When Duke and North Carolina met late last month in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the two rivals produced another classic game.
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The Blue Devils won in overtime in a thriller that featured wild swings of dominance, considerable late-game drama and even a small whiff of controversy (just check with UNC fans and they'll tell you about how the three clock malfunctions at the end were deliberate to give Coach K extra timeouts). There were strategy issues to debate - Should Roy Williams have withdrawn the double team on Jahlil Okafor late in regulation? Was K right to have fouled at the end of overtime to prevent a game-tying 3-point attempt by Nate Britt? There were heroic individual performances by Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, plus Okafor's courage to play the entire second half and overtime with a severe ankle sprain.
It was everything you'd want a Duke-Carolina game to be.
And it illustrated why the Duke-UNC matchups are the most valuable regular season TV property in college basketball. Not only are the two teams almost always relevant on the national scene, but, more often than not, they deliver in terms of entertainment value.
Of course, there is no guarantee that every Duke-UNC game is a classic. There have been some clunkers in there too. But it's all relative.
Thinking about the first Duke-UNC game this season got me to thinking about all the games in the series I've seen in my lifetime … and how many of them were classics.
The first Duke-UNC game I can remember was the 1960 ACC Tournament semifinals in Reynolds Coliseum. It was also the first one I attended in person - as an 11-year-old kid.
Was it memorable?
You tell me. UNC entered the game as the ACC regular season co-champs (tied with a young Wake Forest team featuring Len Chappell and Billy Packer). The Tar Heels - led by All-Americans Doug Moe and York Larese, plus ACC player of the Year Lee Shaffer - were the top tournament seed. More importantly, they had already dominated Duke three times in the regular season - by 22 points in the Dixie Classic in Raleigh; by 26 points in Chapel Hill and by 25 points a week earlier in Durham.
Duke, led by first-year coach Vic Bubas, was 13-10 after beating South Carolina in the first round of the tournament. Bubas had inherited a junior dominated team from Coach Hal Bradley, led by a trio of frontcourt players - small forward Howard Hurt from Beckley, W. Va.; forward Carroll Youngkin from Winston-Salem, N.C.; and center Doug Kistler from Wayne, Pa.
It was Youngkin who stunned the favored Tar Heels with his play that Friday night in Raleigh. Taking advantage of Shaffer's early foul trouble, he poured in 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.
Youngkin helped Duke open up a stunning 35-19 lead late in the first half, but Shaffer - allowed to stay in the game by UNC coach Frank McGuire after picking up his fourth foul in the early moments of the second half - teamed with Larese (the best shooter in the ACC in that era) to bring UNC back.
The Tar Heels actually took a four-point lead on three occasions in the final minutes, but Duke fought back to tie the game at 63-all with a minute to play. At that point, Hurt - a streaky shooter who had been stifled by Moe's defense in the previous year's ACC Tournament - hit a long shot from the corner. Hurt then grabbed a defensive rebound at the other end and added two free throws. Two more free throws by Hurt and two by tiny guard Johnny Frye clinched the 71-69 victory.
It was an incredible introduction to the greatest rivalry in college sports.
I've been fortunate to see some equally incredible Duke-UNC matchups in the years since - most in person … several on TV. I saw the brawl game in 1961, the Freddie Lind miracle game in 1968, the Robbie West game, the Air Ball game in 1979, the Gene Banks game in 1981, the ACC Tournament win in 1984, the In-Hale, Ex-Hale game in 1986, all three Triple Crown games in 1988, the comeback game in 1998, the Chris Carrawell overtime game in 2000, the revenge game in Chapel Hill in 2001 and the blitz game in the ACC Tournament that year, the Chris Duhon overtime game in 2004, the game J.J. Redick won with his defense in 2005, the sweet 82-50 win in 2010 (although I admit that one wasn't all that entertaining to a neutral audience), the great comeback game in 2011, the Austin Rivers game in 2012 and the incredible regular season finale in 2014 … plus the overtime win in 2015.
You'll notice that all of those games I listed were Duke victories. But I'm sure a Tar Heel writer could come up with an equal number of thrilling, memorable UNC wins - the Bobby Jones and Walter Davis wins in 1974, the double-standard game in 1984, the great ACC Tournament final in 1989, the bloody Montross game in 1992, the double-overtime win in Cameron in 1995, the Rumble in the Jungle in 1998, the UNC revenge game in 2005, the Hansbrough game in Cameron in 2006 ….
