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Featherston: The Real ACC Championship

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If there was ever a season to illustrate why the ACC Tournament is once again the best method of choosing a conference champion, it's this season.

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A close look at the record shows why Miami's "regular season championship" is … well, bogus.

For years, ACC coaches - led by Dean Smith - argued that the full home-and-home schedule was the best way to choose a champion. And they were right - when the ACC played a full, balanced home-and-home schedule.

But in this era of unbalanced schedule, the so-called regular season champion can be determined by the schedule.

That's what happened this season.

Officially, Miami won the regular season title with a 15-3 ACC record - one game ahead of 14-4 Duke.

The problem is that they didn't play the same schedule. Did that made a difference?

Well, Miami and Duke played 12 common opponents. They also played each other twice. That's 14 of their 18 games.

Head-to-head, Duke and Miami split, each winning at home.

Against the 12 common opponents, Duke was 11-1 … Miami was 10-2.

Check it out:

  •  Both swept UNC, home and away.
  •  Both swept Virginia Tech, home and away.
  •  Both swept Boston College, home and away.
  •  Both won at Florida State
  •  Both beat Maryland at home
  •  Both beat Clemson at home

The difference comes in games at N.C. State, at Wake Forest and home against Georgia Tech:

Miami beat State in Raleigh … Duke lost to the Pack in Raleigh

Duke beat Wake Forest in Winston … The Deacons upset Miami in Joel

Duke beat Georgia Tech at home … Miami lost to Georgia Tech at home

So against common opponents, Duke was one game better than the 'Canes.

Each team played four games that the other didn't.

In Miami's case, the 'Canes:

  •  Beat FSU at home
  •  Beat Virginia at home
  •  Best Clemson at Clemson
  •  Beat Georgia Tech at Georgia Tech
  • In Duke's case, the Devils:
  •  Beat N.C. State at home
  •  Beat Wake Forest at home
  •  Lost to Virginia in Charlottesville
  •  Lost to Maryland in College Park.

It was those two losses - in games that Miami didn't have to play - that made the difference in the regular season race.

Now, I don't know what Miami would have done if the 'Canes had played Maryland and Virginia on the road … or had to win the rematch with N.C. State at home - just as I don't know how Duke would have done at Clemson or Georgia Tech … or against Virginia at home.

But look at Virginia for a second.

The Cavaliers at home proved to be one of the ACC's toughest teams. Virginia finished 9-0 in the ACC at home and their average margin of victory was 17 points (at least it was before their overtime victory over Maryland Sunday).

But on the road, it was a different story. Virginia was a pussycat on the road - finishing 2-7 on the road. Some of the home-and-home splits were amazing - Virginia beat Clemson by 37 at home and lost to the Tigers by 15 in Littlejohn; Virginia beat Georgia Tech by 28 at home and lost by 6 on the road; beat FSU by 20 at home and lost by two on the road; beat UNC by nine at home and lost by 12 on the road.

Is it farfetched to suggest that Virginia's five-point victory over Duke might have had a different outcome if the game were played in Cameron … or that Miami's four-point homecourt win over Virginia might have gone the other way in Charlottesville?

It's not as pronounced with Maryland, but the Terps were much more dangerous at home (6-3) than on the road (2-7).

We'll never know what records Duke and Miami would have compiled against the same schedule. What we do know is that against common opponents, Duke was one-game better than the 'Canes.

That's why the regular season "championship" is no longer the prize that coaches coveted so long.

Of course, the ACC Tournament decides the league's championship anyway.

The point is that now, it is once again the fairest way to select a champion.


When you look for dominance in the Duke-Carolina rivalry, each side is going to pick the time frame that best suits them.

Duke fans naturally chirp about the Devils' 7-2 edge in the last nine meetings or the 25-12 edge in the last 37 games. UNC fans are more apt to cite their 132-104 edge all-time.

Is there a fair way to measure it?

Well, we can talk about championships.

UNC has five NCAA titles. Duke has just four.

Duke is 19 ACC championships … UNC has just 17.

If you include Southern Conference titles before the ACC was formed, then both schools have 24 conference championships (although I should note that UNC won four of its seven Southern Conference titles before Duke joined the league. As head-to-head rivals in the same conference, Duke has a 24-20 edge).

You can also measure the rivalry by coaches records - Dean Smith had an impressive winning record against Duke … although he was a loser head-to-head with Vic Bubas.

Coach K is currently 39-37 against UNC, but a lot of that margin was compiled against Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty. Let's see - since Dean retired, K is 25-13.

Let's focus for a minute on the Coach K vs. Roy Williams era.

Roy arrived in Chapel Hill before the 2003-04 season. We'll forget K's 3-1 edge over Roy during the time Williams was at Kansas. We'll start fresh in 2003-04.

-- Head-to-head: Coach K leads 13-9

Their rivalry got off to a great start when No. 17 UNC took No. 1 Duke into overtime in Chapel Hill. That was the famous game where Chris Duhon went coast-to-coast in the final seconds to score the winning basket.

