North Carolina and Duke Take Center Stage at ACC Tournament in Brooklyn Behind Decades of Storied History
It is college basketball royalty when North Carolina (27-6) and Duke (25-8) meet in the semifinals of the 2017 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. The two will battle at 7 pm EST tonight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY with a trip to the ACC Tournament Championship game on the line. It is round three for the duo this year as the two posted home victories over each
other in their two regular season meetings this season. The two met less than a week ago with the Tarheels winning 90-83 at home on March 4 in the regular-season finale for both.
North Carolina is the top seed in the tournament for the second straight year and has played in the last two championship games. A fifth seed in 2015, the Tarheels lost 90-82 to third-seeded Notre Dame in the title game before beating second-seeded Virginia 61-57 in the 2016 championship game as the top seed. The Blue Devils have not reached the championship game since 2014 when they were the third seed and lost to top-seeded Virginia 72-63.
Duke and North Carolina have not met in the ACC Tournament since 2011 when the second-seeded Blue Devils won 75-58 over the top-seeded Tarheels in the title game. The long and storied history of these two ACC and national powers is well documented. Since 1997, one or the other has reached the tournament semifinals for a now 21 straight seasons during which both have been in the round 12 times. During that same time period, the two have met in two tournament semifinals and played in four title games.
Besides the 2011 title meeting, the other three championship game battles came in a four-year span between 1998 and 2001 when one or the other was the tournament’s top seed. Duke won two of the three title games, winning 96-73 as the top seed in 1999 and posting a 79-53 win in 2001 as the second seed. The other title game came in 1998 when North Carolina, the second seed, won 83-68 over the top-seeded Blue Devils.
This four-year stretch of ‘98-‘01 was a marquee time period for both schools as they boasted some of their great all-time players. Both schools were at the top of the ACC and competed – as they always have and continue to do – at such a high level. Recalling each school’s history during this time is like reading a hall-of-fame biography. When you combine the personnel of the teams, their coaches, and their achievements, one can see why the two have had such a perennial strong conference and national presence.
Over these four seasons, Duke went 59-5 in ACC regular season play and won four straight ACC regular-season championships, three of them outright to earn the number one seed in the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils were 15-1 in ‘97-98 and ’99-00 while going 16-0 in ’98-99. Duke shared the regular season title with the Tarheels in ’00-01 as each finished with a 13-3 conference
record and split their two regular season meetings. During this era, the Blue Devils had the likes of Trajan Langdon, Roshown McLeod, Chris Carrawell, Elton Brand, William Avery, Corey Maggette, Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Jason (Jay) Williams, Nate James, and Chris Duhon. All these players were named to either a first or second ACC All-Tournament team. Williams is a current analyst at ESPN and James is one of Duke’s assistant coaches. Brand, Williams, and Battier were each instrumental in leading the Blue Devils to tournament titles. Each was a first-team all-tournament selection in addition to being named the tournament’s most valuable player in Duke’s championship years of ‘99, ‘00, and ‘01 respectively. Brand and Battier were also named ACC Player-of-the-Year during this stretch with Brand taking the honor in ‘99 and Battier doing so in ‘01. Furthermore, Langdon, Battier, and Williams have all been honored as the Blue Devils’ selection in the annual announcement of the ACC Legends Team. Duke reached the tournament championship game all four of these seasons which was part of their streak of nine straight appearances in the final between 1998 and 2006, a tournament record to this day. Included in that nine-year streak for the Blue Devils was a string of five straight trips to the championship game from 1999 to 2003, also a tournament record which still stands.
During these four seasons, Duke was also a major player in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils played in two NCAA championship games including the 2001 NCAA final when they beat Arizona 82-72, the third NCAA Championship for head coach Mike Krzyzewski who garnered ACC Coach-of-the-Year honors in ‘99 and ‘00. Duke also played for the NCAA title in ‘99, losing to Connecticut 77-74. Furthermore, the Blue Devils’ ranking in the final Associated Press Poll of each season was number three in ‘98 and number one in ’99, ‘00, and ’01. Duke was also a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament each of these four seasons during which it went to three Elite Eights, two Final Fours, and compiled a 16-3 NCAA Tournament record with one national title.
North Carolina’s resume over these same four seasons of ‘98-‘01 is just as impressive. The Tarheels featured players such as Antawn Jamison, Ed Cota, Shammond Williams, Brendan Haywood, Jason Capel, and Joseph Forte. Bill Guthridge, who was an assistant under the late hall-of-fame coach Dean Smith, and Matt Doherty coached North Carolina during these four years. Current head coach Roy Williams took over the Tarheels in 2003 after a highly successful career as the head coach at Kansas.