` As painful as those memories are to Duke fans, it wouldn't be a great rivalry without them. One of the reasons it's the greatest rivalry in college sports is that it's been so balanced in modern times. Yes, I know UNC leads the series 133-106, but that includes a lot of dominance in the years before World War II and in the 1970s, when UNC was very good and Duke very bad.
Since Coach K inherited the Duke program in 1981, the score is 41-40 in Duke's favor - the Devils taking the lead with last month's win in Cameron. Since Krzyzewski built the Duke program to the level where is could consistently challenge the program Dean Smith built in Chapel Hill, the rivalry has been the best in sports.
So heading into Saturday's game at the Smith Center, I was thinking of the great Duke-UNC games of the past, hoping that this one measures up. I thought about picking the top 10 Duke-UNC games of all time, but that was a bit too limiting. Since this matchup is in Chapel Hill, allow me to suggest Duke's top 10 wins in Chapel Hill (based on both drama and importance):
1. The Austin Rivers Game, 2012: No. 10 Duke, coming off a homecourt loss to Miami, was a big underdog to No. 5 North Carolina at home. But for most of the first half, the Blue Devils held the lead. UNC surged just before halftime and took a three-point lead at the break. The Tar Heels continued to surge in the early moments of the first half and opened up a double-figure lead.
The margin stayed between 10-13 points for most of the second half. The UNC lead was 82-72 with 2:38 to play when Duke fought back, getting a big 3-pointer from Seth Curry in transition and two two-point baskets by Ryan Kelly - one was actually a missed 3-pointer that was tipped in by UNC's Tyler Zeller.
Zeller also missed the second of two free throws with seconds left to set up Austin Rivers for the winning shot. The freshman guard brought the ball up slowly with Duke down 84-82 as the final seconds clicked off the clock. Rivers rubbed his defender off a Mason Plumlee screen, but the 7-foot Zeller switched. The UNC big man was back on his heels, looking for the smaller Rivers to drive for the game-tying 2-pointer.
Instead, Rivers elevated and launched a game-winning 3 - that swished at the buzzer, giving Duke the 85-84 victory and stunning the Heels and the 20,000-plus UNC fans in the Dean Dome. Rivers finished with 29-points - the greatest single one-man performance ever for a Duke player in Chapel Hill.
2. The 3-Point Barrage, 2001: Normally, a matchup between No. 2 Duke and No. 4 UNC would have been predicted to be a classic. But earlier in the week, the Blue Devils lost center Carlos Boozer with a broken foot. A promising season seemed to be in ruins for the Devils.
But in the hours before the trip to Chapel Hill, Krzyzewski remade his team. He replaced Boozer with Casey Sanders, a slender sophomore big man with limited skills, but he also changed his lineup to start freshman guard Chris Duhon in place of senior Nate James, who became the sixth man.
Krzyzewski unleashed his myriad of 3-point shooters, giving them the green light to bomb away.
UNC never knew what hit them. Duke launched 38 3-pointers, hitting 14 and holding the lead most of the game. It remained close until the final five minutes, but Duke made the lead stand with some stellar defense - most memorably Shane Battier running down Joe Forte from behind and blocking his shot.
Jason Williams finished with 33 and Battier added 25 as Duke won to clinch a share of the ACC regular season title. More importantly, the 95-81 win was the first game in a 10-game winning streak that propelled Duke to the 2001 national championship.
3. The War Hero Game, 1946: There were no rankings in the first postwar season, but undefeated North Carolina had grabbed national headlines with a successful three-game swing in the Northeast. One early ranking system had the White Phantoms - featuring All-Americans Jim Jordan and Hook Dillon - as the nation's second best team.
Duke got off to a slow start, losing to a pair of military teams before beating five straight college opponents. Oddly, the Blue Devil star was forward Ed Koffenberger, a Delaware schoolboy product who had started his career at UNC - even playing in a couple of football games in Chapel Hill. But that was during the war and the Navy transferred Koffenberger to Duke to study engineering.
Just before the trip to Chapel Hill, Duke got a boost when John Seward - a prewar All-Southern Conference forward - returned to the team. Seward had left Duke in 1943 to serve in the Army. He saw combat in Europe and was captured and spent more than two months in a Nazi prisoner of war camp.
