The best rivalry in sports is reaching its pinnacle tonight. Hubert Davis has done the unthinkable and led the UNC Tar Heels to the Final Four to face off against Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils. This rivalry started with Krzyzewski in 1980 and could be reaching a storybook ending point.
While both schools’ basketball programs have been around for more than 41 years, there wasn’t the rivalry we know today until Coach K arrived in Durham. Prior to 1980, UNC and NC State were the primary basketball schools in North Carolina, but after NC State was hit with sanctions in 1989 for recruiting violations, Duke emerged as a worthy adversary for the mighty Tar Heels. The friction between Duke and Carolina built in the 80s while Coach K was starting to develop the best basketball program in the country. By the 90s, both Duke and their rivalry with Carolina had reached full form, with the two teams combining for 10 Final Four appearances.
There are plenty of great rivalries in sports, but this one is the best. What makes the UNC-Duke rivalry unique is the dichotomy of the schools and that no matter how bad or good the teams are, when they play, it’s guaranteed to be one of the best college basketball games of the year.
The Biggest Game in College Basketball History
Tonight is a night Duke, and UNC fans alike have been scared of for years. Under normal circumstances, tonight’s game would be for the ultimate bragging rights. No other year, game, or number of titles would matter for the school that won the Final Four matchup. However, tonight’s game means so much more; there aren’t enough metaphors or hyperboles to explain how big this game is. Duke has so much at stake; should they lose, it could be the end of the rivalry.
Being an eight seed and Hubert Davis’s first year, UNC has nothing to lose and everything to gain tonight. There were worries about the program with Roy Williams leaving, and while Davis is playing with Williams’ recruits, he has done a beautiful job navigating his team through this tournament. The future looks bright for Tar Heels basketball, but if Davis pulls off this second win against Coach K this year, it will be his crowning achievement. He could go on to win ten straight national titles, and that still wouldn’t top winning tonight’s game. The idea of Carolina ending Coach K’s career in the Final Four will be an unmatchable sports rivalry moment. Duke could go on to win every game against UNC for the rest of eternity, and it wouldn’t matter if UNC wins tonight.
To say tonight is a must-win for Duke would be the ultimate understatement. Coach K losing on Monday would be highly disappointing, but losing tonight to UNC would be something they might not ever recover from. There are still plenty of National Titles to come for Duke, but a loss tonight to UNC would be the sexual assault charge on a valedictorian’s resume. A black spot that never goes away.
Keeping all of that in mind, it’s Duke’s night to dance. The fate of the best rivalry in sports depends on a Duke victory.