Ranking the 10 Greatest Duke-UNC Moments/Games of Mike Krzyzewski's CareerApril 1, 2022
Ranking the 10 Greatest Duke-UNC Moments/Games of Mike Krzyzewski's Career
One way or the other, the illustrious career of Duke's men's college basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski will be coming to an end this weekend in New Orleans.
(Unless he pulls a Tom Brady and unretires in a month.)
Before Coach K rides off into the land of retirement, though, one final "boss battle" with archrival North Carolina awaits in the Final Four.
And that begs the two-part question: What are the greatest moments in the Coach K era of this sport's greatest rivalry, and where does Saturday's to-be-determined game rank on that list?
Well, spoiler alert, it's No. 1. Regular-season and conference-tournament showdowns have been plenty of fun over the years, but nothing can hold a candle to dueling in the Final Four.
As far as the rest of the list goes, however, please enjoy this trip down Tobacco Road Memory Lane.
With nearly 100 games to choose from—37 of which were matchups between rivals ranked in the AP Top 10—just trimming the list to 20 was hard enough. Getting it down to 10 was darn near impossible. But here is our second top 10, presented in chronological order.
Feb. 28, 1981 (K's first win over UNC): You never forget your first, right? Mike Krzyzewski went 1-8 in his first nine games against North Carolina, and most of those losses were by double digits. But in the final regular-season game of his "rookie" year with the Blue Devils, he got a 66-65 overtime victory over the rivals from just up the road.
March 3, 1984 (MJ's last home game): At this point, North Carolina was the annual title contender and Duke was just a nuisance with a fourth-year coach who hadn't even made the NCAA tournament yet. But in the final regular-season game of Michael Jordan's career, the 15th-ranked Blue Devils waltzed into Carmichael Auditorium and darn near knocked off the 25-1, No. 1-ranked Tar Heels. It took two overtimes before UNC finally escaped.
Jan. 18, 1986 & March 2, 1986 (No. 1 vs. No. 3 x2): There have been six instances in the history of this rivalry in which both sides were ranked in the AP Top 3, so two such games in the same season is pretty remarkable. In both cases, the side ranked No. 3 was the road team and lost a close game to the No. 1 home team. (Although, when it came time for the NCAA tournament, No. 3 seed UNC and No. 1 seed Duke both got ousted by Louisville.)
Feb. 3, 1994 & Feb. 5, 1998 (No. 1 vs. No. 2 x2): In the past 30 years, there have only been 10 regular-season meetings between No. 1 and No. 2 in the AP poll. And, of course, Duke-UNC is responsible for two of them. Much like Gonzaga's 20-point thrashing of UCLA this past November, though, it was a lot of pre-game hype for exhibitions that were neither memorable nor competitive. In both cases, No. 1 Duke went on the road and lost by double digits to No. 2 North Carolina.
Feb. 2, 1995 (The Jeff Capel Shot): It's one of the greatest games in the history of this rivalry. I was only eight years old, and yet I can still remember watching this on a VHS tape while eating pizza at my aunt's house. Unranked Duke hosted No. 2 North Carolina, and Jeff Capel drained a runner from just inside half court to send the game to double overtime. (Duke ultimately lost the game by two.) But because Pete Gaudet was coaching in Krzyzewski's stead for this one while the latter recovered from back surgery, we opted to leave it in the honorable mentions.
March 2, 1997 (Final K vs. Dean Showdown): We didn't know at the time that this was Dean Smith's final game of this rivalry, because he didn't throw himself a yearlong goodbye party before retiring. But he went out in style with No. 8 North Carolina beating No. 7 Duke by a score of 91-85.
March 4, 2007 (Gerald Henderson vs. Psycho T): It was one of the more forgettable games of the rivalry for the first 39 minutes and 40 seconds. But near the end of North Carolina's 86-72 victory, Duke's Gerald Henderson hit North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough with one of the most ruthless flying elbows you'll ever see outside of a steel cage. The game was forgettable, but a bloodied Hansbrough needing to be restrained from going after Henderson was quite unforgettable.
Feb. 18, 2015 (OT in Honor of Dean Smith): The legendary UNC coach passed away less than two weeks before this game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and before the game began, both teams knelt at half court in remembrance of him. And then they went out and played a game that Smith would've loved. Although, he wouldn't have loved the final score, as No. 4 Duke beat No. 15 North Carolina 92-90 in overtime.
