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UNC-Duke: The greatest teams that never happened

Matching up the two greatest "What If" Basketball Teams in ACC History: The 1996 Tar Heels and the 2000 Blue Devils.


For college basketball, the 1990s was a transitional phase. It was not yet the the one-and-done era that began in the 2000s, but neither was it the 80s, where players stayed all four years and the sport was dominated by veteran teams. Sure the 90s had its Tim Duncans, but it also had it's Chris Webbers and Allen Iversons. The high school draftee took off in the 90s, with players like KG and Kobe and college basketball was deprived of some of the greatest basketball players of a generation. Even blue bloods like Carolina and Duke saw its stars regularly leave before collecting their diplomas.

These early departures give rise to the timeless Sports Question: "What if?" There are many kinds of What-ifs in Sports such as injury ("What if Kendall Marshall hadn't broken his wrist?") or game decisions ("What if Rick Pitino had guarded Grant Hill's inbound pass?") but this particular What-if is different: What if the Greatest College Basketball Team of All Time was right in our grasp and got away?

Two teams that can make that case are the 1996 North Carolina Tar Heels and the 2000 Duke Blue Devils. Here's a Barbershop Debate we'll try to settle: Had they stayed and had they played, who wins?

Here are your rosters:

The 1996 Would-Be North Carolina Tar Heels

Jerry Stackhouse (Jr.)

Rasheed Wallace (Jr.)

Jeff McInnis (Jr.)

Vince Carter (Fr.)

Antawn Jamison (Fr.)

Dante Calabria (Sr.)

Shammond Williams (So.)

Serge Zwikker (Jr.),

Ademola Okaluja (Fr.)

Phew. Takes your breath away doesn't it? Stackhouse and Wallace were the best 1-2 punch in basketball as sophs in 1995. Imagining them as juniors is downright scary. Jamison was a beast the minute he hit Chapel Hill and performed brilliantly as a frosh. Carter struggled his first season, but he'd come off the bench in this game. McInnis was a sure-handed floor general who would have an embarrassing set of weapons to choose from. Calabria and Williams would be perfect shooters to stretch the floor. And Zwikker and Okaluja have five fouls that they can't take with them.

No one's beating these guys right? Unless...

The 2000 Would-Be Duke Blue Devils

Elton Brand (Jr.)

William Avery (Jr.)

Corey Maggette (So.)

Shane Battier (Jr.)

Chris Carrawell (Sr.)

Jason Williams (Fr.)

Carlos Boozer (Fr.)

Mike Dunleavy (Fr.)

Nate James (R-Jr.)

Andre Buckner (Fr.)...just kidding

Wow. These guys aren't half bad themselves. Duke was 37-2 in 1999 and they basically trade Trajan Langdon for three star freshman. Brand was Player of the Year in '99 and went #1 in the NBA Draft. Carrawell was a 1st-Team All-American in 2000 and Battier was Defensive POY. William Avery couldn't cut it in the pros but (stop me if you've heard this before) was a great player at Duke. Maggette was Coach K's first ever one-and-done (sorry, Kyrie) and would have been a Duke legend had he stayed. And the three freshman Williams, Boozer, and Dunleavy formed the core of the 2001 champions with Battier and James.

The Starters:

Carolina: Wallace, Jamison, Stackhouse, McInnis, Calabria

Bench: Carter, Williams, Okaluja, Zwikker

I know, I know, Calabria over Carter. But Vince wasn't Vinsanity as a freshman and Calabria was a sharpshooter in '96. That's also why he gets the nod over Shammond, who didn't become a star until 97. Jamison and Wallace were both comfortable playing either the 4 or the 5 so they'd complement each other well and Stackhouse would probably be the best player on the team.

Duke: Brand, Battier, Carrawell, Maggette, Williams

Bench: Avery, Dunleavy, Boozer, James, Matt Christensen (heh)

Williams narrowly gets the nod over the veteran Avery. Battier gets his favored stretch four position, Carrawell at the 3, Maggette the 2, and obviously Brand at the 5. Boozer would back up Brand, Dunleavy gives them a shooter off the bench, and James comes in to help guard the perimeter.


Carolina's starting five is better, Duke's bench is better. If Carolina gets in foul trouble, they're toast (thank God Makhtar N'diaye is redshirting this year). Brand has the strength advantage over Wallace, but Wallace is quicker and has a midrange. Jamison and Battier would likely be matched up, with Jamison winning inside but Battier getting open looks outside. I'd give Duke the edge in point guard because they have two good options to Carolina's one. No one guy on Duke can guard Stackhouse, so they throw a combo of Carrawell, Maggette, and James at him.

Who Wins?

Carolina fans would say they run them off the court. No way a team with Stackhouse, Wallace, Jamison, and Carter lose. Duke fans will tell you the defense and depth wear Carolina out. Feel free to offer your own take.

I'll go Heels in OT, 102-100.