How Duke vs. UNC Became the Best Rivalry in College Basketball

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How Duke vs. UNC Became the Best Rivalry in College Basketball
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The North Carolina-Duke rivalry has long been regarded as the greatest rivalry in college basketball, and for good reason. For nearly 100 years, the third- and fourth-winningest programs in college basketball history have battled on Tobacco Road, setting a precedent for rivalries around the country.

“Our games against North Carolina over the decades have proven to stand that test of greatness and time and excellence.” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in an interview on the ACC Network. “Whatever thing you want to check, whatever you need to have it be a great rivalry, Duke and Carolina check all the boxes.”

Located just eight miles apart, Duke and North Carolina have battled for local and national dominance since the first meeting on Jan. 24, 1920 (UNC won, 36-25). The two teams have not only set historic matchups in ACC play, but have also stood as NCAA powerhouses.

Duke is currently fifth all time with NCAA titles in 1991, 1992, 2001, and 2010 while North Carolina stands as third all time with titles in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, and 2009. Duke has earned 19 ACC tournament titles and is first overall in the conference for most conference titles. North Carolina is second overall in the conference with 17. As of the last meeting on Feb. 20, the record between the two teams stands at 133 wins for North Carolina and 103 wins for Duke.

Two historically talented teams with conference title implications and national rankings on the line is always a recipe for an epic game. Take a look at some of the great rivalry moments over the years in this video from ESPN:

Behind every great team is a great coach. North Carolina and Duke have had their fair share of legendary coaches. For 36 years, Dean Smith led the Tar Heels to incredible success, winning two NCAA championships (1982, 1993) and making 11 Final Four appearances. He ended his career with a total of 879 wins and 11 ACC tournament championships.

Mike Krzyzewski still stands as the winningest coach in college basketball history. Since 1980, Coach K has led the Blue Devils to four national championships (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010), 11 Final Four appearances and 13 ACC tournament championships.

After a successful career at Kansas, Roy Williams was named head coach at UNC in 2003 and has already won two NCAA championships and put up a record of 279-76.

Legendary players have occupied the court over the years for both teams, bringing UNC and Duke fans to their feet at the Smith Center and Cameron Indoor. The obvious name that comes to mind for North Carolina is Michael Jordan, who was a member of the NCAA championship team in 1982 while wearing the Carolina blue.

Other Carolina greats like Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Billy Cunningham, Phil Ford, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Antawn Jamison, Rick Fox, Kenny Smith, Jerry Stackhouse and countless others have contributed to the Tar Heels program success over the decades.

One of the many great moments in UNC history was highlighted in an article by Adam Lucas of GoHeels.com, with a video from the March 7, 1993 rivalry game where top-ranked North Carolina avenged the earlier season loss to the Blue Devils.

The Duke program has fostered countless standout players that have sealed their names in the Blue Devil history books. Duke greats Art Heyman, Dick Groat, Jason Williams, Danny Ferry, Johnny Dawkins, J.J. Redick, Shane Battier, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and Christian Laettner are just a few Blue Devils who have paved the way for a historically successful program.

Former Duke players were interviewed on GoDuke.com and asked to share their favorite Duke-UNC rivalry memories in Blue Devil Vault: The UNC Rivalry.

But what has and will continue to set this rivalry over the top is the thousands of North Carolina and Duke fans that live and breathe for their teams on Tobacco Road. Every year, fans gather to cheer and roar for their team to complete their mission of defeating the in-state rival. The Blue Blood Rivalry documentary gives a taste of the UNC-Duke fandemonium.

On Saturday, the rivalry will continue as Duke hosts North Carolina at Cameron Indoor at 9 p.m. ET. The Blue Devils are looking to avenge their loss to the Tar Heels from Feb. 20 where UNC upset then No. 5 Duke at the Smith Center. North Carolina hopes to continue its 12-game winning streak with a second straight victory over the in-state rival.

One thing is certain, it will be another unforgettable battle that will continue to write college basketball history books for years to come.

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