Rivals Duke and North Carolina face off in the Final Four | News, Sports, Jobs

NEW ORLEANS — The Name “Tobacco Road” misses the point. The biggest industry in the 11-mile stretch of real estate between North Carolina’s two hoop cathedrals, the Smith Center in Chapel Hill and Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, is basketball.

For decades, a win or loss in any given game between Duke and North Carolina has had the power to shape the week, month or year ahead for the thousands of fans who wear different shades of blue and bring two different colors. worldviews to one of sport’s most intense rivalries.

Saturday will be the 258th and most titanic of encounters – Blue Devils versus Tar Heels in the Final Four, the first time it has ever happened. That this is happening in the 46th and final year of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s record-breaking career, and that North Carolina could officially end that career, only adds to the tension.

“There are parts of both fan bases that are afraid to see this game for fear of losing it,” said Wes Durham, the longtime play-by-play announcer who also hosts an ACC-themed sports talk show. “There are others who just say, ‘This is the biggest step this rivalry has had, but that doesn’t automatically mean whoever wins has leverage over the loser forever. Only time will tell.

Coaches and players are doing their best to play that straight line. A domestic semi-final played on the Superdome floor is a pretty massive moment in itself. Any opponent in such a high-stakes encounter is, by definition, an opponent demanding a team’s full attention.

“It would still matter if it was North Carolina,” said Krzyzewski. “It’s the most important because if you win, you have a chance to play for the national championship. And that should be your goal.

The messaging is completely valid. Listening to the “outside noise” – or, as Carolina coach Hubert Davis calls it “phone, family, friends and fans” – will not help either team prepare for this meeting.

Yet there are things that simply cannot be avoided. Namely, the idea, embedded in Tobacco Road’s DNA and geography, that these teams and schools don’t really like each other.

The rivalry shares characteristics with others like it in the college landscape. One that comes to mind is the Auburn-Alabama football showdown, an annual game that establishes or resets statewide bragging rights for the next 365 days, and often has implications for the conference and the national title.

Durham said he heard Auburn-Alabama described as “a football match that determines a culture war.”

But where those schools are 150 miles apart and those teams play once a year, Carolina and Duke are immediate neighbors.

“They both need each other” said Durham. “The reason it’s great is because both are so successful.”

For North Carolina, this marks a record 21st trip to the Final Four. For Coach K, it’s a record 13th trip to college basketball’s biggest stage, breaking a tie with UCLA legend John Wooden for most appearances by a coach.

Hard to tear down either program. That doesn’t mean they don’t try.

“They hit each other” said Durham, whose father, Woody, was the radio voice of the Tar Heels for four decades. “My dad used to say, ‘He’s a Duke guy. That’s about the crudest term he could use.

A “Duke man,” by the most general definition of a North Carolina fan, it’s usually someone who’s not from there. An elitist. Maybe a lawyer on hold. Someone who looks down on people. He is, simply put, someone who loves Christian Laettner or JJ Reddick or Coach K.

North Carolina, meanwhile, is the nation’s fifth-largest public institution according to US News and World Report — a world-class university if there ever was one. But it’s the state-chartered institution, which is frankly bigger, less exclusive, and easier to get to than Duke. Not even Michael Jordan, James Worthy or the late great coach Dean Smith can change that.

“People in North Carolina and UNC fans across the country have an inferiority complex,” Duke’s 2006 lottery pick Reddick said on a recent episode of ESPN’s “First Take.”

Reddick walked back the joke the next day, saying it was all fun.

Ultimately, they’re two great schools with two great basketball programs, each with the power to make the other’s life that much less enjoyable at any time. And it’s a very special moment.

The teams meet exactly four weeks after North Carolina entered Cameron Indoor Stadium and defeated Duke in Coach K’s final home game. It was meant to be a celebration of a life as a coach. . Instead, a lasting memory of the day was Krzyzewski taking the mic after the 94-81 loss, apologizing and calling out the whole performance “unacceptable.”

There are those who had argued that this meeting – meeting No 257 – was the most important game the teams have played in a rivalry that dates back to 1920.

Now comes Game 258. Yes, there will always be next year. But given the stakes, the setting, and the people and story involved, there will be no such thing.

“If you’re Caroline and you won Coach K’s last game in Cameron and then you won the game to end his career,” Durham said, “I could see how it might linger a bit.”


North Carolina leads the series 142-115. Since Coach K arrived at Duke in 1980, the Blue Devils are 50-47.


North Carolina is the sixth No. 8 seed to advance to the Final Four. Only one has won it all: Rollie Massimino’s 1985 Villanova team.

Duke is a No. 2 seed in the tournament for the 13th time. In 1991, Krzyzewski won his first national title as the 2nd seed. The other four all came with the top-seeded Blue Devils.


Duke’s Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin and Mark Williams will almost certainly be in the NBA next year. North Carolina’s top prospects are Caleb Love and Armando Bacot, although both are currently considered second-round prospects for the NBA Draft if they choose to participate.

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