carolina led big early, highlighted by Wallace’s alley-oops and Stackhouse’s reverse jam over two Duke players. But the Duke Blue Devils reached down deep and were able to force overtime. In the closing seconds of overtime Carolina had a 95-92 lead. Then the unbelievable happened. Duke’s Jeff Capel hit a running, 37-foot heave as time expired to send the game to a second overtime. Carolina finally won the game 102-100 in the second overtime.
After the 1997 season, Dean Smith surprisingly retired, leaving as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA men’s basketball history. This left a huge hole to fill, but Bill Guthridge still led the team to their second straight Final Four behind Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, and Ed Cota. After Guthridge retired after the 2000 season, Duke pretty much dominated UNC for a few years.
Matt Doherty did an admirable job as the head coach, beating the Blue Devils a little, but Duke got the best of Carolina mostly. Duke became the big brother, won another national title in 2001 and the rivalry seemed to be over.
But then the basketball gods smiled on Carolina once again by bringing Roy Williams back to his alma mater for the 2003-2004 season. Roy lost his first three games to Duke until March 6, 2005. On Senior Day in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels had a chance to win their first outright ACC regular-season title since 1993. But they trailed Duke 73-64 with only 3:07 left after Duke’s Lee Melchionni made a 3.
At this point, Carolina tightened their defense, made shots, and shut down Duke greats DeMarcus Nelson, JJ Redick, and Sheldon Williams. Tar Heel greats Raymond Felton, Marvin Wiliams, and David Noel took over. With Duke leading 73-71 in the closing minute, they inbounded the ball looking to move it quickly up the court.
But David Noel knocked the ball away from Duke’s Daniel Ewing, resulting in Raymond Felton retrieving the loose ball. After a timeout, Felton got fouled on a drive to the basket with 19.4 seconds left. After he made the first foul shot, he missed the second but tipped the rebound to Williams. The freshman took it straight back up, was fouled, and banked it in to give UNC the lead and set off a wild celebration in the Smith Center.
He made the free throw to put Carolina up 75-73 and Sean May grabbed the rebound after Ewing airballed Duke’s final attempt. This gave Roy Williams his first win over Duke and springboarded UNC to its first national championship since 1993.
Since this exciting year, Duke has won two more national titles in 2010 and 2015. Carolina won titles in 2009 and 2017. So since Williams has been in Chapel Hill as head coach he has won three national championships to Krzyzewski’s two. This continues to create bad blood between these two programs.
The last 15 seasons great players have continued to come to these schools. Duke has had Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Jason Williams, Brian Zoubek, Chris Collins, and Kyrie Irving to name a few. The Tar Heels have had Tyler Hansborough, Danny Green, Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, Luke Maye, Coby White, Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Theo Pinson, Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, Deon Thompson, Cam Johnson, and Justin Jackson.
Duke beat heavily favored UNC 2012 in Chapel Hill on a buzzer beater. Then Carolina comes back and beats Duke in Durham. You never know with these two teams. The rankings, the records, the players, or the coaches don’t matter as much as the rivalry and resolve these two teams have always had.
Roy Williams retired last year and Coach K retires this year. Some see these milestones as truly ending the rivalry. But I know this greatest rivalry will never die, and I’m excited for the next chapter!
Article by: Chris Steele, iHearts143Quotes Team member