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For All the Marbles

Two top-five teams, one of them number one in the polls playing for the ACC Regular season championship in the final game of the season with heavy NCAA tournament implications. I'm beginning to think this game is a bit of a big deal.

The News & Observer tossed out that this is the twelfth time Duke and UNC have met "with at least a share of the ACC regular season title at stake." I'm not sure how they're counting that, but I had already gone through the history books looking for the games that decided the ACC season, and here's what I found. Unfortunately, it's not all that good for UNC:

2001 Ah, the first Matt Doherty season. UNC (13-2, #2 AP) with a team consisting of two football players, to eventua transfers and the Capel-Lang-Haywood trifecta in the frontcourt, came into the game with a half-game lead over Duke (12-3, #4 AP) and a previous win in Cameron in which the Duke cheereaders' attractiveness was called into question. Unfortunately, the wheels were beginning to fall of the Carolina juggernaut, as two of their previous four games were 10 and 20 point losses to Clemson and Virginia, respectively, and for a third Sunday in a row UNC would leave the court with a loss. The two teams ended up with identical conference records, with UNC getting the top seed by virtue of their two wins over Maryland. It wouldn't matter - the Heels went on to lose the next two Sundays as well, to Duke in the ACC championship and to Penn State in the NCAA's. No one remembers what happended to the Blue Devils. No one. Duke 95, North Carolina 81

1991 In what I'm sure is considered an epic game on the other sie of 15-501, Duke and UNC met on Senior Day in Chapel Hill with identical 10-3 records, and three spots between them in the polls (UNC was 4th, Duke 8th). Alas, UNC missed three three-pointers while down two in the last 28 seconds, and Duke put the game away in free throws, earning a bye in the ACC tournament due to Maryland's postseason ban. It wouldn't help - UNC would destroy Duke in the ACC championship a week later on their way to the Final Four, in the game where Scott Cherry and Bobby Hurley put up near-identical box scores. Again, Duke's postseason results are lost to history. Duke 83, North Carolina 77

1989 This game doesn't really meet the criteria, as #9 Duke entered this in Chapel Hill out of championship contention at 8-5. UNC was 9-4 and 5th in the country however, and battling for the number one seed with N.C. State in what was officially The Last Time the Wolfpack Was Any Good. Duke came back from 10 down in the last seven minutes, and King Rice missed an overtime-forcing free throw as Danny Ferry got his last win against UNC. The Heels would go on to beat Duke in the ACC Championship, after N.C. State became the first #1 conference seed to lose in the opening round, and Never Was Good Again. Duke 88, North Carolina 86

1979 The setting this time was Durham, where UNC (9-2, #4) again had a half game lead over Duke (8-3, #6). And what folks got was the game that changed basketbal history, as Duke fans invented the Airball chant after Rich Yonaker's miss in a first half that ended 7-0. UNC just couldn't come back from that insurmountable lead, and all of a sudden people began muttering for this thing called a "shot clock" which I'm sure will never catch on. This was also Roy Williams' first game on the bench in Cameron. UNC would still take the top seed in the tournament - with the bye that came with it inthe pre-Georgia Tech days - and go on to beat Duke in the ACC tournament. Duke 47, North Carolina 40

1978 Yep, you have to go back twenty years to find one of these season-deciding games that fell UNC's way. Entering the game in Carmichael tied with #13 Duke at 8-3, the 8th ranked Heels had Phil Ford playing in his last game in Chapel Hil, and really, what more do you need? Ford put up 34 points five years before ou could start getting them three at a time, and UNC took the regular season crown. Alas, the Heels dropped the opening games of bothe the ACC and NCAA's, to Wake and San Francisco, respectively. North Carolina 87, Duke 83

1958 One year removed from a perfect season, UNC arrived in Cameron 9th, to meet the 6th ranked Blue Devils with identical 10-3 records. Duke got the win, and after the home team called a meaningless timeout with two seconds left, their fans stormed the court effectively ending the game. Frank McGuire, who had spent his UNC tenure fighting for better fan behavior - he banned the football team from sitting behind the visitors bench in Woolen, and quieted the UNC crowd at the earlier UNC-Duke matchup that year - kept the Heels sitting on the bench after the game for fifteen minutes, amidst the celebrating pandemonium. Duke would get the top seed in the ACC, but it was 4th-seeded Maryland who would beat UNC in the conference final to get the NCAA bid. Duke 59, North Carolina 46

1956 Frank McGuire had lost six of his first eight games against Duke coming into 1956's season finale, where both teams were 10-3, and UNC was 9th while Duke was 11th. UNC won handily with five players who would eventually lead the Heels to a national title one year later. This year's season wouldn't be so auspicious, as the Heels would only get a share of the regular season crown after N.C. State beat Wake Forest the next day to also go 11-3. The Wolfpack would get the top seed, and eventually make the NCAA's, while UNC would lose to that same Wake Forest team in the ACC semis. North Carolina 73, Duke 65