Rivalry Breakdown: Duke-UNC
Duke vs. North Carolina isn’t just the best rivalry in college basketball—it’s a leading contender for the best rivalry in any sport.
Separated by a mere 10 miles along Tobacco Road, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels prove every year just how much contempt familiarity can breed, then mix that contempt with Hall of Fame-level hoops talent.
One of the many all-time college greats who grabbed the spotlight in this matchup was UNC's Tyler Hansbrough. As the leading rebounder and scorer in Tar Heels history—and the Division I record-holder for most free throws made—Psycho T did more than his share of damage in compiling a 6-2 career record against Duke.
Here's a closer look at Hansbrough and the rest of the unmatched stars, classic games and unforgettable plays that have elevated Duke and North Carolina to the pinnacle of college sports showdowns.
Wins: Duke 105, North Carolina 133
Conference championships (regular-season only): Duke 22, North Carolina 36
National Titles: Duke 4, North Carolina 5
Consensus All-Americans: Duke 14, North Carolina 16
NBA/ABA Players Produced: Duke 60, North Carolina 81
Duke’s All-Time Starting 5
C Mike Gminski
PF Christian Laettner
SF Grant Hill
SG J.J. Redick
PG Bobby Hurley
Gminski might be more recognizable as a broadcaster these days, but in Durham he set the career rebounding record (he’s still second on that list) and scored 2,323 points (now fifth). Laettner, meanwhile, added indelible NCAA tournament heroics to his own gaudy statistics—he’s third in both rebounding and scoring.
Redick ran away with the team's scoring records while setting the NCAA mark for three-pointers made. Hurley, who has a Division I record of his own with 1,076 assists, teamed with Laettner and Hill on three Final Four teams and two NCAA champions.
Hill is a close call here over 1989 Naismith Award winner Danny Ferry and fellow defensive stopper Shane Battier, but Hill is the pick on the strength of (by far) the greatest NBA career of any Blue Devil.
North Carolina's All-Time Starting 5
C Bob McAdoo
PF Tyler Hansbrough
SF James Worthy
SG Michael Jordan
PG Phil Ford
McAdoo didn’t stay at Carolina long enough to match Sam Perkins’ career accomplishments, but the 6’9” Hall of Famer was a souped-up version of Perkins who repeatedly topped 30 points per game as a pro. Hansbrough smashed the school’s scoring and rebounding records while leading the 2009 national champs.
Worthy, a close call over fellow Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham, gets the nod for anchoring the 1982 title squad. Jordan wasn’t nearly as untouchable in Chapel Hill as he would later become—he’s a pedestrian 12th on the school's all-time scoring list—but his game-winning jumper secured that championship for Worthy, and he did sweep the Wooden and Naismith Awards as a junior.
Ford set the career-scoring mark that Hansbrough broke three decades later, and he still found time to average 6.1 assists per game (while playing for a coach famous for slowing down his own offense).
Most Iconic Coaches
Mike Krzyzewski isn’t the only star coach in Duke history, but he’s been so successful that everyone else (see Bubas, Vic) gets shoved into the background.
The all-time leader in wins for Division I, Coach K also has four national titles, tied for the second-most in history behind John Wooden.
Whereas Krzyzewski “only” has his team’s home court named after him, Dean Smith gets the entire building in Chapel Hill.
The namesake of the Dean Dome held the career-wins record when he retired—he’s still fourth in Division I history—and won a pair of NCAA Championships in the bargain. He also dominated this series, where he won 59 games against just 35 losses.
Most Memorable Games
5. 1979: Duke 47, North Carolina 40
In the most extreme example of Dean Smith’s "four corners" offense—unhindered by the shot clock, which didn’t exist yet—North Carolina attempted just two shots in the first half. Both shots failed to draw iron, and the Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd is said to have originated the now-ubiquitous “Aiiiiir ballll” chant in response.
Holding a laughable 7-0 lead coming out of the locker room, Duke proved just as capable of winning a more traditional game. Jim Spanarkel scored 15 second-half points in his final home game to seal the victory.
4. 2004: Duke 83, North Carolina 81
Roy Williams’ inaugural game in the rivalry became an instant classic when a late Jawad Williams three-pointer tied the game for his No. 17 Tar Heels and forced overtime. In the OT, top-ranked Duke took a three-point lead on some J.J. Redick free throws only to have another trey (from Rashad McCants) knot the score once again.
But Duke had one possession left to work with, and Chris Duhon flipped in a reverse in the waning seconds to earn a win for the visiting Blue Devils.
3. 1968: Duke 87, North Carolina 86
Duke backup center Fred Lind became the rivalry’s unlikeliest hero, starting when he blocked a UNC shot in the final moments of regulation to send the game to overtime. At the end of the extra session, two Lind free throws tied the game again, and when No. 10 Duke trailed at the end of a second OT, he hit a jumper for yet another tie.
By the time the Blue Devils finished off the win, a reserve who had entered with 21 career points had 16 points, nine boards and three blocks in one epic game.
2. 1984: North Carolina 96, Duke 83
When Duke botched a one-and-one that could have given it a four-point edge in Chapel Hill, Tar Heels senior Matt Doherty responded with a buzzer-beating jumper to force overtime. At the end of the extra session, Duke was the team in need of a clutch basket, and Johnny Dawkins supplied a driving layup to send it to a second OT.
