As I sat in the discouraging aftermath of Villanova’s 2016 National Championship, not only was the loss hard, but the impending personnel loss weighed heavy as well. This was the end of an era. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, the players responsible for 35 of Carolina’s 74 points that night, including the final 10, would never again don a University of North Carolina Tar Heel uniform.
As the offseason unfolded, things got worse as I realized how loaded Duke’s roster would be in the 2016-17 season. Just days after Marcus Paige’s miraculous three-pointer, Grayson Allen announced he was coming back to school for his junior year. A few weeks later, big man Amile Jefferson was granted another year of eligibility after a foot injury held him out most of the 2015-16 season. Duke had already signed three of the top 10 recruits in the class (depending on which recruiting site you go by), but then another top 20 recruit (Marques Bolden) picked the Blue Devils over Kentucky. Once again, Duke was picked to run away with not only the ACC Championship, but also the National Championship.
I realized I was beginning to have this fear that Duke was dominating the ACC year after year after year and that no one else could keep up with their talent, recruiting, and on-court victories. My perception was that the Blue Devils were in a class of their own of late, winning all sorts of regular season and conference championships.
So I decided to actually look at the results to help confirm my suspicions.
This is Roy Williams’ 14th season coaching the Tar Heels. Here are the ACC regular season conference champions during that span:
- 2004 – Duke
- 2005 – North Carolina
- 2006 – Duke
- *2007 – North Carolina, Virginia
- 2008 – North Carolina
- 2009 – North Carolina
- *2010 – Duke, Maryland
- 2011 – North Carolina
- 2012 – North Carolina
- 2013 – Miami
- 2014 – Virginia
- 2015 – Virginia
- 2016 – North Carolina
- *2017 – North Carolina (Notre Dame can share the championship if they win and North Carolina loses today)
*the ACC allows co-champions when teams tie, regardless of head-to-head results. Notre Dame can tie North Carolina this year if the Irish beat Louisville today AND the Heels lose to Duke.
Looking at the results, North Carolina actually has eight regular season championships, compared to Duke’s three. Virginia also has three, but no other school has more than one. Okay, I guess I can breathe a little easier.
If it isn’t regular season championships, perhaps my feelings of Duke’s domination of the ACC are based on ACC Tournament championships. Here are the results of the championship game for the past ten years:
- 2007 – North Carolina 89 – NC State 80
- 2008 – North Carolina 86 – Clemson 81
- 2009 – Duke 79 – Florida State 69
- 2010 – Duke 65 – Georgia Tech 61
- 2011 – Duke 75 – North Carolina 58
- 2012 – Florida State 85 – North Carolina 82
- 2013 – Miami 87 – North Carolina 77
- 2014 – Virginia 72 – Duke 63
- 2015 – Notre Dame 90 – North Carolina 82
- 2016 – North Carolina 61 – Virginia 57
So that’s not it either. North Carolina and Duke have each won three ACC Tournament championships in the past ten years. In fact, during that ten-year span, the Tar Heels have made the ACC Championship game seven times while the Blue Devils have only advanced to the final four times. Interestingly, a different team has won the ACC Tournament each of the past six years.
Taking a deeper look, Duke has actually not won an ACC regular season or tournament championship since the conference expanded to 15 teams in the 2013-14 season.
Maybe if we expand the scope further, we can uncover my fears of Duke supremacy. Perhaps my worries are due to the fact that Duke has had more success that Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Here are the NCAA Tournament results for both teams in the Roy Williams era:
- 2004 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: Final Four
- 2005 – UNC: National Champions; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
- 2006 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
- 2007 – UNC: Elite Eight; Duke: First Round
- 2008 – UNC: Final Four; Duke: Second Round
- 2009 – UNC: National Champions; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
- 2010 – UNC: NIT Finalist; Duke: National Champions
- 2011 – UNC: Elite Eight; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
- 2012 – UNC: Elite Eight; Duke: First Round
- 2013 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: Elite Eight
- 2014 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: First Round
- 2015 – UNC: Sweet Sixteen; Duke: National Champions
- 2016 – UNC: Finalist; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
- National Champion – 2
- Finalist – 1
- Final Four – 1
- Elite Eights – 3
- Sweet Sixteen – 1
- Second Round – 4
- First Round – 0
- NIT Finalist – 1
- National Champion – 2
- Finalist – 0
- Final Four – 1
- Elite Eight – 1
- Sweet Sixteen – 5
- Second Round – 1
- First Round – 3
- NIT – 0
These results don’t point to Duke dominance either. In the 13 NCAA Tournaments of the Roy Williams era at North Carolina, both teams have two National Championships to their name. The Tar Heels were relegated to the NIT the year after the 2009 championship, while the Blue Devils have made the NCAA Tournament each year. Carolina has never lost in the first round (the REAL first round) of the NCAA Tournament in the Williams era, while Duke has been knocked out three times at that level. Carolina’s biggest advantage in NCAA Tournament success is that they have made it to the Elite Eight or beyond in seven of the 13 years, while Duke has advanced that far four times. Needless to say, NCAA Tournament results also do not explain my fear of Duke dominance.
Perhaps my worries are unfounded? Maybe my fears are irrational and Duke hasn’t actually dominated the ACC?
Then it hit me. I needed to narrow my scope, not broaden it. Here is Carolina’s record against Duke each year of the Roy Williams era:
- 2003-04 – 0-2
- 2004-05 – 1-1
- 2005-06 – 1-1
- 2006-07 – 2-0
- 2007-08 – 1-1
- 2008-09 – 2-0
- 2009-10 – 0-2
- 2010-11 – 1-2
- 2011-12 – 1-1
- 2012-13 – 0-2
- 2013-14 – 1-1
- 2014-15 – 0-2
- 2015-16 – 1-1
- 2016-17 – 0-1
In the Roy Williams era at North Carolina, the Tar Heels have a total record of 11-17 against Duke. Duke holds a comfortable lead in the series during this time span, but since Carolina’s 2009 championship, the Blue Devils have absolutely dominated. From the 2010-11 season through the present, the Tar Heels have a 4-12 record against Duke.
Mystery solved. My fears of Duke ACC dominance are actually based on the fact that they have absolutely owned North Carolina head-to-head in the Roy Williams era. It is always nice to beat your rival, but, at the end of the day, give me the championships every time!
Will tonight’s regular season finale be a turning point in the series for the Tar Heels? Or will it be a step in the right direction for a Duke team that was supposed to run away with the 2016-17 season?