HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski will lead the Duke Blue Devils into battle against their bitter Tobacco Road rival for one final time in his illustrious career on Saturday as they face UNC in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
Ever since the matchup became official, much time has been spent discussing how monumental of a moment this is in the history of the rivalry and college basketball history as a whole.
While the discourse around this exists for good reason, lost in the conversation is the fact that there is an actual basketball game to be played in New Orleans and that one team will emerge the victor and advance to the National Championship Game.
At the moment, sportsbooks currently consider Duke to be a four-point-favorite to defeat the Tar Heels.
However, as fans of both blue blood programs know, Duke-UNC has proven over time to be one of the most unpredictable contests to predict in sports due to the high levels of emotion involved on both sides.
And now, the already volatile rivalry enters uncharted waters of intensity with the added pressure of playing in the Final Four.
With all that being said, let’s look back at this season as well as historical trends in the rivalry and attempt to make sense of this crazy contest.
Lack of home-court advantage
One of the largest factors in the history of Duke-UNC games has been the home-court advantage.
Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Dean E. Smith Center are among the most electrifying home arenas in college basketball, and the biggest event of the year for both is the annual rivalry game each program gets to host.
Since 1950, Duke has a 42-32 record at home in Cameron Indoor Stadium against UNC.
Conversely, UNC has a 46-27 record at home in Dean E. Smith Center against Duke.
As you can see, this has hisotrically been a reliable method of making a sound prediction in any given Duke-UNC game. However, the Final Four is being held at a neutral site in New Orleans eliminating this advantage for both teams.
Given the size of both teams’ fanbases, expect a 50-50 split in fan attendance on Saturday.
Round One: #9 Duke def. UNC 87-67 on Feb. 5
Now to discuss the first of the two matchups between the two blue bloods this season.
Duke handedly defeated UNC, 87-67, in the Dean E. Smith Center in a game where they led by as much as 30 points.
The Tar Heels were unranked at the time thanks to a couple of previous blowout losses, and this defeat only furthered questions regarding whether UNC could even qualify to make the field-of-68 teams in the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils dominated the game from the outset thanks to a performance from freshman forward AJ Griffin.
Griffin, an All-ACC Freshman Team selection, finished the game with 27 points while shooting eight-of-11 from the field.
As a team, Duke shot 34-of-59 from the field, a highly efficient 57.6% overall. Duke also made 9-of-19 of their three-pointers, once again a highly efficient 47.4%.
As for the Tar Heels, most everyone on the team struggled shooting-wise as they only made 24-of-59 shots from the field, a paltry 40.7% overall.
The lone bright spot for the Tar Heels was senior forward Brady Manek. Manek finished the game with 21 points, making six-of-10 of his three-pointers.
Round Two: UNC def. #4 Duke 94-81 on March 5.
UNC got their revenge against their bitter rival exactly one month after their embarrassing defeat, winning by a score of 94-81 in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
This game continued this year’s bucking of historical trends as the away team emerged victorious in both games.
However, the final score does not illustrate the full story of this game and what it meant for the Tar Heels to win it.
Thanks to the numerous blowout losses on the Tar Heels’ resume, many bracketologists had UNC as a team that could fall out of the field-of-68.
Duke was favored by most sportsbooks by upwards of 11 points to win this game, an unprecedentedly high number for the Duke-UNC rivalry.
To add insult to injury, this was the last game that Coach K would ever coach in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Hundreds of former players came to the game adorning custom Coach K t-shirts. They also formed a human tunnel for the team to run through.
Duke shed their warmups and revealed that their jerseys had an embroidered patch sewed onto them with Coach K’s logo. A post-game speech was scheduled for Coach K to speak to the home crowd with no regard for the outcome of the game.
To put it in layman’s terms, Duke was not supposed to lose this game. It had the aesthetic more of a coronation than a competitive game against a rival.
Needless to say, the Hubert Davis-led Tar Heels were not amused by this and responded to the situation with their finest performance of the season in a massive statement victory.
The game was a textbook example of teamwork for UNC, which had four players score 20 points or more in the contest.
The most impactful performance was from junior forward Armando Bacot, the star of UNC’s season.