Another senior by the name of Michael Jordan opened that period by hammering down an alley-oop. He and classmate Sam Perkins (who each finished with 25 points) proceeded to take over, ending their final home game with a convincing win.
1. 1995: North Carolina 102, Duke 100
The Blue Devils (unranked in the absence of Coach K, who was nursing an injured back) were 0-7 in ACC play coming in, but they hung right with Rasheed Wallace and high-flying No. 2 UNC. When Cherokee Parks swatted a would-be Jerry Stackhouse dunk with under a minute to play, the game headed for overtime and even more drama.
With 17 seconds left in the extra frame, Duke used a Trajan Langdon trey and Jeff Capel three-point play to trim an eight-point deficit to three. After Serge Zwikker bricked a pair of free throws, Capel drilled a half-court heave to send the game to double overtime.
In the second OT, though, a four-point spurt from Donald Williams and Jeff McInnis put the Tar Heels up in the final seconds. Duke had one last possession to tie, but neither Steve Wojciechowski nor Greg Newton could find the net in a heartbreaking loss.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a Duke Fan
Unranked Duke had an upset in the bag when it visited the No. 4 Tar Heels in 1974. With 17 seconds on the clock, the Blue Devils were up by eight points, an insurmountable margin in an era with no three-point line.
Nevertheless, four points from Bobby Jones and two from John Kuester (sandwiched around a pair of Duke turnovers) trimmed the lead to just two points. Pete Kramer could still have put the game away, but he couldn’t connect on the first of his one-and-one free throws, leaving the door open.
Through that door sailed North Carolina star Walter Davis, banking home a buzzer-beating 30-foot heave and sending the game to overtime. In the extra session, a demoralized Duke squad couldn’t recover the momentum, and the Tar Heels went on to a 96-92 victory.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a North Carolina Fan
The 1997-98 season was an extraordinary one even by the standards of this series, with the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 for the first meeting (with Carolina on top) and No. 1 vs. No. 3 for the rematch (when host Duke held the top spot).
In the latter game, UNC was well on its way to a season sweep before it let a 17-point lead slip away in just 12 minutes.
Duke’s Elton Brand, returning from a broken foot, played the Willis Reed role in that game, but it was Roshown McLeod who hit the last-minute jumper to give the Blue Devils their only lead of the day.
The Tar Heels still had two opportunities to force overtime but botched free-throw tries by both Ed Cota and Brendan Haywood handed Duke a 77-75 win.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Duke
The 1970s were an absolute disaster for Duke in this series, with North Carolina winning 16 of 18 games between 1972 and 1977.
Although the legendary Phil Ford (pictured, foreground) played a major role in that span, even he didn’t do as much to sink Duke as forward Bobby Jones did.
Jones, who beat the Blue Devils in eight of the nine times he faced them, played a key role in the Tar Heels’ impossible 1974 rally from eight points down in the final 17 seconds.
Six weeks earlier in Durham, he stole a game from the Blue Devils even more directly, snatching a Duke inbounds pass at midcourt with four seconds left. When Jones managed to will his desperation runner into the basket, the Tar Heels came away with a 73-71 victory.
Public Enemy No. 1 for North Carolina
For all that Christian Laettner is probably the most hated player in college basketball history, at least North Carolina and its fans had the satisfaction of seeing him lose repeatedly (six times in 11 meetings, to be exact).
J.J. Redick, on the other hand, was a bete noir who usually won no matter what Carolina tried against him.
Over the course of Redick’s career, Duke went 6-3 against UNC, mostly while the Tar Heels were ranked.
In the process, he torched North Carolina with performances such as a 22-point second half (in Chapel Hill as a senior) and scoring 18 of his team's 71 points to beat the No. 2 Tar Heels in 2005.
Duke’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
Dean Smith is the greatest coach in North Carolina history but can’t even come close to what Mike Krzyzewski has done at Duke. Coach K is already more than 100 wins ahead of his retired counterpart’s old record, and there’s no slowdown in sight.
Krzyzewski’s four national titles also put him far ahead of any coach in Carolina’s pantheon. John Wooden is the only man who has any claim to being better than Mike Krzyzewski on a college bench, and Wooden wasn’t a Tar Heel.
North Carolina’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
By the time Duke started make a splash on the national scene in the 1960s, Lennie Rosenbluth had already led the Tar Heels to an undefeated national championship. UNC’s program has been better for longer, hence Carolina’s massive edge in conference titles (36-22).
That sustained excellence also shows up in the head-to-head records. As close as the series has been in recent years, the Heels still hold a commanding 133-105 lead overall.
The Final Word
Although Duke has largely shed its reputation as a factory of NBA busts, it still has a long way to go to match the four Hall of Fame players who have passed through Chapel Hill (compared to Duke’s zero, at least until Grant Hill becomes eligible).
Unfortunately for Blue Devils fans, that level of talent disparity has taken its toll in the standings.
North Carolina has the overwhelming lead both in ACC titles and in overall head-to-head victories. If Duke starts winning every game from here on out, it will even the series in a decade or so; then it might be time to revisit who has the edge in the rivalry.
Back in the present, though, the Tar Heels are the pick.