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If UNC and Duke meet in 2019 national title game, will loser have to leave the state?

Does Roy Williams feel overshadowed by Zion Williamson and Duke?

Check out the response from North Carolina coach Roy Williams at a NCAA Tournament press conference Saturday March 23, 2019.
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Check out the response from North Carolina coach Roy Williams at a NCAA Tournament press conference Saturday March 23, 2019.

We are only two weeks away from a potential basketball Armageddon.

Central Florida almost derailed it. Six wins remain necessary for us to see it.

But Duke-Carolina – in the 2019 national championship game – looms.

If it happens, our state will shut down on Monday night, April 8. That’s when the ball goes up in Minneapolis and a whole lot of other stuff goes down.

The Tar Heels and Blue Devils playing for a national title? Good Lord. What would the winner do to celebrate? More to the point, what would the loser do to recover?

These two teams have been playing college basketball against each other for 99 years. They have faced off 251 times, including three matchups in the past five weeks.

And yet somehow they have never, ever met in the NCAA tournament.

But it may be coming. Both teams are seeded No. 1 in their respective regions. Duke survived the sort of game most national champions have to survive at least once on Sunday, scoring four points in the last 15 seconds to edge Central Florida, 77-76.

UNC has had an easier time of it thus far, winning both of its tournament games by at least 15 points.

Both teams next play Friday night in the Sweet 16 – UNC vs. Auburn at 7:29 p.m.; Duke vs. Virginia Tech at 9:39 p.m.

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Duke’s Zion Williamson (1) and North Carolina’s Coby White (2) are both star freshmen who have helped their respective teams advance to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16. If both teams win three more times, they will meet in the national final. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Win those, and then win again on Sunday, and Duke and UNC will make the Final Four. One or the other of them routinely appears in the national semifinals — 25 times in the past 38 years — but both of them getting there is an anomaly.

It has happened exactly once before, in 1991, when Duke and Carolina came the closest they ever have to playing in the tournament. But Kansas (coached by Roy Williams) knocked out the Tar Heels and Dean Smith (who got ejected) in the national semifinal. Duke, meanwhile, won the title, beating UNLV and Kansas in a three-day span.

UNC basketball coach Roy Williams talks about the Duke-Carolina rivalry and facing what he calls the most talented team the Blue Devils have put on the court since returned to UNC as head coach.

That was 28 years ago. But it could happen again, and this time, both teams would likely be favored to win their first game in the Final Four, too. That would set up Duke-UNC Part 4 this season – a game that would undeniably be the most significant UNC-Duke meeting ever.

And if the fourth matchup is anything like what we saw in Charlotte in the ACC tournament – with Duke winning, 74-73, after UNC missed two shots at victory in the final seconds – it would be extraordinary.

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski talks about the battle between rivals after the Blue Devils' ACC Tournament win over North Carolina.

UNC has won two out of the three matchups this season, with Zion Williamson blowing out his shoe 36 seconds into the first Tar Heel win and not playing at all in the second.

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Duke’s Javin DeLaurier (12) and North Carolina’s Nassir Little (5) hustle after a loose ball. The two teams have already played three times in the past five weeks, with the Tar Heels winning twice. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Then, Duke barely won with Zion all the way back in that wondrous third game in Charlotte. In fact, the Blue Devils’ survival of two last-second near-misses against UNC in the ACC Tournament was remarkably similar to how they won Sunday against Central Florida., down to the final tip-in attempt slipping off the rim.

The rivalry – which for my money is the best in all of sports – has had innumerable chapters over the years. Players on both sides buy in for life, as do fans. It helps that both teams are almost always great and that the schools are separated by only 10 miles.

UNC Tar Heels basketball star Luke Maye talks about when he made his first-start ever at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium and what it is like to play in such a “hostile” environment.

As former Duke star Christian Laettner recently told me: “For the players on each side, it seemed like the rule was no talking during the school year, but in the summer we were perfectly friendly. In the school year, though, it was all business. We wanted to beat each other. We wanted to kill each other.”

No one really dies, of course, which would make this the best kind of Armageddon.

The losing players and fans could regroup.

They just might have to move out of the state to do it.

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski talks about the battle between rivals after the Blue Devils' ACC Tournament win over North Carolina.



Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for the Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also is the host of the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth.”
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