Duke and North Carolina have been good for a long time.
But never in the long history of the rivalry have the two neighbors dominated the ACC the way they have in recent years.
That domination continues Saturday night when the No. 3 ranked Blue Devils (26-4, 13-2 ACC) meet the No. 6 Tar Heels (26-4, 13-2) in Cameron Indoor Stadium with the ACC regular season title and the top seed in next week’s ACC Tournament on the line.
It may seem like Duke and North Carolina have ruled the ACC forever, but they haven’t.
The two rivals combined to win just one ACC championship in the 1950s. They did win seven of 10 titles in the 1960s and five of 10 in the 1970s. They also won six titles between them in the 1980s and in the 1990s.
That’s pretty good, but that 60 percent rate for the last four decades of the 20th Century is nothing like what Duke and UNC have achieved in the 21st century.
Starting with Duke’s rout of Maryland in the 2000 ACC title game, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels have won 11 of the 12 ACC championships awarded this century – missing the 12th when Duke lost an overtime game to Maryland in the 2004 title game.
The streak actually goes back to 1997, when Dean Smith won a title in his last year at the UNC helm. Since then, either Duke or UNC have won 14 of the last 15 ACC titles – four by UNC … 10 by Duke.
But it goes far beyond their absolute control of the ACC title. Also consider:
-- Duke and UNC have won or shared the ACC regular season title in 13 of the last 15 seasons – and the last nine in a row (counting this year). Maryland finished first in 2002 and Wake Forest in 2003. Virginia earned a share of the regular season title with UNC in 2007 and Maryland shared first with Duke in 2010. But that’s it for the rest of the league.
-- So far this century, Duke and UNC have combined for 349 weeks in the AP top 10. The rest of the ACC – combined – has a mere 122 weeks in the top 10. Duke has finished the top 10 in 11 of the century’s 12 years so far. UNC has finished in the top 10 seven times. That’s 17 times between them. The rest of the ACC? Four times. Duke has finished the season ranked No. 1 four times in the new century, along with three No. 3 finishes. UNC has one No. 1 and two No. 2s. The best finish for another ACC team was Maryland’s No. 4 finish in 2002 – and even then, the Terps were behind top-ranked Duke.
-- Duke and UNC have combined to win four national titles and play in seven Final Fours in this century. Maryland won an NCAA crown in 2002. The Terps had another Final Four in 2001, while Georgia Tech made a Final Four trip in 2004. Still that’s 4/1 in titles and 7/3 in Final Fours.
The edge for the Big Two is even greater since Roy Williams rescued UNC from a slump under Matt Doherty in the early years of the century. Since he got his program up and running in 2005, Duke and UNC have won every ACC championship, won or shared every ACC regular season championship and gone 223-60 against the rest of the ACC.
Together, the two partners in domination have combined for 38 NCAA wins. The other 10 ACC schools have just 20 NCAA wins between them. They have 10 Sweet 16 appearances – the rest of the league has three.
The once proud ACC has become a punching bag for the two mighty Triangle programs.
Earlier this season, it looked like Florida State was going to challenge the two heavyweights. When the Seminoles smashed North Carolina in Tallahassee, then stole a thriller from Duke in Cameron, it looked like FSU would turn it 2012 into a three-team race.
But when Duke won the return match in Tallahassee, followed by FSU’s meltdown against a shorthanded Miami team, it returned the spotlight to where it has been for most of this century – on Duke and North Carolina.
So ESPN’s GameDay is coming to town to chronicle the 234th edition of the most important rivalry in college sports. The ACC regular season is at stake, but the real measure of this rivalry is that the two teams are looking for a lot more than that down the road. Both are jockeying for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Both see themselves as Final Four teams – and, if things break right, as national champions.
And the rest of the ACC can only look on with envy.
DISSECTING THE RIVALRY
-- Duke has the home court Saturday night, but that’s not always such an advantage in this rivalry.
In the 21st Century, the Blue Devils actually have a better record against UNC in the Smith Center than in Cameron.
