The rivalry is back.
And it might be better than ever.
A little recent history for you.
Not too long after Mike Krzyzewski had established Duke as a legitimate first-tier program in the late 80s and early 90s, Dean Smith retired (and to head off any hate mail, I’m not suggesting Dean retired because of Duke’s rise). Bill Guthridge did pretty well in his three seasons (he took them to two Final Fours), but clearly things were getting wobbly for the Tar Heels. Of course, you know all about the disastrous reign of Matt Doherty. In three years, he finished off the destruction, steering the Carolina tanker straight into an iceberg of dissent and failure.
During those six years of decline, Duke kept right on rolling, unabated. They had one of the best teams in college basketball history in 1999 and then won a title in 2001. During that time, the Duke-Carolina rivalry shriveled. It got to the point where some people (the smiling idiots on TV mostly) suggested that Duke-Maryland had become the preeminent ACC rivalry.
And then Roy came back.
As soon as Roy signed, the rivalry was restored. We all knew it. Even if UNC’s team wasn’t quite up to the task right away, things were different. Roy Williams is no Matt Doherty or Bill Guthridge. He’s not even a Gary Williams. No, Roy is a Dean or a K – a first-tier coach who would build a first-tier program.
This year, Carolina made it official. They finally beat Duke, they won the ACC regular season and they won the national championship. Not only had they returned to national prominence, they made it all the way to the Promised Land. Their title gave the program four overall, one more than Duke.
Next year, Carolina will be down after losing their top seven players, but Duke will return the best squad in the country. The Blue Devils will be favored to win their fourth title. Anything you can do, I can do better.
If the on-court play wasn’t enough, how about what’s been going on the recruiting trail? Next season, Carolina will have three freshmen who were named McDonald’s All-American – most of any team in the country …. except Duke, who will also have three.
A few weeks ago, Duke had one of the great recruiting weeks ever when on three successive days, they received commitments from top-twenty-five players from the 2006 class.
Not to be outdone, Carolina has responded. They already had the class of 2006’s top point guard prospect in Tywon Lawson. Yesterday, they got a commitment from #1 shooting guard Wayne Ellington. The Heels are expected to also land #1 small forward (and #2 overall player) Kevin Durant.
How about that? Duke gets three very early commitments from three McDonald’s All-American quality players and then not one week later, Carolina appears to have trumped them. The schools are likely to get three McDonald’s All-Americans each, two years in a row. In fact, both the Heels and Duke are still in the running for top power forward Brandan Wright.