Tar Heels hold recent edge on rival Blue Devils

BY foxsports • November 6, 2009

For years, everything Duke and North Carolina achieved - the conference championships, Final Four trips and national titles - has been connected in a back-and-forth game of one-upmanship. These days the Tar Heels have the upper hand. Since shortly after Roy Williams returned to his alma mater, the Tar Heels have outperformed Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils in the long-running race between college basketball's fiercest rivals. North Carolina has two NCAA championships in the five seasons since Duke last reached the Final Four. The Tar Heels have also dominated the recent series, including four straight wins at the Blue Devils' Cameron Indoor Stadium. Of course both sides say they focus on themselves, but they can't ignore what's going on a short drive down the U.S. 15-501 highway linking Chapel Hill and Durham, either. As North Carolina fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard put it, "There's no question we want to be better than them." "I think both programs have been very good for the other one," Williams said. "We do what we want to do because we think it's best, and Mike does for his program what they want to do because he thinks it's best. But also, I do believe there is something where their success makes us want it a little more and our success perhaps makes them want it a little more." Right now, the Blue Devils are the ones left wanting. North Carolina has won 86 percent of its games in the past five seasons, with two Atlantic Coast Conference titles, three Final Fours, and NCAA titles in 2005 and 2009. The Tar Heels have failed to reach the NCAA's round of eight just once and are coming off a dominating NCAA run that ended with a romp over Michigan State in Detroit. Things are rolling so well that North Carolina is ranked sixth despite losing four-year star Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. The ninth-ranked Blue Devils remain among the nation's elite, yet haven't had the same success as the Tar Heels - or past Duke teams under Krzyzewski, for that matter. They've won 80 percent of their games in that same span, but they haven't advanced past the NCAA round of 16 and have twice been eliminated in the tournament's opening weekend. Last year, Duke won its third ACC championship in five seasons, but lost in the regional semifinals to Villanova by 23 points, its most lopsided NCAA exit since the 103-73 loss to UNLV in the 1990 final. While most programs pray for the Blue Devils' recent success, it just doesn't feel quite, well, Duke-like. Krzyzewski has three NCAA titles in 29 seasons there, though the last of his 10 Final Fours came in 2004 - coincidentally Williams' first season in Chapel Hill. Not to mention North Carolina has won six of the past seven meetings. "As far as our motivation, we don't need North Carolina or Maryland or anybody else to motivate us," Krzyzewski said. "We're motivated by trying to win a championship. "Last year, Carolina had great team ego and great team talent. (When) you get that, that's tough, that's the ultimate. And we've had that here, so I understand how they feel. But it doesn't last forever. And that's why they play each season. They start it over and they don't bring any records along with it." Krzyzewski has been on the other side, too. His program pushed ahead of Dean Smith's Tar Heels in the late 1980s with six Final Fours in seven seasons - including NCAA titles in 1991 and 1992 - and three ACC crowns while the Tar Heels had two ACC titles and one Final Four trip. It's the ebb and flow of the rivalry, said Jay Bilas, an ESPN analyst and a player on Krzyzewski's first Final Four squad in 1986. And neither program can afford to get caught up in comparisons. "The thing in the Duke-Carolina rivalry is it's inescapable," Bilas said. "Whatever team wins, their fans get to crow and celebrate and have a good time, but the players have to get up and go to practice. They've got another game after that. "Neither school has a banner hanging in their gym saying what their record is against the other. They don't hang banners for that stuff." Recruiting explains some of the current gap. Williams has nabbed several players like one-and-done talents Marvin Williams and Brandan Wright, and eventual NBA first-round draft picks Lawson and Ellington, who stayed in school longer than many anticipated. Then there's Hansbrough, who graduated as the ACC's all-time leading scorer and North Carolina's top rebounder. The Blue Devils have also ranked highly with recruits like NBA lottery pick Gerald Henderson and junior Kyle Singler, the preseason ACC player of the year. But they've missed on key names like Kentucky's John Wall and Patrick Patterson, and Georgetown's Greg Monroe that could have provided a boost, while the NBA departures of Luol Deng after one season and preps-to-pros guard Shaun Livingston didn't help, either. "They've had good players in their classes," Dave Telep, national recruiting director for Scout.com, said of Duke. "This is not nearly as much of a conversation if the guys eight miles down the road didn't do some amazing things with their classes. "Duke has hit a couple of solo home runs and North Carolina hit a couple of grand slams. Over the course of time, the runs add up." As for the players there now, they enter this season as co-favorites in the ACC. And what happens this year is what's most important to Duke's Jon Scheyer. "I can only control what I've done since I've been here and obviously they've been more successful," the senior said. "But like I said before, you want to beat them. That's the main thing: to beat them the next year." ---