Seward also spend some time before going overseas at a camp in Oklahoma, where he scrimmaged against Hank Iba's Oklahoma A&M Cowboys (the 1945 and 1946 national champs). There, he learned the new-fangled one-handed jump shot.
Seward put that to good use against UNC. He and Koffenberger each scored 14 points as Duke forced UNC into overtime, them dominated the extra period for a 51-46 victory.
Duke would go on to win the Southern Conference title, but UNC - bolstered by the late addition of Bones McKinney - was picked to represent the region in the NCAA Tournament. The White Phantoms made it all the way to the national title game before losing to Iba's Cowboys.
4. The first of the Triple Crown, 1988: No. 9 Duke was staggering after a stunning home loss to Maryland, but the Devils battled No. 2 North Carolina on even terms for most of the game in the Smith Center.
J,R. Reid poured in 27 points for UNC, but Duke answered with 22 from Kevin Strickland and 19 from Danny Ferry.
The game came down to the final seconds with Duke clinging to a 70-69 lead. UNC looked to get the ball into Reid, but he was blanketed by 6-5 Robert Brickey. Instead, guard Jeff Lebo was forced to launch a 15-foot baseline jumper at the buzzer.
Somehow, Brickey reacted, coming off Reid and blocking Lebo's shot to preserve the narrow victory. It was the first of three wins over the Tar Heels that season and the sweetest. It was Duke's first even victory in the Smith Center.
5. The Chris Duhon Game, 2004: No. 1 Duke was 18-1 and favored on the road at No. 17 North Carolina.
It was the first Mike Krzyzewski-Roy Williams matchup in the series (although K was 3-1 against Williams at Kansas). The new Tar Heel coach had inherited a talented group of players from Matt Doherty - a group that would win the national title one year later.
UNC showed its potential against Duke. Rashad McCants, who would later confess that he was a bogus student enrolled in nothing but paper classes, poured in 27 points. Sean May, who told reporters in St. Louis a year later that he was switching his major to AFAM because it required less class time, had 15 points and 21 rebounds. But Duke got 22 points and 12 rebounds from Shelden Williams and 17 points, 12 rebounds from Luol Deng to stay on top most of the game.
McCants hit a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime. Then, when it seemed that Duke had the game won, he hit another 3 with seconds remaining in the extra period to tie the game again. There was just enough time left for senior guard Chris Duhon to take the inbounds and streak down court, slicing through the UNC defense and finishing with a reverse layup that gave Duke an 83-81 victory.
6. The Chris Carrawell Game, 2000: No. 3 Duke was in danger of being upset in this early February matchup with unranked UNC in the Smith Center.
The Blue Devils had opened a huge lead - up 41-24 at the half - but UNC mounted a ferocious comeback behind freshman Joe Forte (20 points) and senior point guard Ed Cota (21 points, 8 assists). Shane Battier poured in 25 points for the Blue Devils, but it was senior Chris Carrawell who made the plays down the stretch that helped Duke hang on and force overtime.
In the extra period, Carrawell - who finished with 23 points, five assists and three steals - dominated, helping Duke to a 90-86 victory over a UNC team that would make a surprising run to the Final Four.
7. The Hal Bradley Game, 1958 - Duke had lost five straight to Frank McGuire and the Tar Heels, including a heartbreaker in Woollen Gym the year before when a "scoreboard malfunction" cost Duke a chance to upset the 32-0 national champs on their home floor.
A year later, the Devils left no doubt, dominating the defending national champs in the second half to beat the No. 7 ranked Tar Heels 91-75.
Jim Newsome, Duke "big man" (at 6-5, 210 pounds) led the Devils with 21 points and 13 rebounds, while guard Bobby Joe Harris added 14 points and 11 rebounds. All five Duke starters scored in double figures.
The victory, combined with an upset of No. 10 N.C. State in Raleigh three days later, propelled Duke to a totally unexpected ACC regular season title. It was the finest hour for Coach Hal Bradley.
8. The Johnny Dawkins Game, 1985: Duke won its first game in UNC's Carmichael Auditorium in 1966, then lost every trip between 1967 and 1984 - often in excruciating fashion. None more so than the double-overtime loss the Devils suffered to No. 1 UNC in 1984.
Junior guard Johnny Dawkins didn't let that happen again. He poured in 34 points and passed our four assists (with no turnovers) as Duke broke open a close game in the early moments of the second half and coasted to a 93-77 victory.
