I have gotten some serious response on the Katz article I castigated here so much so I am going to examine the issue further. First of all, I think Katz basic premise was flat wrong and not because I refuse to acknowledge what Duke has done but because saying that Duke winning two games a year in the tournament against #16 and #8 or 9 seeds is comparable to winning seven straight national championship is asinine at face value. In addition to that the UCLA titles and the Duke Sweet Sixteen run are from two completely different eras so the comparison is apples and oranges, heck it may even be apples and hamburgers. The issue I originally took with Katz article was the failure to mention the Sweet Sixteen run of 13 straight UNC enjoyed from 1981-1993. It makes more sense to me that if you are going to compare a thing you should compare the same thing. Since Katz did not do it, then I will do it for him in the interest of full disclosure or some such nonsense as that.
1. Notable Differences
The first thing I need to put out there in this discussion is the notable differences between the two streaks. Duke is presently at nine and UNC ran theirs to 13 before losing in the second round of the 1994 NCAA Tournament to Boston College. It should be noted that from 1981-1984 UNC was at a #1 seed twice and a #2 seed twice which means they got a first round bye and then played the #8/9 or #7/10 winner in the second round since the field was made up of 48 teams divided into 12 team regionals. In short UNC only had to win once to make the Sweet Sixteen in the first four years. From 1985 forward when the field was 64 teams UNC won the requisite two games for nine straight years. So in terms of having to win two games to get to a Sweet Sixteen both Duke and UNC have the same streak. That being said, the fact Duke was a #1 seed eight of nine times and therefore played a #16 seed tends to almost negate the fact that UNC only had to win one game early on in their streak. Of course the fact that Duke played well enought all season long to get a #1 seed should be considered as should the fact the UNC also did the same and avoided a first round game all together. The result of this maddening logic? A wash in my opinion, with a slight edge to UNC for having the longer streak even if it was on the back of four tournaments where they only won once to get there.
2. Competition Faced
During the nine year streak for Duke, the highest seed they have ever faced is a #8 seed. On the other hand UNC has faced seeds as high as #1 on down the line. Here is the seeded teams faced by both schools during their respective streaks:
Average Seed Faced: 12.2
Average Seed Faced: 10.3
Of course raw numbers alone are not enough but consideration must also be given to the fact the UNC faced a #1, #5, and #6 in the second round making their road a tougher one thought some would argue that #1 Oklahama in 1990 was anything but the rank they were given. The other side of the dime on this issue is the fact that a full regular season of excellence placed them in a #1 seed so one can reasonably assume this is as difficult if not more so, considering Duke plays in the ACC, than those UNC wins over closer seeds. This again seems to be a wash to me when all factors are considered.
3. Records in the Tournament
I have concluded that it is not enough to evalute the fact that Duke or UNC was able to win two games against largely weaker opponents to get to a certain plateau in the tournament. It is also necessary to evaluate their records overall in the tournament during their respective streaks.
Duke: 4 Elite Eights, 3 Final Fours, 1 National Runner-Up, 1 National Championship, 28-8
UNC: 8 Elite Eights, 4 Final Fours, 1 National Runner-Up, 2 National Championships, 39-11
UNC has a slightly better winning percentage(.780 vs .777) and has won their Sweet Sixteen game more often(8 vs 4). UNC also made one more Final Four but also had four more years under the belt. UNC has seemingly finished the deal better winning half the Final Fours they attended during their streak while Duke only won once in three tries. Then again this, like the other factors, is a wash. UNC did better in the Sweet Sixteen but usually bowed out during the next round. Duke in 4 of the last 5 Sweet Sixteen games has lost to a lower seed and that could be considered a major issue since they were the favored team in all but the 2003 game when they were a #3 to #2 Kansas. During UNC's streak the only Sweet Sixteen loss the suffered which could be considered a bad loss was the 1984 loss to Indiana. In 1986 and 1989 UNC lost to the eventual national champion. In 1992, UNC lost to a #1 seed as a #4 seed. It also is notable that when UNC was given a #1 seed during its streak it capitalized on it winning two titles and making three Final Fours in five tournaments as a #1 seed. Duke in 8 tournaments as a #1 seed has made only three Final Fours and won one title.
The chief fallacy of this discussion rests on the fact that it tends to focus on the wrong periods of success for either program. In UNC's case there is some overlap, but the period from 1991 to present includes seven Final Fours and two titles. Duke went to six Final Fours in eight years from 1986 to 1994 including back-to-back titles which is far better than the current streak. Both programs had a downturn, Duke from 1995-1997 and UNC from 2002-2004 but at the same time both have acquitted themselves as consistant top performers on the college basketball stage. This is what makes the rivalry so intense. For the past 25 years both programs have won three titles and been to a combined 20 Final Fours. In other words Sweet Sixteen streak or not, they are both widely successful and perhaps on some nuanced level one is better than the other. In fact no one remembers which 16 teams won two game year in and year out, they only remember which team was better than the other 64. The only scorecard that really matters is the tally for national titles at each school: UNC 4 Duke 3. And if all goes well in Washington, D.C. tomorrow, UConn could be ready to challenge both schools for supremacy.