DURHAM — The list of things that live up to the hype is short and elite: “Hamilton,” the smartphone, LeBron … and the Duke-North Carolina rivalry.
By the time the game tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m., the nation will likely be sick of hearing about it. Then the two teams will take the floor and justify all the attention yet again.
The numbers are utterly stupid. This will be the 46th time the two teams have met with both in the top 10 — this time, Duke is No. 1, UNC No. 8. That’s three times more than any other two schools in the nation. UNC-NC State is next — they’ve met as top-10 teams 14 times. UNC and Duke have played that many since 2001.
At least one of the teams is ranked for the 150th straight time, dating back to 1960. Both are ranked for the 11th straight time, dating back to 2014.
The cliché says that you should throw out the records in a rivalry game. UNC and Duke are the reasons for the cliché. In the 45 previous games with both in the top 10, the higher-seeded team has a record of 23-22. The teams are just as even, with Duke having the 23-22 edge in top 10 games.
Duke is ranked No. 1 for a Carolina game for the 19th time, but the Blue Devils are just 11-7 in those games.
This is the fourth straight game where Duke is the higher-ranked team. Prior to that, UNC was ranked higher for five straight.
Duke is 45-36 (.556) against UNC in Cameron Indoor Stadium all-time, 815-124 (.868) against everyone else. Since Coach K took over, they’re 21-16 (.568) at home against the Heels, 511-49 (.913) against the rest of the world.
For UNC, the Tar Heels are 18-15 against Duke at the Dean Dome (.545), 398-61 (.867) against everyone else.
The level of talent on the floor is also just plain stupid. Six of the 10 projected starters tonight were McDonald’s All-Americans, with a seventh coming off the bench early on. Six of those seven were McDonald’s All-Americans last year.
Three of the ACC’s top four scorers in conference play will be on the floor, as will two of the top three rebounders, two of the top four shooters, half of the top four assist men and guys with the most 3-pointers. UNC has the league’s most accurate 3-point shooter. Duke has the ACC’s leader in steals.
Duke’s Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett are the only ACC players averaging over 20 points per game. Barrett turned in just the fourth triple-double in Duke history in his last game. As for Williamson? Well, if you don’t know, you must not have a TV or the internet.
“Zion is a different bird, there’s no question about that,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “He’s got a combination of a skill set that I have never seen before. There is a lot of attention (on him), but he deserves it. He has backed it up.”
The prospect of defending Williamson, let alone the tandem of Williamson and Barrett is a tough task — perhaps the toughest facing UNC since … the Tar Heels had to defend Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. last season. Roy Williams and the Heels managed to do the impossible then, winning two of three from the Blue Devils.
Still, the matchup of sophomore Garrison Brooks on Williamson will be a key for the Tar Heels.
“I’m trying not to overthink it,” Brooks said. “I know it’ll be a tough task, but I’m kind of looking forward to it. It’s easy to guard somebody when they don’t have the ball. I don’t know how he can score without. So that would best.”
The other key matchup for both teams is at point guard, where Duke’s defensive specialist Tre Jones will be tasked with stopping Coby White.
The explosive UNC freshman has a 3-inch height advantage over Jones and an explosive burst that allows him to split defenders, seemingly at will. He leads UNC with 17.7 points per game in ACC play.
White also gave Duke something for the bulletin board.
“We’re going to win,” he said on Monday. “We’re going to win. They know we’re coming to compete. We’re not going to back down from nobody, and we’ve got one of the greatest coaches on our side.”
Speaking of things that are stupid, the emotion in the game should be off the charts. As usual, Duke students have been camping out for two months to get into the game. Cameron will be the loudest it’s been all season. The players on both sides will be hyped up.
“On the court, it is vicious,” Roy Williams said. “Because you have two teams going at each other as hard as they can go. And they want to win. It’s healthy, but out there it is a vicious contest.”