The 2011 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament gave another fine performance Sunday, with one of the most storied—and fierce—rivalries in all of collegiate basketball (Duke vs. UNC) at the forefront of the competition.
Duke put a clamp on North Carolina sharp shooter Harrison Barnes in a 75-58 defeat, setting the stage for the upcoming 2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament.
“The Battle for Tobacco Road” is fervently synonymous with college basketball this time of year, and as usual, both teams will enter this year’s tourney as top seeds: No.1 in the West (Duke) No. 2 in the East (North Carolina).
But the rivalry goes deeper than just the ACC Tournament.
The Blue Devils enter as the number No. 1 seed for their second straight season in a row and 12th all-time—all 12 times coming under the tutelage of head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Since 1998 Duke has been a No. 1 seed 10 times with a 43-8 record as a No. 1 seed (94-30 in 34 years).
The Tarheels of North Carolina were Final Four competitors in 2008 and 2009, with a memorable defeat over Michigan (89-72) in 2009. But even though North Carolina was eligible in 2010, the team never made the field.
Despite the 2010 heartbreak, the Tarheels are second overall in tourney wins (102), fourth in total NCAA Championships won (5…one more than Duke), and currently hold an all-time series 131-101 record over Duke.
The two teams have never met as the Championship finalists, but did meet in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals where UNC won 73-67, on their way to a NIT crown.
So here we are: Duke on one side of the fence, and North Carolina on the other.
But this shouldn’t come as a surprise even to those of you unfamiliar with March Madness. These two teams have always been ranked among the best when they meet up this time of year, and both teams are indelible marks on the NCAA Tournament:
- At least one of these schools have been ranked in the AP Top 20 or AP Top 25 over the last 128 meetings.
- North Carolina has been ranked in the AP poll in 105 of the last 129 matchups. Duke was ranked in 84 of those 129 match-ups.
- Duke and North Carolina have met 69 times when both teams were ranked in the Top 25, with the series record at 35-34 for North Carolina.
And you thought it was just basketball!
But it’s this fierce rivalry that sets the stage for all tourney play, in fact, one could even speculate it’s what fuels some of the more famed upstart teams to rise above even their own expectations, such as that storied 2009 Michigan State team that North Carolina beat.
For the fans, it’s this type of hoopla; this type of true grind-in-the-teeth; this type of bitter antagonism that propels this competition beyond the shackles of basic sports and sports broadcasting.
The ebb and flow of this tournament posses more energy than even the best pro game could EVER offer.
The major lifts of each game are powerful enough to smack the drunk out of every fan and redefine sobriety, while the crushing blow of defeat is a powerful reminder of how painful it is to fall from the ladder.
If that’s not enough the game’s life-force assumes a new identity inside the host of every broadcaster about to have a heart attack, as the final shot is lifted into the air—racing against that last ominous second on the clock that has every player, fan and mascot holding their hopeful breaths for the sweet taste of victory.
No, this isn’t basketball.
This is a competition that rivals the war between heaven and hell, and a rivalry that makes the Yankees-Red Sox look like best friends.
This year’s tournament will be no different, with the stage being built on the foundation of the two “grandfathers” of this competition.
The New Year even offers the possibility a final showdown between these two storied schools which would be a first of its kind.
The stage is set with Duke and North Carolina anchoring each end…what more could you want from college ball?