The Chronicle's Duke men's basketball 2023-24 rivalry edition

With the ACC lead at stake and both ranked inside the top 10, this year's Duke-North Carolina game looks to be a tipping point for both teams' seasons.
With the ACC lead at stake and both ranked inside the top 10, this year's Duke-North Carolina game looks to be a tipping point for both teams' seasons.

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Each year, something new is on offer when Duke plays North Carolina, whether it be a spot in the national title game or vindicating more than a month of sleeping in a tent.

And each year, these teams remind us that this game needs no additional incentives to be thrilling.

Tobacco Road rivalry games always carry immense emotional weight for both sets of players and fans, but Saturday evening’s blockbuster matchup has more than bragging rights at stake for the first time in a while. Top spot in the ACC table is on the line, not to mention that this will be the first matchup in which both teams have been ranked inside the top 10 since the 2019 ACC tournament semifinal, when a Zion Williamson-led Duke team won by a single point. Providing the soundtrack for the drama then and now is David Shumate, Duke’s play-by-play radio announcer since 2017.

Recent history favors the Blue Devils, who have won three of their last four trips to Chapel Hill. One of those victories came courtesy of an overtime buzzer beater from then-freshman Wendell Moore Jr., who spoke with The Chronicle about his memories at Duke and with the rivalry. Another was Duke’s 62-57 triumph last season, featuring three then-freshmen — Tyrese Proctor, Mark Mitchell and Kyle Filipowski — who have been remodeled with new roles and new responsibilities as sophomores and leaders.

Mitchell, notably absent in Duke’s second-round NCAA tournament loss, has been forced to adapt more than most. This is not just because he is now playing more centrally, but also because of a firestorm of critics attacking his performances on social media, including his own father.

Duke and North Carolina are situated just eight miles apart on either side of the U.S. 15-501, meaning exchange between the two campuses is frequent, whether it be visiting friends or traversing Franklin Street on Halloween. But come rivalry season, the pleasantries end and animosity takes hold. That’s especially true for Robertson Scholars, who find themselves behind enemy lines during their “switch” semester at the opposite campus.

As commentators will regularly remind viewers, this is a rivalry that has been locked in stalemate for nearly its entire 100-plus-year history, which begs the question: Can it be predicted? The Chronicle’s beat writers and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper certainly tried their best, but as the numbers show, a coin flip is perhaps a better bet.

In any outcome, Saturday promises to deliver by far the biggest game of either team’s season so far. To stay up-to-date with it all, be sure to follow us at @dukebasketball on X and check back regularly on our website for all the Duke men’s basketball content you need.

This is part of The Chronicle’s 2023-24 rivalry edition in collaboration with The Daily Tar Heel.


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