Editor’s note: This story is an update from a previous article.
They’ve made us wait longer for their first scheduled intersection of the season than at any time in their century of mutual loathing. Duke and North Carolina will play basketball this evening for the first time in 2019.
History tells us it will justify the protracted anticipation.
The Carolina-Duke rivalry has history, for sure, but it also has consequence, accomplishment and a flair for the dramatic. It has given us Jerry Stackhouse’s one-handed throwdown. It has given us Austin Rivers’ last-second pull up. It has given us Tyler Hansbrough’s broken nose and the bench-clearing — no, stands-clearing — all-out brawl of 1962.
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This year, it will give us Zion, not that he’s been terribly difficult to find.
Since Mike Krzyzewski took over the program at Duke, they have played 90 times. Duke has won 46, Carolina 44. In 179 games against one another since the 1949-50 season, UNC has outscored Duke by a total of 22 points. That’s .12 points per game.
There isn’t anything like this happening anywhere else in these here United States, because this is the greatest rivalry in American sports.
Freshmen Zion Williams, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones of Duke will be introduced to it tonight, as will Coby White and Nasir Little of North Carolina.
“There’s not a whole lot I have to tell them,” Duke captain Javin DeLaurier told reporters Tuesday. “That’s a big draw of why kids want to come here — they want to be a part of that Carolina-Duke rivalry.”
ESPN has given the game its proper due as the first meeting approached, rerunning class Duke-Carolina games on both ESPNU and ESPN Classic. It has been profoundly disappointing to hear it promoted, though, as “the best rivalry in college basketball.” Come on, folks: Take a stand. This is as good as it gets in any American game.
We won’t say “in all of sports,” because that bleeds over into the jingoism associated with American professional teams declaring themselves “world champions” without actually taking on the world. There are soccer rivalries such as Barcelona-Real Madrid, Liverpool-Manchester United and Scotland’s “Old Firm” between Celtic and Rangers that are difficult to measure against what happens here.
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But there isn’t anything that happens on these shores that is regularly so consequential and extraordinarily performed and preternaturally balanced as North Carolina-Duke.
This isn’t the first time I’ve made this case, and it always meets with resistance from those who choose not to appreciate where these teams stand in college basketball, or who argue for rivalries from other sports simply because they prefer those sports.
Among those presented as alternatives:
Ohio State vs. Michigan. Sorry, but as great as these two teams regularly are, they’ve won two-and-a-half national championships in the past 20 years. Duke and Carolina have that beat just since 2009. Take it back to 1998, when Michigan claimed its half a title, and UNC/Duke have won twice as many.
Alabama vs. Auburn: They’ve won six championships since 2009 — because Alabama has won five. Which would mean Alabama against almost anyone could be pitched as a great rivalry. There certainly is great loathing on both sides of the Iron Bowl. Alabama leads the series 36-23 since 1960, though, and has owned four of the past six decades.
Kentucky vs. Louisville: I’ve been to probably a dozen of these, and the games are always a blast. And, mostly, Kentucky wins. The series stands at 35-16 in favor of Kentucky, including 27 Wildcats victories to 13 for the Cardinals since the series was renewed starting with the 1983 Elite Eight.
Yankees vs. Red Sox: This one is hilarious. Yankees’ World Series titles: 27. Red Sox titles: nine. Please, you’re killing me.
In the past 37 years, Duke and North Carolina have won 10 NCAA championships. One or the other has appeared in 25 of the past 38 Final Fours, including both making it in 1991.
North Carolina won the NCAA championship in 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017. Duke won it in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and 2015.
MORE: Roy Williams: 2018-19 Duke is most talented he’s ever seen
They have owned an era. No, they’ve owned multiple. And for those who think the enmity that exists in other rivalries does not arise here, we remind you of this from 2007:
And this from 1961.
And we remind you an author once wrote a book titled, “To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever.”
Will Blythe is not a fan of Duke. He most assuredly is not delighted to see them ranked No. 1 and favored to win a sixth NCAA Championship, which would match Carolina’s historical total. Everything else about these two teams is so difficult to separate, no matter how many years pass.
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