10. Hasta La Vista, J.J.
Date: March 4, 2006
Venue: Cameron Indoor
Result: No. 13 UNC over No. 1 Duke 83-76
Led by a three-point launching senior by the name of J.J. Redick, Duke won 27 of its first 28 games, spending almost the entire 2005-06 season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. By the time the Blue Devils welcomed the 13th-ranked Tar Heels into Durham to close out the regular season, two things seemed like foregone conclusions: Duke was going to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament's Atlanta regional and Redick was going to finish ahead of Gonzaga's Adam Morrison for any and all NPOY honors.
As a result, that first Saturday in March 2006 was supposed to be something of a going-away party for Redick; one final night in which he would rain triples on the Tar Heels as Duke asserted its dominance over the ACC.
Instead, it turned into more of a welcoming party for UNC freshman Tyler Hansbrough.
While Redick couldn't buy a bucket (5-of-21 from the field), Hansbrough racked up 27 points and 10 rebounds, even making one of just 12 three-pointers in his four-year career with the Tar Heels. And North Carolina knocked off No. 1 Duke in the first of what would be four consecutive road victories by the Tar Heels in this rivalry.
9. The Double Buzzer-Beater
Date: Feb. 8, 2020
Venue: Dean Dome
Result: No. 7 Duke over unranked UNC 98-96 (OT)
Truth be told, I completely forgot that this game happened. When the pandemic wiped out the 2020 NCAA tournament, it took most of the good memories from that season right along with it. But as I combed back through the history of this rivalry, here was this extremely vivid example of how the records simply don't matter when Duke and UNC square off.
"Unranked" doesn't even begin to describe North Carolina's status in early February 2020. The Tar Heels entered this game at 10-12 overall and had already suffered five rather embarrassing losses. As far as KenPom was concerned, this wasn't No. 7 vs. unranked. It was No. 2 vs. No. 98.
And yet, No. 2 needed multiple late miracles to escape with a victory.
Duke trailed 84-81 with 4.4 seconds remaining in regulation when Tre Jones went to the free-throw line for two shots. He hit the first one before intentionally slamming the second one off the rim and getting his own rebound outside the three-point line. He then stepped inside the arc for a contested long-range two-pointer that sent the game to overtime.
In the extra session, it was once again Jones at the free-throw line at the end. Duke trailed 96-95 with 6.6 seconds to go. Jones hit the first and missed the second, but Duke got the rebound back once again. Jones attempted a game-winner from almost the exact same spot where he tied the game at the end of regulation but threw up an air ball this time. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, Wendell Moore Jr. was right there for a game-winning putback at the buzzer.
8. Welcome to the Dadgum Rivalry
Date: Feb. 5, 2004
Venue: Dean Dome
Result: No. 1 Duke over No. 17 UNC 83-81 (OT)
The turn of the century was a bit of a dark time for North Carolina, especially once Matt Doherty replaced Bill Guthridge as head coach. From January 1999 through February 2005, Coach K owned this series, going 15-2 overall.
But from the moment Roy Williams arrived in April 2003, it was clear it would only be a matter of time before this rivalry became awesome once more.
Lo and behold, the first Krzyzewski-Williams showdown was an instant classic.
The top-ranked Blue Devils led by five at halftime but trailed 69-62 with less than six minutes remaining before going on a 10-0 run to reclaim the lead with barely a minute to go. UNC's Jawad Williams hit a game-tying three-pointer that Daniel Ewing was unable to answer.
It was a similar situation in overtime with Rashad McCants draining a game-tying triple with less than 20 seconds remaining, but this time Duke was able to push back ahead on a Chris Duhon layup. There was still enough time left on the clock for Melvin Scott to get a good look at a do-or-die three-pointer, but it wasn't meant to be.
Williams won 18 of the 40 meetings with Coach K while the head coach at North Carolina, but he wasn't quite able to get that first one.
7. A Rivalry Renewed
Date: March 10, 1984
Venue: Greensboro Coliseum
Result: No. 16 Duke over No. 1 UNC 77-75 (ACC semifinal)
From March 1972 through March 1984, Duke-UNC was less of a rivalry and more of a one-sided beatdown. There was a 36-game stretch in which North Carolina went 29-7, more often than not in a game where UNC was ranked in the AP Top 10 and Duke wasn't ranked at all. And, as previously noted, Coach K won just one of his first nine games against the Tar Heels.
But this is where the rivalry rebecame what it has been for nearly four decades.