So Duke won its first visit to Carmichael and its last - but no games there in between.
9. The Danny Ferry Game, 1989: A year after Duke swept three games from UNC, the Tar Heels invaded Cameron in late January without star guard Jeff Lebo and stunned the Devils by 20 points.
No. 5 UNC was the favorite when Duke closed the regular season with a visit to the Smith Center. Danny Ferry outdueled his rival J.R. Reid, 24-18, but Duke had to withstand a career day by Steve Bucknall (23 points). Quin Snyder gave the Devils a huge boost, hitting three straight 3-pointers to trim a 10-point UNC lead in the final 10 minutes.
Duke clung to a narrow lead down the stretch, which featured some frantic action. With Duke up 87-85, Ferry tripped on an invisible foot, turning the ball over and giving UNC a chance to tie or win. But the Duke star redeemed himself by stealing the ball from Reid.
Still, UNC had a chance to tie with King Rice (an 81 percent free throw shooter) on the line with three seconds left. He hit the first, but missed the second. Robert Brickey's rebound and subsequent free throw gave Duke the 88-86 victory.
10. The Massacre, 1999: Okay, not a classic Duke-Carolina game in the aesthetic sense, but a sweet victory for Blue Devil fans - at the time Duke's most lopsided victory in Chapel Hill
Actually, unranked UNC played the No. 1 Devils surprisingly close for a half. Duke led just 35-33 at intermission. But with sophomore guard Will Avery (24 points) and freshman sixth man Corey Maggette (14 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes) leading the way, Duke turned the second half into a rout.
Only Krzyzewski's decision to call off the dogs at about the five minute mark kept the final score as close as it was 81-61.
Okay, that's my top 10 from Chapel Hill. The wealth of great games in the series forced me to leave off some great Duke wins at UNC - the 2008 win over a Final Four UNC team; the 2013 win, the 1955 win, the 2006 win and the 2002 win (which at 29 points, was even more lopsided than 1999 … but it was against a much worse UNC team).
This next time Duke and UNC meet in Durham, I'll offer my top 10 in Durham. Or, in the unlikely event that Duke and UNC meet in Greensboro next week (it would have to be in the ACC title game), I'll offer my top 10 neutral court meetings,
This rivalry is good enough to generate a dozen such lists.
-- One comment about the pseudo clock controversy from the first Duke-UNC game. The critics blame the Duke scorekeeper for the errors, which they claim gave Duke some unscheduled timeouts.
Those critics don't know what they are talking about.
In the first place, the ACC uses a timing system that stops the clock on the official's whistle - the clock operator is merely a backup. He stops it when he seeds that the whistle did not work. Naturally there is going to be a lag time in such situations - that's what the reviews are for.
Secondly, people should understand that the Duke clock operation is Tommy Hunt, the former head of football officials in the ACC … and a UNC graduate.
-- Duke's ACC Tournament seed was locked in Wednesday night when Duke beat Wake Forest to clinch the No. 2 seed in Greensboro - which means an opening game Thursday night at 7 p.m.
Technically, Notre Dame could still tie Duke for second place in the standings. The tiebeaker is merely for seeding purposes.
Of course, the real impact of the Duke-UNC game will be on Duke's chances of getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Devils don't have a lot of wiggle room to hold on to a top seed.
My opinion - and it's merely opinion and depends on how several other No. 1 candidates do - is that Duke could still get a No. 1 with a loss to UNC, provided the Devils then win the ACC Tournament. If Duke beats UNC in Chapel Hill, then I think Duke could get a No. 1 with a loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament finals.
But I believe that a combination of the two - a loss to UNC and a loss to Virginia - would knock Duke down to a No. 2 seed. A loss Thursday to an unranked team would do the same, no matter what happens vs. UNC. A loss Friday night to a top 10 Notre Dame team or a top 20 Louisville or UNC team is a bit more excusable.
Duke might be able to survive a Friday night loss to a top opponent and keep a No. 1 - provided the Devils win Saturday at UNC. That situation would depend on how such teams as Arizona, Wisconsin, Villanova and maybe Kansas fare down the stretch.
-- It's worth noting that five of the eight scholarship players on the Duke roster made the Academic ACC team - including juniors Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee and three freshmen - Tyus Jones, Justice Winslow and Grayson Allen.
That's pretty impressive.