A few years ago, I ran into an exasperated writer from a national magazine who'd been dispatched to Tobacco Road to find a fresh story about the Duke-North Carolina game. He exhaled melodramatically and asked me; What hasn't already been written about the greatest rivalry in college basketball for the last 30 years?
This week I've felt his pain. Heck, I must've brainstormed for a solid 11 minutes on this one. I thought about speaking to a married couple I know, one of whom works in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the other in the Smith Center. Yawn. I pondered driving to a Bojangles' halfway between Duke and UNC to poll local fans over chicken biscuits and tea, which no doubt would have ruined a perfectly good lunch. Naturally, I considered a visit to Krzyzewskiville, but that's been done so often I hear some of the Crazies have hired publicists. I even thought about walking from Cameron to the Dean Dome just to prove how close these two archrivals really are. (OK, I didn't think about that one for very long.)
Then it hit me.
...The greatest rivalry in college basketball for the last 30 years...
How spoiled am I? How spoiled are we? We're talking Paris Hilton-spoiled. We're talking The Bachelor doesn't have it this good. For once, we get to know how it feels to be among the top one-percenters.
For me (and I suspect many of you willing to admit it), today is like a second Christmas. I already know what I'm getting and it's exactly what I wanted. One word: Dukarolina.
So I am telling my editor right here publicly. Do not pay me for this column. Or anything else that I write about tonight's game. It's on me.
Think about it, folks. Seriously, slow down and admire what's in these next three paragraphs.
We get to watch Mike Krzyzewski, the game's winningest coach match Xs and Os with Roy Williams, the active coach with the sport's highest winning percentage. A Duke program with four NCAA championships against UNC's with five, including two of the last three and four of the last 11 national titles between them. UNC has participated in 18 Final Fours, tied for the most with UCLA. Duke is next with 15. Either Duke or UNC has been in five of the last eight Final Fours and 22 of the last 31, including both teams in 1991. UNC and Kentucky are tied with the most NCAA tournament victories with 105. Duke is stalking them with 96.
The Blue Devils have won 30 or more games in nine of the last 14 seasons. The Tar Heels have four 30-win seasons among their last eight. Duke has been ranked No. 1 in the country in 91 weeks since 1990, more than any other program. UNC is second on the list. Duke has been ranked No. 1 in 15 different seasons under Krzyzewski. That's three more than UCLA's John Wooden. Roy Williams is next at 11. Followed by Dean Smith at 10. Krzyzewski's remarkable 209 games coached as the nation's No. 1 team ranks second only to Wooden. Smith isn't far behind them.
Duke and UNC have each produced 11 National Players of the Year. Duke has produced 16 NBA lottery picks, the most from any school. UNC has produced 15. Duke has the most alums currently in the NBA at 15. UNC has 12. There are four active college basketball coaches already enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and half of them will be prowling the same sideline this evening in Chapel Hill.
We are not worthy.
How competitive is this matchup? Over their last 86 meetings dating back to 1977, the two teams are separated by a total of one point. Williams is 8-9 against Duke while at UNC. Krzyzewski is 36-36 against UNC as Duke's coach. Tonight they will face each other with both teams ranked in the Top 10 for the sixth time in their last 10 meetings. Then consider that when the Blue Devils board their team bus this evening in Durham, Mason Plumlee can punch Freebird on his iPod and if the bus hits the traffic lights on 15-501 just right, he'll be walking into the Dean Dome before the song ends. C'mon. That is like having the Yankees and Red Sox competing in the same little league. The Celtics and Lakers playing winners in the driveway. Ali and Frazier sleeping in bunk beds.
Halcyon days aren't supposed to last for three decades, so we all need to face the unsettling possibility that Dukarolina will not last forever. We've seen both programs crumble when their iconic coaches stepped away and both Krzyzewski and Williams are looking back at 60. So please take a moment to truly appreciate what we have. Tonight we get to witness the best rivalry in the sport and then we actually get to do it all again in just 24 days. How spoiled are we?
Who else gets three Christmases?