Interesting factoid for the K vs. Roy era - K has a 6-4 record against Williams in Chapel Hill … he has a 6-4 record against Roy in Durham. He's 1-0 against Roy in ACC Tournament play (more on that later).

-- Regular season: Duke is 290-62 in the last 10 seasons (82.4 percent) … UNC is 279-77 in those same 10 seasons under Roy (78.4 percent).

In those seasons, Duke has finished No. 1, No. 3 three times, No. 6 twice, No. 8, No. 9 and unranked. This year's final poll is not in, but Duke will certainly finish in the top 10 for the ninth time in 10 seasons. UNC has finished No. 1, No. 2 twice, No. 4 twice , No. 7, No. 10, No. 18 and unranked twice. Again, it's possible this year's team could sneak into the top 25 by winning the ACC Tournament, but otherwise the Heels will be unranked for the second time in the Roy Williams era.

Recruiting: It's widely repeated - even among UNC fans - that Roy is the better recruiter, but that K is the better coach. The recruiting rankings don't support that hypothesis. Over the last nine recruiting classes (from Roy's first in 2004 to the 2012 class that produced Rasheed Suliamon and Marcus Paige), K has landed 16 top 25 prospects (based on the RSCI average of recruiting rankings) and Roy has landed 15 top 25 prospects.

Roy has landed more top 10 prospects - (eight: No. 4 Tyler Hansbrough; No. 3 Brandon Wright; No. 3 Ty Lawson; No. 8 Wayne Ellington; No. 9 Ed Davis; No. 5 John Henson; No. 1 Harrison Barnes; No. 6 James Michael McAdoo). K has landed five top 10 guys - No. 1 Josh McRoberts; No. 10 Gerald Henderson; No. 6 Kyle Singler; No. 2 Kyrie Irving and No. 2 Austin Rivers.

It's also a myth that Roy loses more top players to the pros early. That's not the case: Coach K's five top 10 recruits stayed an average of 2.2 years. Roy's eight top 10 recruits stayed an average of 2.5 years. Both had one top player stay four years (Hansbrough and Singler).

-- ACC championships: K has won five ACC titles since Roy's arrival … Roy has won two. Overall, K's ACC Tournament record in that span is 19-4 … Roy's is 13-7.

K won ACC championships in both of Roy's national championship seasons.

-- NCAA Tournament: Ah, here Williams has the edge. He's won two national titles and played in three Final Fours during this span … to Coach K's one national title and two Final Fours. Roy is 27-6 in NCAA play (81.8 percent) … K is 19-8 (70.4 percent) in this period. Both have six Sweet 16 appearances in this period … K has nine NCAA appearances to just eight for Roy (who played in the NIT in 2010).

So who has been in the better coach over the last 10 seasons (counting this one)? Roy has has more NCAA success, but by every other measure, Krzyzewski has a clear edge.

Picking the best probably depends on your priorities - or the color of blue you prefer.

But what we can say is that the edge in the rivalry continues to swing back and forth. If we go strictly by final AP poll rankings, the best team each year was:

  • 2004 - No. 6 Duke over No. 18 UNC
  • 2005 -No. 2 UNC over No. 3 Duke
  • 2006 - No. 1 Duke over No. 10 UNC
  • 2007 - No. 4 UNC over unranked Duke
  • 2008 - No. 1 UNC over No. 9 Duke
  • 2009 - No. 2 UNC over No. 6 Duke
  • 2010 - No. 3 Duke over unranked UNC
  • 2011 - No. 4 Duke over No. 7 UNC
  • 2012 - No. 4 UNC over No. 8 Duke

That's five years for UNC … four for Duke, although this season is going to even the balance at 5-5. No matter what happens in Greensboro, Duke will end up ranked higher than UNC this season.

Interesting factiod: In six of the last 10 seasons - the K vs. Roy years - both teams have finished in the top 10.



It's quite possible - likely even - that Duke and North Carolina will meet again Saturday in the semifinals of the 2013 ACC Tournament.

If that happens, Duke will be putting a five-game ACC Tournament winning streak against the Heels on the line. The last time UNC beat Duke in the tournament was in Greensboro in 1998 - since then, Duke has won tournament matchups in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2011. Three of those (1999, 2001, 2011) were in the championship game.

Overall, Duke has a 12-8 edge on UNC in ACC Tournament play. The margin is entirely based on the current streak - when UNC beat Duke in the '98 championship game, it gave the Tar Heels an 8-7 edge in tournament play.

Oh, just for the heck of it, I checked Southern Conference Tournament matchups. Duke played and beat UNC in the 1929 semifinals - their first postseason matchup ever.

Overall, Duke and UNC were 3-3 in Southern Conference Tournament matchups.

One other aspect of a possible matchup Saturday - K would be going for his fourth 3-game season sweep of the Tar Heels - accomplishing it previously in 1988, 1999 and 2002. UNC hasn't gone 3-0 in the K era.

I know that the players can't look past their Friday night tests in the ACC quarterfinals, but as a fan I can look forward to a new chapter in the Duke-Carolina rivalry Saturday.