“There’s no greater rivalry in college sports than Duke and North Carolina.” Dick Vitale said that many years ago and I totally agree with him. I can honestly think of dozens of times that they’ve played and I felt that way. One of them is always in the national championship hunt, and more than half of the time both are. And nine times out of ten you truly don’t know who will win. But not tomorrow night.
Before I get to why I give North Carolina no chance, I want to reinforce a few more things about this rivalry. If you’re standing inside the Smith Center, here’s how you get to Cameron Indoor Stadium: walk outside and turn right on Manning Drive. Take a left on Hwy 15-501 North. Take a right on Cornwalis Rd. Take a left on Science Drive. Take a right on Whitford Drive. Pull up to Cameron Indoor Stadium and get out. Those directions alone already give the rivalry an incredible advantage over all others. No other rivals can compete with that kind of proximity.
Battleground Map: Who Wins The UNC-Duke Rivalry Game?
I’ve been to more than 20 Duke-North Carolina games, but my very first is still the best. One of my best friends, David Perry, was a student at Duke in 1998. Somehow he managed to get me a student ticket for Duke’s against the Tar Heels on Senior Day. I sat and watched Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison blow a 19 point lead with 9 minutes to go against Wojo and Co during their final game in Cameron. Duke won 77-75 and the emotion in that building was like nothing I have ever seen.
My second favorite happened seven years later, and is the best example of why the Dean Dome is not a “wine and cheese crowd.” Duke had a 9 point lead with just over 2 minutes remaining in the game, but Sean May had the game of his life to lead the comeback. May ended the game with 26 points and 24 rebounds, but it was Marvin Williams’ putback that everyone will remember. In fact, the late great Chapel Hill writer, Eddy Landreth, said this as we were walking into the media room: “I’ve been to every important game in this building and that was by far the loudest.”
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Again, stories like that are why this game can’t be touched in college sports. Unfortunately, I do not anticipate tomorrow night being another example. This Tar Heel team doesn’t know how to handle adversity on the road, they struggle to guard the perimeter, and look totally lost in their halfcourt offense. Most importantly, they don’t seem to be an extension of their head coach. Unless Duke misses a lot of open looks, and the Heels have their best outside shooting performance of the season, I expect it to be one of the few mismatches we’ve seen in recent memory.
But this rivalry can witshtand a few of those, as there’s sure to be more games like “Wojo Senior Day,” “Bloody Montross,” “The Punch,” “Doherty vs Buckner,” “Doherty vs Dawkins,” “Marvin’s Putback,” and “Rivers at the buzzer.” I could go on and on and on. Dick Vitale is right.