With 11 national championships between the North Carolina and Duke men’s basketball teams, it takes a bit of digging to find instances when the two teams were struggling at the same time.
But, when both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are unranked — as they both are heading into their Feb. 6 matchup — this discovery is necessary.
Here's a look at a few instances when these two blue blood programs momentarily fell off the map before they each returned to prominence.
Although the presence of the rivalry has always been strong in the Triangle area, perhaps there was once a time when the contest didn't have as much national notoriety. Such an era may seem archaic, especially considering neither Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams manned their respective sidelines that long ago.
This was the case in 1960, though, when after a few years of success from both sides, the teams entered their third bout of the season unranked, the last time they've both been absent from the rankings when they faced each other.
After two resounding victories over the Blue Devils earlier in the year, the Tar Heels traveled to Durham on Feb. 27 and dominated immediately, jumping out to a 35-15 halftime lead. Led by a 26-point performance from Lee Shaffer, the team coasted the rest of the way, en route to another convincing 75-50 win.
Despite UNC’s regular season dominance, Duke would win the rubber match of the series in the ACC Tournament just six days later, when the Blue Devils prevailed, 71-69.
At the end of the season, Duke finished No. 18 in the AP poll, while UNC remained unranked.
A lineup composed of Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Brad Daugherty doesn’t exactly conjure up a spell of mediocrity, but at least in the early stages of the 1982-83 season, the Tar Heels looked like they were trending in that direction.
Fresh off a national championship run the year prior, preseason No. 3 UNC stumbled out of the gate, losing to St. John’s and Missouri to open the new season. The defending champs were 3-3 through their first six games.
Over in Durham, Krzyzewski was still in the early stages of building a perennial contender. Although his predecessor, Bill Foster, led the program to the NCAA Tournament in three straight years, Krzyzewski's first two teams missed the Big Dance and the Blue Devils sat at 3-4 in mid-December.
In the Dec. 21 and Dec. 28 AP polls, neither UNC or Duke were ranked in a feat that hadn’t been repeated until this season.
Frustrated by its recent struggles, UNC rattled off nine consecutive victories to jump back to its original No. 3 ranking by Jan. 18. When the Blue Devils came into Carmichael Arena four days later, Jordan erupted for a then-career-high 32 points to lead the Tar Heels to a convincing 103-82 victory.
After leading the Tar Heels to a Final Four appearance in 1995, the All-ACC tandem of Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace declared for the NBA draft, leaving the team looking to incoming first-years Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison.
Although the team raced out to a surprising 9-1 start, the Tar Heels would cool off the rest of the way, compiling a 10-8 record over the next 18 games. This locked them into a respectable, yet unremarkable No. 19 ranking before the final game of the regular season, a date with the Blue Devils.
Following a difficult 13-18 season in 1995, Duke partially bounced back a year later, but still did not look like the championship contender fans were accustomed to watching. When the Blue Devils geared up to host the Tar Heels on March 3, they were unranked and had mustered an 8-8 ACC record.
Led by guards Shammond Williams and Jeff McInnis, who finished with 26 and 25 points, respectively, the Tar Heels were able to hold on for an 84-78 win in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Although both teams have so far had seasons below their high standards, there's still reason to get excited about this year’s opening bout. Each roster is flooded with young talent, which should allow the players to gain experience that could help them thrive for years to come.
If the previous blueprint is any indication, this Feb. 6 contest could be the opening chapter of a thrilling story that awaits in the coming years.