The year Duke basketball should seize all-time UNC series

Duke basketball (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

These difficult days call for a look ahead to the dreamy day when the Duke basketball program overtakes its enemy in head-to-head victories, but how many days must we wait?

Even with the 2019-20 Duke basketball team’s 2-0 sweep, North Carolina still owns a 139-114 advantage since the adversaries’ inaugural meeting 100 years ago. A significant lead, indeed. However, unless peering through a baby-blue lens, one can clearly see who owns the momentum in college hoops’ supreme rivalry with 34 wins across the past 52 clashes.

In fact, the Blue Devils own the 1977-present series, 53-52.

Also, let’s consider what would happen if we simply flipped the records from the 1920s, which UNC dominated with an 18-4 mark against Duke. If the opposite was true, then the Durham school would hold a 128-125 all-time edge against the foe eight miles away in Chapel Hill. True, that observation would be more meaningful if only the Blue Devils had access to the Tar Heels’ infamous past-altering time machine (see: the 1924 “National Championship” banner hanging inside the Dean E. Smith Center).

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Transitioning back to reality, let’s dissect Duke’s success against UNC in 20-year segments, seeking some trend to help forecast the year when the darker shade of blue will seize the series lead:

  • 1920-39: Duke won 12 of 40 meetings (23.1 percent)
  • 1940-59: Duke won 26 of 54 meetings (48.1 percent)
  • 1960-79: Duke won 22 of 57 meetings (38.6 percent)
  • 1980-99: Duke won 19 of 49 meetings (38.8 percent)
  • 2000-19: Duke won 29 of 47 meetings (61.7 percent)
  • 2020-present: Duke won both meetings (100.0 percent)

As you may notice, as generations pass, Duke generally improves against UNC. More telling of what’s sure to come, though, is the fact that not only have the Blue Devils prevailed in 17 of the 26 battles since 2010, but several players have ensured W’s in soul-crushing fashion (see: heroics of Austin Rivers, both Jones brothers, Wendell Moore, etc.). Meanwhile, several Tar Heels have served as UNC faithful’s punching bag following these epic collapses (see: brainfarts of Tyler Zeller, Andrew Platek, Roy Williams, etc.).

OK, now that we possess the necessary intelligence, let’s derive the answer to the all-important question: what year will Duke take the lead?

First, we’ll take into account the trend in recent decades. Next, it would be silly not to also factor in the Tar Heels’ permanent scars from the oh-so-cruel Blue Devils across the previous decade. Finally, there’s no sense in ignoring UNC’s 14-19 record last season — despite having a couple of five-stars and a handful of four-stars in town.

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Combining all that, it seems safe to assume Duke will come out on top in 75-80 percent of the blueblood duels over the next 20 seasons. And let’s assume they play 2.3 times per year (the average since 2000).

Therefore, in exactly 20 years — i.e., by April 2040 — after the Blue Devils triumph in 36 of their next 46 games against the Tar Heels, Ball Durham promises an article recognizing the new 150-149 series lead. Go ahead, start the countdown: UNC’s ultimate day of reckoning will arrive in time for currently middle-aged Duke basketball fanatics to begin basking in the all-time comeback before reaching retirement age.

And should retirement age never find Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski — 49-46 all-time against the Tar Heels but 45-34 ever since dropping 12 of the first 16 while figuring out how to put the K in their Kryptonite — count on that day to arrive even sooner.

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