This meeting in the semifinals of the 1984 ACC tournament came just six days after No. 1 UNC defeated No. 15 Duke in double overtime and less than two months after unranked Duke lost by just five points to the top-ranked Tar Heels. The Blue Devils had been close to breaking through that glass ceiling, and it was in Greensboro that it finally happened.
It was a young Duke team led by freshman point guard Tommy Amaker and sophomore combo guard Johnny Dawkins. All four of the Blue Devils' leading scorers were sophomores. And those young guns managed to knock off a North Carolina team anchored by seniors Sam Perkins and Matt Doherty, as well as a junior by the name of Michael Jordan.
6. The Bloody Montross Game
Date: Feb. 5, 1992
Venue: Dean Dome
Result: No. 9 UNC over No. 1 Duke 75-73
Fans of Duke and North Carolina talk about bleeding a certain shade of blue, but it was just regular ol' red blood streaming down Eric Montross' head in one of the most iconic moments in this rivalry's history.
For starters, this game came when Duke was at arguably its highest peak. The Blue Devils had gone to the Final Four in each of the previous four seasons, including winning it all in 1991. Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Christian Laettner were all there for a team hoping to become the first undefeated national champion in 15 years. Duke entered this game as the unanimous No. 1 team with a 17-0 record.
Montross, UNC's big man, took a hard hit to the back of the head midway through the first half which necessitated stitches, but that patch job wasn't enough to keep the blood at bay. Even in the closing seconds of a nailbiter, Montross was still periodically bleeding from a cut under his left eye.
It was symbolic of a team giving everything it had to put an end to its archrival's 23-game winning streak. (It wasn't 23 straight in the rivalry, but Duke had won 23 straight dating back to the previous season.)
North Carolina led 73-67 late in the game, but Duke answered with a 6-0 run to tie it up with under a minute to go. Derrick Phelps hit a pair of free throws to put the Tar Heels back ahead by two, leading to a frantic closing sequence in which Laettner missed a pair of game-tying attempts and the Tar Heels pulled off the upset.
Duke went on to win the national championship with a 34-2 record. And then the teams swapped roles the following year with Duke winning the February matchup before North Carolina won it all two months later.
5. Retirement Party Crashers
Date: March 5, 2022
Venue: Cameron Indoor
Result: Unranked UNC over No. 4 Duke 94-81
Nearly 100 former Blue Devils were in attendance and the secondary ticket market was completely out of control for the final home game of Mike Krzyzewski's career. Everyone wanted to be there for what was supposed to be a triumphant regular-season finale.
After all, Duke won at North Carolina by a 20-point margin one month prior to this game, and this was a potential NCAA tournament No. 1 seed hosting a team teetering on the bubble. Throw in the fact that dozens of former Dukies were surrounding the court like some kind of WWE Lumberjack match, and a win for the visiting team seemed unlikely at best.
And yet, the Tar Heels walked right into the belly of the beast and stomped a mudhole in Coach K's retirement cake.
The final margin doesn't do justice to how good this game was for the first 35 minutes. UNC came out relatively hot and opened up a 28-23 lead, but a 14-0 Duke run felt like a "restoring order" type of sequence. The underdogs had their fun, but it was time for the joyous sendoff to begin in earnest.
The Tar Heels didn't play nice, though, hanging around within striking distance until closing the game on a 38-20 run.
For three weeks, we thought that was the final chapter of this rivalry with Krzyzewski on the sideline. Turns out the NCAA tournament had other plans.
4. The Austin Rivers Shot
Date: Feb. 8, 2012
Venue: Dean Dome
Result: No. 10 Duke over No. 5 UNC 85-84
It wasn't quite the "Miracle Minute" that Duke had at Maryland in 2001, but Duke's wild comeback in the final two-plus minutes at North Carolina in 2012 was easily one of the most memorable sequences in this decades-long rivalry.
Duke trailed 82-72 when Tyler Thornton started the rally with a bit of an unexpected three-point bucket—the sophomore's only points of the night. Moments later, Mason Plumlee got a steal that led to a deep three-pointer by Seth Curry—on which he 100 percent traveled, but it wasn't called. That was followed by Ryan Kelly drawing a charge. And in the blink of an eye, Duke had trimmed a 10-point lead down to four and had the ball. After Kelly made it 82-80 with a baseline jumper, Tyler Zeller missed one of two free-throw attempts.
And that's when things really got bonkers.