It started in 2001, when UNC upset No. 2 Duke in Cameron when Shane Battier, one of the smartest players ever to wear a Duke uniform, committed one of the dumbest fouls in school history – fouling Brendan Heywood at midcourt with seconds remaining in a tie game. Heywood, whose two missed free throws helped clinch Duke’s dramatic 1998 comeback, made both shots to give UNC the 85-83 win. But Battier helped erase his mistake, leading a shorthanded Duke team past the No. 4 ranked Tar Heels in Chapel Hill to close the regular season.
Starting with that season, Duke is 8-4 against UNC in Chapel Hill and just 5-6 in Cameron. That includes Duke’s stunning come-from-behind upset in the Smith Center earlier this season.
So while the track record is a bad omen for the Blue Devils Saturday night, the team’s fans can take some solace if the two teams meet in the ACC finals in Atlanta – Duke has won five straight neutral court matchups with the Tar Heels (including the 2001 ACC title game the last time they met in Atlanta).
-- It’s Senior Day for Miles Plumlee.
Senior Day comes against North Carolina every other year. Over the years some Blue Devils have flourished on Senior Day and some have struggled.
Both Dick Groat and Art Heyman celebrated their Senior Day moments with career scoring highs against UNC – Groat getting 48 points in 1952; Heyman finishing with his only 40-point game in 1963. Johnny Dawkins and his class (which might have been the most productive single class in Duke history) closed their Cameron book with a sweet victory over UNC that clinched Coach K’s first regular season title. Steve Wojciechowski went out in glorious fashion, helping Duke rally from a 17-point second half deficit to knock off No. 3 UNC in 1998. Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas also finished in style, helping Duke to a 32-point win that stands as the biggest margin in the rivalry.
But some Duke plays have lost to UNC on Senior Night, including such luminaries as Grant Hill and J.J. Redick.
Miles Plumlee didn’t play in either game against UNC as a freshman, so he’s 5-1 against the Tar Heels for his career so far. If he could help the Blue Devils win this one, he would finish with one of the best individual records in the series.
Plumlee is also climbing the Duke victory list. Tuesday victory at Wake Forest was the 114th Duke win that the elder Plumlee has played in (he missed 13 games, including nine wins, as a freshman in 2009). He needs two more wins – either against UNC or in postseason – to crack the Duke top 10 in victories (six players are currently tied for eighth place with 116 career wins). With three more wins, he can crack the ACC’s top 10 in career victories.
Miles and his younger brother Mason have combined to score 1,331 points in their career – the 13th best brother combo in ACC history. And with youngest brother Marshall redshirting this year at Duke, the Plumlee brothers should end up somewhere in the top three in ACC history (although they are unlikely to threaten the four Mahaffey brothers at Clemson, who lead with 3,555 career points).
In addition, Miles Plumlee has a chance to become the first player in NCAA history to play on four 30-win teams … provided the Blue Devils add four more wins.
-- Rob Daniels, the executive director of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association, came up with an amazing number before the first Duke-UNC game this season. He figured that the cumulative score of the last 75 Duke-UNC games (which stretches back to 1980) was Duke 5,858-UNC 5,857.
After Duke’s one-point win in Chapel Hill, it’s now 5,943 to 5,941 over the last 76 games – a two-point Duke lead.
The Tar Heels do have a 39-37 advantage in that time, just as they lead 131-102 all-time.
Since K’s arrival, it’s closer. In fact, the Blue Devil coach is 37-36 in his 73 games against UNC. That includes a 14-24 record against Dean Smith, a 6-2 mark against Bill Guthridge, a 7-2 mark against Matt Doherty and a 10-8 record against Roy Williams.
Actually, Coach K is 13-9 against Williams head-to-head, counting his 3-1 record against the UNC coach when he was at Kansas.
-- Saturday night’s matchup between No. 4 Duke and No. 6 UNC will be the 44th meeting between the two teams when both are ranked in the top 10.
It’s the 150th straight game in which at least one of the two rivals was ranked in a major poll – a streak dating back to Feb. 25, 1955.
It will be the 52nd time that both teams were ranked in the poll.