Bacot, an All-ACC First Team selection, finished the game with 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field.
Manek was once again a key contributor making five-of-10 three-pointers, giving him 11 made threes in two games against Duke, and finishing with 20 points.
Sophomore guards RJ Davis and Caleb Love chipped in with 21 and 22 points respectively.
The Tar Heels were able to contain AJ Griffin in round two, holding Duke’s freshman forward to a meager five points on two-of-five shooting from the field.
Freshman forward Paolo Banchero, a projected top-five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, led the way for the Blue Devils finishing with 23 points on 11-of-26 shooting from the field.
NCAA Tournament results
Now, the only thing left to analyze is each team’s performance in the NCAA Tournament thus far.
Duke began the tournament as a 2-seed in the West region.
- First Round: #2 Duke def. #15 Cal State Fullerton 78-61
- Second Round: #2 Duke def. #7 Michigan State 85-76
- Sweet Sixteen: #2 Duke def. #3 Texas Tech 78-73
- Elite Eight: #2 Duke def. #4 Arkansas 78-69
It has not been anything flashy, but Duke has played steady and consistent basketball en route to the Final Four.
The Blue Devils were universally favored to win all of their games aside from the contest against Texas Tech which was a coin toss depending on which outlet you were viewing.
One thing that has stood out about Duke’s performances is their ability to close games out down the stretch.
The Blue Devils trailed late into their contests against both Michigan State and Texas Tech but ended the games on dominant scoring runs that lead to their victories.
UNC began the tournament as an 8-seed in the East region.
- First Round: #8 UNC def. #9 Marquette 95-63
- Second Round: #8 UNC def. #1 Baylor 93-86 OT
- Sweet Sixteen: #8 UNC def. #4 UCLA 73-66
- Elite Eight: #8 UNC def. #15 Saint Peter’s 69-49
Contrary to Duke, UNC’s performances in the tournament have been flashy and then some.
The Tar Heels won in upset fashion against Baylor and UCLA as sportsbooks had them universally as underdogs in both games.
At times, the Tar Heels have appeared to be one of the most dominant teams in the country. And other times, they have shown some vulnerabilities.
UNC led 67-42 with around 10 minutes left in the second half when Brady Manek was controversially ejected from the game due to a flagrant foul. From there, Baylor was able to seize the momentum and make a 38-13 run to force the game into overtime before the Tar Heels ultimately prevailed.
Also, don’t be fooled by the #15 next to Saint Peter’s name. The Peacocks became one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the history of the NCAA Tournament with their victories over #2 Kentucky, #7 Murray State and #3 Purdue.
The Tar Heels were the first team able to slow down Saint Peter’s offense holding them to their lowest point total of the tournament by far.
UNC’s average margin of victory in the tournament thus far is a staggeringly high 16.5 points per game. If not for the furious comeback Baylor made against the Tar Heels, that number could be even higher.
If the Tar Heels were to continue at their current pace and win the National Championship, it would be the seventh-highest average margin of victory in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
As for the Tar Heels’ strength of schedule, thus far their opponents average out to a 7-seed.
Although, once again, that can be a bit misleading as Saint Peter’s was far from the typical 15-seed in light of the teams they had defeated. Baylor was the defending national champion and UCLA made it to the Final Four last season.
Duke’s average margin of victory in the tournament thus far is a solid 10 points-per-game, with not much volatility in the outcome of their games.
As for Duke’s strength of schedule thus far, it is equal to UNC’s also averaging out to a 7-seed.
UNC has been the more dominant team in the tournament thus far whereas Duke has been the more consistent team.
Duke also had a more consistent regular season as UNC hit several bumps in the road while adjusting to Huber Davis’ philosophy in his first year as head coach.
However, this is not the same UNC team from earlier in the year and they should not be judged by their past valleys.
Contrarily, Coach K and the Blue Devils would love nothing more than to avenge the loss in Coach K’s last home game at Duke and to put the winningest coach of all time in a position to retire on top with a National Championship.
There are good reasons to take either side in this one, and no matter what the outcome is, Tobacco Road will truly never be the same.