NCAA Tournament: Duke and UNC Are One Game Away From Making History in Coach K’s Final Run

The North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils have one of the most storied rivalries in college basketball history.

But we’ve never gotten a UNC vs. Duke game in the Men’s NCAA Tournament.

Now, not only could we be getting that matchup, it would be coming on the sport’s biggest stage in the Final Four.

And just to add to the madness (March Madness, that is), it would come during Blue Devils’ head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season in charge of his program. In his final tournament. In what would be his final Final Four. In his last chance for a sixth National Championship.

Because if it had to happen, it would have to happen exactly like this, right?

The Tar Heels and Blue Devils are each set to play in the Elite Eight

The possibility of this dream matchup nearly died in the Sweet 16.

Duke hung on to win by just five, 78-73, over Texas Tech on March 24. Via ESPN, the game featured 11 ties and 13 lead changes.

A team made up of mostly freshmen and sophomores convinced Krzyzewski to switch defenses down the stretch, which stagnated the Red Raiders’ offense.

The Blue Devils connected on their final eight shots of the game and scored on 12 of their final 15 possessions.

“What a great group, these kids,” Krzyzewski said of his team per ESPN. “They’ve grown up so much in the last 12 days. It’s such a joy. It’s an amazing thing.”

The Tar Heels almost fell short of the Sweet 16 altogether, blowing a 25-point lead to top-seeded Baylor before winning in overtime.

Then UNC trailed the Bruins at halftime before a final 20 minutes swung like a pendulum, back and forth, as neither team could pull away. But Heels’ sophomore guard Caleb Love scored 30 points — 27 in the second half — as Carolina won by seven to advance.

As the ever-positive Lloyd Christmas said in Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” Yes, Lloyd. Now there is.

UNC vs. Duke is a matchup unseen in the history of the Men’s NCAA Tournament

The UNC Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils could make NCAA Tournament history in Coach K's final season.
A fan of the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils hold a sign referring to the Duke/UNC rivalry. | Lance King/Getty Images

Shockingly, the two teams have never squared off in an NCAA Tournament game in the 100-plus years both programs have existed.

Both made the Final Four in 1991. Duke beat UNLV to advance to the title game, but the Tar Heels were upset, ironically, by future head coach Roy Williams and Kansas.

The Blue Devils beat Williams and the Jayhawks for Coach K’s first national championship.

Per The Sporting News, UNC has 20 Final Four appearances under its belt. Duke has 16.

Carolina has six National Championships. Duke has five.

The Tar Heels have made the NCAA Tournament 52 times. Duke has made it 44 times.

UNC has made 35 Sweet 16s. Duke has made 32.

Both teams have made the Sweet 16 in the same tournament 16 times.

Ten times the two programs could have met in the National Title Game.

And yet, somehow, they’ve never managed to cross paths once. If ever there were a time for it to happen, though, it would, of course, be this season.

It would have to happen this way

Both blue bloods are peaking at the right time.

The Blue Devils are getting massive contributions from point guard Jeremy Roach. The sophomore had an up-and-down season, averaging only 8.8 points and 3.3 assists.

But Roach has posted 12 points and five assists, 15 points and three assists, and 15 points and five assists in Duke’s three tournament games thus far.

Freshman phenom Paolo Banchero has taken a leap during March Madness. Seven-foot sophomore center Mark Williams has become a vital post presence next to Banchero.

Wendell Moore Jr., Trevor Keels, and AJ Griffin are playing their most consistent basketball of the year.

The Heels are in the midst of a similar surge. Carolina won 11 of its final 13 regular-season games, and its only loss since Feb. 16 came in the ACC Tournament against Virginia Tech.

Grad transfer Brady Manek has turned on the jets since the beginning of March, but more importantly, sophomore guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis are taking turns carrying UNC’s offense.

Davis had a 30-point game in the upset of the Bears in the Round of 32, and Love had his 30 in the win over UCLA.

UNC vs. Duke for the first time in NCAA Tournament history, during Coach K’s final season, would be the definition of March Madness.

Everybody cross your fingers.

All statistics courtesy of ESPN.

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