Duke vs. North Carolina, the greatest rivalry in college sports, has produced a plethora of iconic moments. On Saturday night, the two storied schools will meet in the NCAA tournament for the first time in an unlikely clash in the Final Four.
Mike Krzyzewski is the greatest college coach of all time and this momentous occasion will take place in his final season (50-47 all time v. UNC). North Carolina is led by a former Tar Heel great Hubert Davis in his first season taking over the program for the Roy Williams.
UNC entered the tournament as a No. 8 seed and were a bubble team up until demolishing the Blue Devils in Coach K's final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke, a No. 2 seed, always had the talent to win four straight games in March and make the Final Four, but it never seemed mature enough. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils enter this weekend only two wins away from their first national title since 2015.
New Orleans has provided the backdrop to some of college basketball's most iconic Final Four games. Michael Jordan's shot in 1982 to break the hearts of the Georgetown Hoyas, Keith Smart's 16-foot baseline jumper to lift Indiana over Syracuse in 1987 and Chris Webber's infamous timeout that cost Michigan the 1993 national championship against North Carolina.
Betting tips to know for Duke-North Carolina
If you pitched this game as a movie script, you'd be laughed out of the room. It's just too unbelievable, too much of a storybook setup and too inconceivable. But on Saturday, it will become a reality in the Big Easy. A game none of us will surely ever forget, but will it be profitable?
The two teams split their two-game regular-season series. Duke won as a 3.5-point favorite at Chapel Hill in February and then fell to Davis' squad during "Senior Night" at Cameron in March. The moment seemed too big for the young Duke team as UNC got any shot it wanted in the second half and won 94-81 despite being a 12-point underdog.
So how do these games impact the rubber match? Honestly, I don't think they do. Both teams are very different than they were just a month ago and are playing at a remarkably high level. Duke has shot the ball at a tournament best 53.8%, which is also the fifth-highest entering a Final Four since 2000. It is not settling for 3s like it did at times during the regular season. The Blue Devils have been the aggressor and dominated teams scoring 41.5 points per game in the paint (most in the tournament). Lastly, their man defense has been much better but Coach K also mixed in a zone in the second half of their Sweet 16 game against Texas Tech and Elite 8 matchup against Arkansas. That changed the rhythm of both games, allowing Duke to string together stops and score in transition.
The Tar Heels have also undergone a transformation. Some of it is intangibles, toughness, togetherness and the fight they lacked all year has come in droves since they decimated the Devils. That swagger, coupled with the talent they've always had, led them to this point. Armando Bacot now has 29 double-doubles this season, tied with Tim Duncan for most ever by an ACC player in a campaign. In this tournament alone, R.J. Davis and Caleb Love have already had 30-point games. Brady Manek has been tremendous on 3-pointers, shooting 44% with 16 made in just four games. He scored 26 points in 28 minutes against Baylor before taking an early shower because of a flagrant 2.
Both teams can flat-out score. North Carolina is playing at the fastest tempo in the tournament at 73.2 possessions per game but Duke is not afraid to run with the Tar Heels. The over/under total for the game is 151. I'm betting the over. This season, UNC is 21-14-2 and Duke 21-16-1 against the over/under. Both of the earlier meetings topped the over.
Duke (-4) is favored to win. As I mentioned, the earlier games don't mean much given how different the two teams are playing now. UNC will still try to attack Duke in the middle with ball screens, while Duke will still play through Paolo Banchero. But the strategy and psychology of this game will be totally different.
As for the numbers, Duke is 3-1 ATS in the tourney and 20-16-2 this season. While UNC is 4-0 in the tourney and 20-16-1 ATS this season, Coach K is 8-4 ATS in Final Four games (7-0 in semifinals as the favorite) dating back to his first tournament in 1986. But that type of history goes out the window in a rivalry game of this magnitude.
Both meetings this year were fascinating but not close games, but I think this contest will be different. I think we see a tight game and this historic rivalry writes a new chapter on the game's biggest stage. Call me sentimental, but I think Coach K is going to have his chance to ride off into the sunset with a Disney storybook ending, beating UNC and moving on to the championship game. It'll be tight, but I'll lay the points and hope my sentimentality fattens my wallet.