Storied college basketball rivalry tilts to Tar Heels – for now
The campuses of North Carolina and Duke University are eight miles apart. But the competition between the two is much closer, even if Tyler Hansbrough's team has surged ahead of late.
(Page 2 of 2)
The roll call of college basketball royalty runs through both schools. Tar Heel hoops legends include Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Phil Ford, Brad Daugherty, and Bob McAdoo. Duke counters with March Madness luminaries such as Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Shane Battier, Christian Laettner, and Danny Ferry.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Duke's success under Coach K has created a backlash. Even beyond North Carolina, many basketball fans take a delighted glee in the Blue Devils' rare setbacks, railing against Krzyzewski's role as a ubiquitous TV pitchman as well as Duke's reputation for turning out cocky players such as Laettner, J.J. Redick, and Greg Paulus.
The differences between the two universities enhance the rivalry all the more. North Carolina ranks as one of the nation's oldest schools and boasts academic renown among public universities. The Chapel Hill campus has long been known for turning out top business and political leaders for the state.
At Duke, a much higher population of out-of-state students can be found at the pricey private school. It was founded by Quakers and Methodists and landed crucial financial support from tobacco baron James Buchanan Duke during the 1920s.
"It's a rivalry about basketball, but it's also a rivalry between universities that represent two different ways of being in the world," says Will Blythe, a North Carolina alum and author of (take a deep breath) "To Hate Like This Is To be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry." "You have the dynamic of locals versus outsiders. Duke students tend to be from out of state and after they finish school they go back to New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. It's almost like their four years are time in the Colonies."
By contrast, Mr. Blythe says, North Carolina's graduates stick around, fanning out across the state to take care of a place that they love.
Not that he's biased or anything.
That Blythe lives in New York rather than North Carolina does nothing to disrupt what he wryly admits is a skewed obsession that shows no signs of abating.
His parallel contemporary, Herb Neubauer, a retired 66-year-old Duke alum known as "Crazy Towel Guy," displays an equally engaging lack of perspective. Mr. Neubauer, who has attended all of Duke's 14 Final Four appearances, stirs the frenzied crowds at home games by waving a towel at the student section.
He salutes Krzyzewski as a community asset and, after professing his bafflement at what usefulness Chapel Hill could have for anyone, blithely dismisses North Carolina's merits as an academic rival.
"Education-wise, I don't think there's any doubt that they can't come close to matching up in terms of academics standards," Neubauer says. "Duke is just so much more selective."
The schools may be nearby each other, but the perspectives on each side remain galaxies away. Welcome to an eternal argument that can only be decided – ever so temporarily – by NCAA tournament brackets.