Is this the year for Duke-Carolina IV? Jay Bilas thinks so. Most college basketball fans cannot believe, with the schools going to the post-season virtually every year, that Duke and UNC have never met in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels did play in the NIT semifinals back in 1971, with Carolina winning at Madison Square Garden on the way to the championship.
But in the NCAAs, never. It hasn’t been as easy as you might think, with the top 16 teams rarely having five from the same conference, so the highest seeded teams are assigned to different regions and would have to meet in the Final Four. With the Power Five getting five, six, seven bids, teams from the same leagues have occasionally played in the tournament, but not to Blue Bloods.
It could have happened back in 1979, the infamous year of Black Sunday, when the top-seeded Tar Heels and second-seeded Blue Devils were placed in the East Region. After receiving first-round byes, both played unranked teams from the Northeast at Reynolds Coliseum on the N.C. State campus. Shockingly, Carolina lost to Penn of the Ivy League and Duke lost to St. John’s. Had they both won, they could have met in the Elite Eight game at the Greensboro Coliseum and played for a Final Four berth.
Since then, UNC and Duke have never been assigned to the same region as high seeds. Both made the Final Four in 1991 at the old Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. The Heels were upset by Roy Williams’ Kansas Jayhawks and the Dukies stunned No. 1-ranked and unbeaten UNLV, before beating Kansas Monday night for Duke’s first-ever NCAA title. Duke was a No. 1 seed in the 2004 South where Carolina was a No. 6 before the Tar Heels lost to third-seeded Texas in round two.
Inevitably, the programs will play in the Big Dance, but while they are both high seeds they can only square off in the Final Four. ESPN commentator Jay Bilas predicts this is the year. Bilas published his winners for every tournament game Monday, and his picks are dramatic, to say the least.
Bilas has Duke defeating NC Central, Central Florida, Virginia Tech and Michigan State to reach the Final Four, where it will avenge the loss in Maui to Gonzaga. Bilas has Carolina beating Iona, Utah State, Auburn in the Sweet 16 and Kentucky again to make a third Final Four in four years and will edge Virginia in the other semifinal.
Of a fourth Duke-Carolina game, Bilas writes, “If Coby White gets another chance at the buzzer, he makes it this time. UNC wins.”