North Carolina’s success over this era was reflected in three meetings with the Blue Devils in the tournament championship game in which they were 1-2. The Tarheels’ victory came in ‘98 when they won 83-68 as the second seed over a top-seeded Duke team. North Carolina went 45-19 in ACC regular season play over the four years during which it tied for the regular season ACC title once (‘01), had a pair of third-place finishes (’99 and ’00), and finished in second place once (’98). The Tarheels finished 13-3 in conference play in ’97-98, 10-6 in ’98-99, 9-7 in ’99-00, and 13-3 in ’00-01. Antawn Jamison, one of the best big men in program history, was named the National Player-of-the-Year in ‘98 when he also garnered ACC Player-of-the-Year honors. Jamison was also named first-team All-ACC in ’98 becoming the first player in conference history to be honored as such as a freshman, sophomore, and junior. Forte also was a co-recipient of the ACC Player-of-the-Year in ’01.
On the NCAA level during this four-year span, North Carolina made four NCAA Tournament appearances and reached The Final Four in ‘98 and ‘00. They lost in the national semifinals each time, falling to the eventual national runner-up in both years. It was Utah in ’98 and Florida in ’00. The Tarheels’ NCAA seeds each of the four seasons were 1, 3, 8, and 2 respectively.
Fast forward 16 years later from this vibrant four-year period of the two schools and they are back at it and ready to face off again with ACC supremacy on the line tonight. This is the 64th year of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship. The first ever meeting between the two in the tournament came in 1967 when they squared off in the championship game with top-seeded North Carolina winning 82-73 over the second-seeded Blue Devils.
Tonight’s semifinal matchup marks the 21st time that the two have met at some point in the tournament with 11 of them coming in the championship game which the Tarheels are seeking their third straight appearance in. With tonight’s winner advancing to the
championship game it will mark the 55th time that either Duke or North Carolina has appeared in the championship game.
This year’s teams have more of the same to offer as many of their storied teams of the past. Krzyzewski has lead the Blue Devils to another great season behind some steady veterans and top freshman. Junior guard Grayson Allen, sophomore guard Luke Kennard, senior guard Matt Jones, and senior forward Amile Jefferson provide a gritty and tested nucleus who lend valuable experience. Allen, Jones, and Jefferson were part of Duke’s national championship team in 2015. Kennard, the only Blue Devil named to the All-ACC first team this season, leads the team with 20.2 points per-game and is one of five players averaging double-figures scoring on the team.
Freshman sensation Jayson Tatum adds 16.5 ppg to go with 7.3 rebounds per-game while Allen adds 14.1 ppg and a team best 3.5 assists per-game. Jefferson adds 10.9 ppg and leads the team with 8.5 rpg while freshman guard Frank Jackson adds 10.7 ppg with Jones scoring 7.1 ppg. Harry Giles, a 6-foot-10 freshman forward, and Marques Bolden, a 6-foot-11 freshman center, have also contributed this year and give the team depth and options for the future.
The Blue Devils are well balanced and can get production from anywhere on the court. Duke is just 3-3 in its’ last six games but is playing some of its’ best basketball as the season ventures further into the postseason. Coach K has been magnificent more times than not in high stakes games and the Blue Devils always know that they have his outstanding leadership on their side.
North Carolina is making its’ sixth appearance in the tournament semifinals in the last seven seasons. The Tarheels are 5-0 in their previous five trips to the semifinals since the 2011 tournament. Junior forward Justin Jackson, the ACC Player-of-the-Year and a first-team All-ACC performer this season, leads North Carolina with 18.1 points-per-game and comes off a 12-point effort in their
tourney quarterfinal win over Miami. Junior guard Joel Berry II, named to the All-ACC second team this season, is second on the team in scoring with 15.0 ppg while senior forward Kennedy Meeks adds 12.4 ppg and leads the team with 9.0 rebounds per-game. Meeks also garnered All-Honorable Mention recognition by the ACC this season.
Senior forward Isaiah Hicks rounds out four players who average double-figures scoring for the team with 12.1 ppg. Hicks also shoots a team-leading 60.1 percent (146-for-243) from the field while Meeks converts at a success rate of 54.0 percent (170-for-315) from the field. Jackson and Berry are the main three-point shooters for the Tarheels. Berry shoots 42.2 percent (76-for-180) from beyond the arc while Jackson converts 38.2 percent (87-for-228) on trifectas. Jackson was second in the conference this season in three-point shooting behind Andrew White III of Syracuse.
North Carolina is 8-2 in its’ last 10 games and is playing like it is capable of getting to a second straight NCAA title game. They are likely a #1 seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens between now and selection Sunday on March 12.
Buckle up and pay close attention. It has been a few years since these two top dogs of the ACC have met in the conference tournament. This one is likely to add yet another fabled chapter to the fame and prestige that this storied rivalry is already known for.