It always delivers. Well, until it doesn’t.
The one time I covered a UNC-Duke men’s basketball game was coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final trip to Chapel Hill in 2022. The Daily Tar Heel's then-sports editor PJ Morales invited me (I'm pretty sure it was just because press row had an extra seat) and I was ecstatic beyond belief. Who wouldn’t be?
But I watched, dumbfounded, as AJ Griffin dropped 27 points in the Blue Devils’ 87-67 win — Krzyzewski’s second-largest victory in the Dean E. Smith Center. For college hoops’ greatest rivalry that supposedly “always delivered," it was underwhelming to say the least.
And while the next two months’ events — UNC spoiling Krzyzewski’s Cameron Indoor Stadium curtain call and the once-in-a-lifetime Final Four meeting — practically shooed that blowout into insignificance, I still haven’t forgotten.
Which is why, as The DTH newsroom works around the clock for its annual rivalry edition, I can’t help but notice why this matchup just feels different from recent years. Let’s start with the obvious reason.
Is it crazy to say that UNC and Duke are finally both good again?
Think back to five years ago — the last time both blue bloods were ranked heading into this matchup. There were five future NBA lottery picks between the two squads — North Carolina’s Coby White and Cameron Johnson, along with Duke’s Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. Round it out with another All-American in UNC’s Luke Maye, and you’ve got yourself a top-8 showdown.
Both teams went on to earn No. 1 seeds in the 2019 NCAA tournament. But since then?
North Carolina’s 14-19 record in 2020 was the only losing season of coach Roy Williams’ 33-year career. Duke followed it up in 2021 with its worst finish in over 25 years, going 13-11.