basketball Edit

Florida Man: Turns out Duke, UNC aren't going away after all

By now, the dust has settled on Bill Self’s second national title. Kansas fans are back to class or work or whatever it is they do when they aren’t binge drinking in the streets, celebrating historic victories and waking up next to Wheel Pizza. We here at Florida Man will leave them to their recovery and address the real story, an undercovered topic that so rarely gets the ink it deserves: Duke-North Carolina.

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RELATED FROM TARHEELILLUSTRATED.COM: GG Jackson's recruitment is reaching the midnight hour

2022 Rankings: Rivals150 | Team | Position

2023 Rankings: Rivals150

2024 Rankings: Top 40

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Duke forward Theo John, right, battles North Carolina forward Armando Bacot on Saturday night.
Duke forward Theo John, right, battles North Carolina forward Armando Bacot on Saturday night. (AP Images)

It’s OK if you just rolled your eyes. It’s the natural reaction. You’ve been conditioned to do so. Like it or not, though, this past weekend said a lot about the future of college basketball’s most famous rivalry in the post-Krzyzewski-WIlliams era.

As night fell on Jan. 22, North Carolina was icing wounds left all over its collective face by back-to-back stompings. A 28-point loss to Miami on Jan. 18 had given way to a 22-point loss to Wake Forest four days later. The Tar Heels were 4-3 in an ACC that was being universally panned for its futility, and they were 12-6 overall. Bubble talk had begun, and some of the most skeptical people in Chapel Hill were side-eyeing Hubert Davis. Meanwhile, the team UNC fans hate more than anyone else was ranked sixth in the country and sitting on the country’s No. 1 recruiting class. UNC was struggling to keep pace on the court and the trail. Nervous energy had begun to take hold.

Silly as it seems now, nobody had to squint to picture dark days ahead for the Jordan Brand side of the rivalry. Looking back on Jan. 22 today, however, is a waste of time. It barely feels real, let alone significant. Since that day, Davis and his team hold two wins over the Blue Devils, one coming by 13 points and the other coming in the Final Four. There were also skipped handshakes after UNC retired the most famous figure in their in-state rival’s entire history and gloated about it for 48 hours as the team prepared to play for a title.

Game on, baby.

Armed with a 51-year-old head coach that has proven capable of developing talent and turning a mediocre winter into a dominant spring, UNC is the favorite to land No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2023 GG Jackson, who will announce his commitment in the coming days. One of the other finalists in the race to land his pledge? You guessed it. Barring a change of heart for Jackson, Duke hasn’t taken its final L to the Tar Heels.

Of course, things aren't exactly bleak in Durham. Duke holds the country’s top recruiting class and now has 17 Final Fours to its name. It is also roughly three months away from putting freshmen Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin in the NBA Draft lottery. The transitional period between Coach K and new head head coach Jon Scheyer has felt more like an energy drink than it has a period of uncertainty.

As of today, each side is led by an alumnus, and, not even a year into their tenures, each has experienced success at the highest level, be it on the court or the recruiting trail. In a sport where prosperity compounds, the pace is unlikely to slow.

That’s all to say, if you’re annoyed by the media attention Duke-North Carolina garners and the almost fictional level of legend building that takes place around it, buckle up. Nothing’s changing on that front. Turns out, the ACC’s new era is going to look a lot like the old one.

Don’t like it? Too bad. There’s always football.