With Syracuse off to one of the hottest starts in program history and sporting a record Carrier Dome crowd versus Duke, the whispers regarding new rivalries in the ACC grew louder than ever. The Orange were bringing the second winningest coach in college basketball leading a blue-blooded program accustomed to postseason success, and therefore expectations have remained high. Syracuse had hyped the game against Duke for some time, littering the entire town with ‘Beat Duke’ signs and creating orange shirts with the same logo, even getting the Vice President to don one. So much emphasis was placed on this singular match-up and Syracuse’s desire for a new “natural” rival that 75 years of insurmountable ACC history got temporarily swept under the rug.
Arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports, Carolina versus Duke holds a special place in college basketball lore. While they may not always be on even footing or both in the Top 25, they always get after it and manage to consistently pull together wild finishes for fans in attendance. While Syracuse is a great team and program, and Jim Boeheim and Coach K are great friends, the history just isn’t there between the two East Coast teams. The Tobacco Road rivalry has brewed for over eight decades, since their first encounter in January of 1920, and has accumulated amazing finishes, chippy brawls and tense instances, iconic moments, and tremendous players that are embedded in multiple generations’ memories of college basketball. And while Duke and UNC fans may abhor each other, they still recognize that they are meant for each other, and it is in both of their interests for the two teams to remain relevant and successful.
While Syracuse and Duke shared one instant classic in upstate New York, the magic that has transpired in Durham and Chapel Hill has a certain sizzle to it, not so easily replicated. While North Carolina has had somewhat of a down year this season — at least in terms of their standards — marred with off-the-court issues and the loss of a star player, they have come on as of late, winning five in a row. Duke has maintained a Top 25 ranking this entire season but snapped one impressive streak of top 10 placement in the polls, after dropping games to Notre Dame and Clemson. There are a lot of intriguing matchups in the first game between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils, starting at point guard with Marcus Paige and what is increasingly becoming Rasheed Sulaimon, both large and lanky guards. The forwards are where most of the real stars come out, Duke with Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, and Amile Jefferson while UNC counters with James McAdoo, Brice Johnson, and J.P. Tokoto. A lot of elite athletes and future professionals will be butting heads under the spotlight tonight in Chapel Hill and college basketball as a whole will be better for it.