With 15 seconds to go, Kelly launched a game-tying three-point attempt that missed so badly that Zeller accidentally tipped it into his own basket in a moment on par with Jose Canseco letting a fly ball bounce off his head and over the wall for a home run. For some reason, it only counted for two points, but Zeller again went 1-of-2 from the charity stripe to make it an 84-82 game.
And then in one final moment that Zeller would love to forget, he got switched onto Austin Rivers, who drained his sixth three-pointer of the night right in Zeller's eye hole at the buzzer, capping off a 13-2 run over the game's final 130 seconds.
North Carolina would have its revenge in an 88-70 shellacking at Cameron Indoor less than a month later, and that was the year that No. 2 seed Duke lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to C.J. McCollum and Lehigh. Still, we'll remember that Rivers shot for many years to come.
3. Win No. 500
Date: Feb. 28, 1998
Venue: Cameron Indoor
Result: No. 1 Duke over No. 3 UNC 77-75
This one had a little bit of everything.
It was No. 1 vs. No. 3.
Coach K was going for the 500th win of his career.
A regular-season ACC championship hung in the balance.
North Carolina jumped out to an early 18-4 lead and still held a 64-47 advantage with less than 12 minutes remaining.
That's when prized freshman big man Elton Brand—who had missed nearly two months (15 games) with a broken foot—fueled an epic comeback.
Duke seemingly couldn't miss down the stretch. Brand had several big buckets down low, but everyone got in on the action. William Avery hit a huge triple. Chris Carrawell made the game-tying bucket, and Roshown McLeod got the game-winning deuce to polish off a 30-11 run. Everyone dug in their heels on defense. And somehow, North Carolina missed four consecutive free throws in the closing seconds to seal the victory for the Blue Devils.
Win No. 500 ended up hardly being a drop in the bucket for a man with more than 1,200 victories in his career. But at the time, reaching that milestone against that opponent in that dramatic fashion was something else.
2. Zion's Shoe
Date: Feb. 20, 2019
Venue: Cameron Indoor
Result: No. 8 UNC over No. 1 Duke 88-72
Not since Christian Laettner hit "The Shot" in 1992 has there been a viral moment in college basketball as big as Zion Williamson's shoe breaking.
People were paying thousands of dollars to get into the game to watch Zion take on the Tar Heels in a top-10 clash. Even Barack Obama was there. This game was a must-see event long before the unforgettable moment that happened less than a minute into the first half.
That's when Zion's shoe ruptured, resulting in a relatively minor knee injury (he missed five games) which led to every talking head in existence debating why soon-to-be millionaires should risk injury for no money in college basketball.
There have been some incredible games in this rivalry, but never (prior to the 2022 Final Four) this degree of anticipation for a contest, a shock-and-awe moment in the game and then a weekslong aftermath.
The NIL era of college sports was already well on its way, but you could argue that this moment sped up that process by opening more eyes to both the value of star players and the risk/reward of playing.
What actually happened in the game? North Carolina never trailed and led by as many as 22 points early in the second half en route to an 88-72 victory. But that feels like irrelevant bar trivia compared to the shoe.
1. The Final Four
Date: April 2, 2022
Venue: Caesars Superdome
Result: No. 2 seed Duke vs. No. 8 seed North Carolina in Final Four
Without even knowing the outcome, it's a gimme that this Saturday's game will go down in history as the most memorable Duke-UNC game of all time.
It's the first-ever NCAA tournament meeting between the archrivals, and it just so happens to come during Mike Krzyzewski's final season. Either he and the Blue Devils get the win and he'll get a shot at a sixth national championship, or the underdog Tar Heels are going to get to hold "Beat you in the Final Four and ended Coach K's career" as a trump card of sorts for decades to come.
It's a massive game.
But credit to both coaches for trying to downplay it.
"The ability to ignore noise is a big thing, and I try to do that," Coach K said in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
That came barely an hour after UNC head coach Hubert Davis said, "We've had to block out the noise all season long." And Krzyzewski's comment came about an hour before Tar Heels center Armando Bacot said, "None of the noise is on us. No one is talking about us, so we're fine with that."
Try as they might, no number or strength of noise-canceling headphones will be able to block this story out.
Davis was playing for the Tar Heels the last time this game almost happened. Both Duke and UNC made it to the 1991 Final Four, but the Tar Heels lost to Kansas before Duke knocked off both UNLV and the Jayhawks for the first national championship in program history.
Now that the matchup has finally come to fruition, how big is it?
Bacot summed it up best:
"I think it'll definitely be one of the biggest college games of all time."
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.