The best rivalry in college basketball? Without question, it's Duke vs. North Carolina. When the Blue Devils and Tar Heels meet, it's not only one of the best matchups of this season, but it happens to double as the premier rivalry in the sport. -- this season and every season.
At 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, Duke and North Carolina face each other for the 249th time in what's always one of the most anticipated games of every college basketball season.
Adding to the constant noise surrounding the ACC rivalry is that the Blue Devils earned the No. 1 ranking in Monday's poll updates. North Carolina's holding strong inside the top 10, too, at No. 8 in the AP Top 25 Poll and 9 in the Coaches Poll. So we've got in store a top-10 matchup, featuring the best rivalry in the game, and some of the top talent at this level, too. How's that for a humpday special?
As if anyone needs a reason to watch, the two bluebloods clashing in one of the best venues -- Cameron Indoor Stadium -- should certainly give what little incentive hoops heads likely needed.
Viewing information for No. 8 UNC at No. 1 Duke
When: Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina
TV: ESPN | Live stream: WatchESPN
North Carolina leads the all-time series 137-111, but Duke is surging over the last decade. Since 2009, the Blue Devils have made up significant ground, going 12-6 overall in the regular season. Since Roy Williams took over at UNC, going all the way back to 2003-2004, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is 17-13 head-to-head against his cross-state foe.
Not only are the records close, but so too are the games. Six of the 32 matchups in the series since Williams took over have been decided by two points or fewer -- and Duke is 5-1 in those contests. Even more juicy: The last 11 contests have been decided by 10 points or fewer, highlighted last season by UNC going 2-1 against Duke but recording a -1 scoring margin on the season. If you rewind all the way back to the beginning of the 1949 season, UNC has scored 13,581 points against Duke in the series, and Duke has scored 13,559 points -- a crazy thin 22-point difference over 70 (!) years, according to the NCAA. The odds and history in this series suggest Wednesday should provide a closely contested game!
Hall of Fame coaches
Mike Krzyzewski, Naismith Hall of Fame Class of 2001. Roy Williams, Naismith Hall of Fame Class of 2007. Pillars, icons, legends in the sport. Between the two they have a combined 21 Final Four appearances, Krzyzewski's 12 tying John Wooden all-time, and Williams at third all-time with nine -- his with KU (4) and UNC (5). They also have a combined 1,985 wins, 29 conference championships, and eight national championships. It's not hypberolic at all to consider them among the greatest college coaches in history.
The Blue Devils earned back their No. 1 ranking, where they hadn't been since Week 11, by blowing out NC State on Saturday, and by overcoming a 23 point deficit on the road against Louisville last Tuesday. Their only loss since the calendar turned to 2019 came in an OT battle to Syracuse, and without point guard Tre Jones. They come in to Wednesday having won nine straight and 18 of the last 19 dating back to late-November. At this pace, they're on track to earn the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, where the selection committee slotted them two weeks ago in a midseason look at the top 16 teams. A win over UNC would be icing on the cake for one of the most impressive resumes in the sport.
How UNC defends potential No. 1 pick Zion Williamson will be the story to watch here. Thus far this season, no ones quite been able to slow him; he's averaging 22.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. "Zion's a different bird," Williams said on Monday.
He's right. The freshman from Spartanburg, S.C., flies in his own rarefied air. We'll see if the Tar Heels can assign someone capable of sticking with him for 40 minutes.
After starting the season 6-2 with losses to Texas and Michigan away from the Dean Dome, Williams promptly assigned himself the lion's share of the blame for UNC's slow start. "The job that the head coach is doing with this team -- I've coached for 31 years, and right now my coaching sucks," he said.
Somewhat unironically (and certainly unsurprisingly), that turned out to be no more than a money quote than fact. UNC comes into Wednesday with a 20-5 overall record and winners of eight of the last nine, including demolitions of Louisville, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech along the way.
UNC's rise has coincided with the maturation of true freshman guard Coby White and senior Cam Johnson, the latter logging career highs in points scored, rebounds and steals, and the former scoring 15.7 points and dishing 4.3 assists en route to earning consideration to be taken in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft. Johnson is coming off a season high 27 point showing on Saturday against Wake Forest, and White is having his best month as a Tar Heel. He scored 21 points against NC State on Feb. 5, then turned around and scored 33 (tied for a career-high) four days later.
White's profile -- and that of his counterpart, Tre Jones -- makes for one heckuva matchup. Jones is seen as the best perimeter defender in the ACC by many, and White is seen as one of the most explosive scoring guards in the league. Two elite (and young) guards going mono e mono in a showtime game is going to be must-see television.
Game prediction, pick
Latest line via SportsLine: Duke -8.5
Duke boasts the superior talent pool, along with homecourt advantage. But no chance I'm picking it to cover the jumbo 11-point spread. The Tar Heels will be competitive until the end here with the way Johnson and White have played of late, and this rivalry is always delivering on entertainment value to the end. Expect a close Duke win. Pick: Duke 84, UNC 80