Duke-UNC: Can the Devils Break the Season Finale Streak in Chapel Hill?Posted by KCarpenter on March 8th, 2013
It doesn’t matter that Miami has already clinched the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament and that Duke is already locked into the #2 seed. It doesn’t matter that the Tar Heels have already clinched a first round conference tournament bye and a likely mid-line entry into the big one. Sure, Duke could improve its shot at a top seed for the big one and clinch a share of the regular season conference title (if Miami loses). Sure, North Carolina could try to boost its stock for the selection committee. It’s Duke vs. North Carolina at the end of the season, and the value of resumes and seeding is a paltry concern next to the best rivalry in sports. When these teams play, external concerns go out the window: It’s the rivalry and that’s it. This time, when the two teams match up, there’s nothing on the line but pride in the jerseys, but that’s more than enough.
Duke won the previous match-up in Cameron Indoor, although the final gap between the two teams was closer than most anticipated. Duke has spent most of the season hovering around the top five teams in the country while North Carolina hasn’t been ranked in 2013. Yet when the buzzer sounded, the five-point win felt more like relief than a colossal triumph for a Duke team that was still trying to find its way during Ryan Kelly’s injury. Now that Kelly is back in action, there is no mistaking the disparity between the two teams: The Blue Devils are fielding the superior team by a clear margin.
When the Vegas bookmakers open up, the betting lines will likely indicate the Devils as a mild favorite. Even the wonders of home court and a rejuvenated Tar Heels team that has embraced a smaller lineup and won every game since their trip to Durham probably won’t be enough to make up for the demonstrated talent and skill gap between these two teams. In short, this game will be close, but you don’t need me to tell you that Duke vs. North Carolina is going to be a tightly contested game.
Without diving into the whole storied history of the rivalry, recent context is at least worth some consideration. Since Roy Williams returned to Chapel Hill, there has been an astounding amount of parity between these two teams. In five out of the nine years of Roy vs. K, the two teams have split their annual series. Each has swept the series twice, with Duke sweeping in Williams’ first year and during the 2010 championship season, with North Carolina sweeping in 2007 during the gap between J.J. Redick and Kyle Singler and during their 2009 championship season. It’s been a remarkably even competition, yet if there is a trend, it’s a slowly tilting balance.
Even if the results have remained relatively even, the psychological edge seemed to tilt from slight Duke superiority to a more dominant North Carolina and a tilt towards Duke again. This year, with the weakened Tar Heels facing the very capable Blue Devils, the time seems primed for a toppling of the balance. Yet, it’s looked that way before and the balance has remained stable. For whatever reason, this final match-up of the regular season has proven very difficult for Duke. In the past nine seasons Duke has only won the final game of the season twice, in 2004 and 2010. In both cases, the final game was played at Cameron Indoor. Somehow, Williams has managed to always win against Duke on Senior Night in Chapel Hill. It’s probably a weird fluke of the relatively small sample size, an interesting coincidence at best. Of course, it could also be part of the strange magic of the best rivalry in sports.