By Adam Lucas
There was a time when a Carolina-Duke meeting seemed to be a regular feature of the ACC Tournament ticket book.
The Tar Heels and Blue Devils met five times in six years from the 1998 through 2003 events. Since then, however, there’s been just one ACC Tournament matchup, a 2011 Duke victory when Dexter Strickland’s dunk-called-charge changed the complexion of the event.
Since then, Carolina has played nine different league opponents in the postseason showcase, including one—Maryland—that’s no longer in the conference. But the Blue Devils haven’t appeared on the opposite side of the bracket…until tonight at 7 p.m. at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which is likely to be a pro-Duke site given the large concentration of Blue Devil supporters in the New York area.
In all, the two teams have met 20 times in the ACC Tournament, with Carolina winning eight of them. Recent history hasn’t been kind, as the Blue Devils have won five straight ACC Tournament meetings.
The most anticipated of those third meetings have usually been the ones in which the two teams split during the regular season. In the modern era of the rivalry—since 1980—that’s happened six times, most recently in 2011:
1989: Carolina won at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but then Duke won at the Smith Center. The Tar Heels took season bragging rights with a classic championship game victory at the Omni in Atlanta, winning 77-74 behind J.R. Reid in a ferociously competitive game. This was the actual highlight montage Raycom showed at the end of that game. The 1980s were different, kids:
Here's some actual game footage:
1992: With Duke on the way to a national title, the Tar Heels sprung the upset at the Smith Center in the bloody Montross game, but then lost at Cameron and in the ACC Tournament title game.
1998: Bill Guthridge’s first team won at the Smith Center, but was upset at Cameron. Antawn Jamison was unstoppable in the championship game in Greensboro, with the Tar Heels winning an 83-68 decision.
2001: Matt Doherty engineered a UNC upset at Cameron, but the Blue Devils were the better team that season and won at Cameron and thumped the Tar Heels in the title game in Atlanta.
2003: This was also the last meeting in the semifinals. Carolina lost at Cameron but won a heated rematch at the Smith Center. Duke dispatched the seventh-seeded Tar Heels, even with an attempted return from the injured Sean May and with the program in a bit of upheaval, in the semis in Greensboro.
2011: The Tar Heels lost at Cameron, but then won on senior day at the Smith Center. Duke won the ACC Tournament with a 75-58 victory at the Greensboro Coliseum.
A somewhat unexpected feature of these third meetings—since 1989, in a three-point game, these trios haven’t been particularly close. The average margin of victory in the past five ACC Tournament meetings is nearly 18 points per game.
Other quirky UNC-Duke numbers you should know in advance of Friday night’s game:
In the ACC era, this is the fourth time the Tar Heels and Blue Devils will have met outside the state of North Carolina. UNC holds a 2-1 edge in those games. The rivals do have one previous New York meeting, a Carolina victory in the 1971 NIT at Madison Square Garden. There was a 1929 game in Atlanta as part of the Southern Conference.
The team with the better AP ranking has won the last five ACC Tournament meetings between the teams.
Five of the last seven times, the team that wins the ACC Tournament matchup has advanced deeper into the NCAA Tournament than the loser.
Seeding makes little difference. The team with the better ACC Tournament seed has lost seven of the last eleven meetings.