Duke Blue Devils vs UNC Tar Heels College Basketball Rivalry

Duke Blue Devils vs UNC Tar Heels Basketball Rivalry

Both located in North Carolina and playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Duke Blue Devils and UNC Tarheels have a long-standing rivalry that is one of the most established in college basketball history. These teams are two of the all-time greatest in college basketball and have battled each year since they first met in 1920.  

Rivalry Overview

The rivalry between the Duke University Blue Devils and University of North Carolina Tarheels bears a lot of intense history, and the fans of each school highly anticipate the annual battles between the two teams. Both the Blue Devils and Tarheels are frequently nationally ranked and are often contenders in the NCAA tournament, making for exciting matchups between the teams. Surprisingly, they have never played against each other in the NCAA Tournament but have each won the championship multiple times. The Duke vs. UNC rivalry began soon after basketball was introduced at the two schools since they are located only eight miles from each other. The Duke Blue Devils play at the Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, and the UNC Tarheels play at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

The rivalry began to heat up in 1960 when UNC player Larry Brown and Duke player Art Heyman were suspended from playing after engaging in an argument in the middle of the Dixie Classic final. Since then, Duke’s long-standing head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, has faced UNC coaches Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge, Matt Doherty, and Roy Williams in numerous close battles over the years. Since Roy Williams was named the UNC coach in 2003, the longest winning streak either team has had is four games, which Duke held between 2014 and 2016. 

Notable Rivalry Games

  • UNC at Duke on March 10th, 1984: No. 16 Duke upsets No. 1 UNC in the ACC semifinal game.
  • Duke at UNC on March 6th, 2005: UNC beats Duke to win their first ACC championship since 1993. The Tar Heels were losing by 9 with only 3 minutes left but came back to win it. 
  • Duke at UNC on February 8th, 2012: Duke beats UNC 85-84, after Duke player Austins Rivers scores a three-point basket at the buzzer.
  • UNC at Duke on February 18th, 2015: Duke beats UNC in an OT classic in February, following the death of legendary UNC coach Dean Smith. 

Notable Players and Coaches in the Rivalry

  • Roy Williams: UNC head coach from 2003-2021. Roy Williams coached UNC for 18 seasons and recently retired on April 1st, 2021. His team’s meetings with Duke kept the rivalry hot and provided multiple entertaining matchups.
  • Mike Krzyzewski: Duke head coach from 1980-2022. Also known as Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski has coached Duke for 41 seasons. He has the most wins of any college basketball coach.
  • Austin Rivers: Duke basketball player from 2011-2012. Austin Rivers is a former Duke guard who hit the winning buzzer-beater three-pointer to beat UNC in 2012.
  • Michael Jordan: UNC basketball player from 1981-1982. Michael Jordan is considered by many to be the best basketball player of all time and led UNC to a National Championship in 1982 by hitting the game-winning shot.
  • Hubert Davis: UNC head coach from 2021-Present. He was appointed after William’s retirement in April 2021.


Why are Duke and UNC rivals?

Duke and UNC are rivals for a few reasons. The two universities are located very close to each other in Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Both programs have also been extremely strong and competitive over the years and are both in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has previously said in an interview, “Whatever thing you want to check, whatever you need to have it be a great rivalry, Duke and Carolina check all the boxes”.

When did the rivalry between Duke and UNC start?

The first-ever game played between the Duke Blue Devils and UNC Tarheels was on January 24th, 1920, which UNC won. Though competitive from the beginning, an important moment that augmented the rivalry was in 1959 when UNC commit Art Heyman de-committed and chose to attend Duke. This resulted in multiple brawls between Art Heyman and UNC players over the years. The rivalry has continued to grow in intensity between the teams, as well as excitement from the fans. In March 2017, the Duke vs UNC game was the most-watched regular-season college basketball game in the previous two seasons, with 4,164,000 viewers on ESPN.

When did Duke and UNC join the ACC?

Both Duke University and the University of North Carolina are original members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The ACC was formed on June 14, 1953. Duke and UNC make up two of the seven original ACC teams, which include Clemson, Maryland, NC State, South Carolina, and Wake Forest. All seven of these teams had previously been a part of the Southern Conference but left to create their own.