Where else in collegiate athletic America would the student body hoist a coat of arms that included "Eruditio et Basketballia"? Where else but Duke would the players not only know what that means but also act it out nearly every moment of every game?
The Blue Devils lose about once a semester, but almost never to themselves. Same with the other guys on the court here Sunday, North Carolina. Jan Kemp would hug 'em all, though one or two might pass through a remedial-studies class occasionally. Still, both teams resent a common impression that they climbed to numero uno in the polls this season in tweed jackets.
"Intelligence is fine," said Jay Bilas, "but we don't put the ball in the basket with our brains."
Bilas did not put the ball in the basket once in the 82-74 victory over the Tar Heels. All he did was put the afternoon in the sort of marvelous perspective you rarely get in a locker room.
Let's pause just briefly to celebrate the motto "scholarship and basketball." There is time for that, after all, because Duke and North Carolina might go at each other two more times in increasingly important games: the ACC and NCAA finals.
One play illustrated Duke at its cerebral best. It came in the final seconds of the first half, when North Carolina was behind by a point and playing for the final shot.
A freshman, Jeff Lebo, had matters in his hands. He had been splendid, scoring 12 points while discovering that few things in life ever will be more disconcerting than shooting free throws in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Tar Heels were closer than many had expected, because they were not playing with a full deck, as Warren Martin and Steve Hale were sidelined with injuries.
Their deck is more loaded than most, however, and after shooting nearly 72 percent from the field, North Carolina could surge into intermission with the lead.
Lebo drew Johnny Dawkins off balance when he drove to the free-throw line as the clock ticked under eight seconds. With a spin move, he would have an open jumper.
He spun. Instead of uncluttered airspace, he collided with Tommy Amaker, who figured Lebo might be up to that sort of trick and leaped into his path.
Amaker picked Lebo clean.
"He was where they least expected him," Bilas said. "Then he looked at the clock [as he was dashing up court] to see whether to launch a shot or go in for the layup."
Casual as you please, Amaker laid the ball over the rim an instant before the horn sounded.
"A four-point play," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, meaning the two North Carolina failed to get and the two the Blue Devils did get. "A six-point play if we'd converted the first possession of the second half."
Both teams gave everything of themselves but gave nothing without a struggle. When Bilas fouled out, it was with a hack that forced Brad Daugherty to try a one-and-one from the foul line instead of shooting twice.
Same when Danny Ferry was caught for his fourth foul a couple of minutes later. They were saying to Daugherty: "No freebies today."
Daugherty missed both shots.
A close game began to swing inexorably Duke's way.
"Duke is one of the greatest teams I've seen in college basketball," said North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, setting up the rematch.
Krzyzewski thought the brightest plays for five seniors, who included Bilas, Dawkins and David Henderson, came before tipoff. In an emotional Cameron farewell, they kept their composure.
"David said any guy who cried [during the seniors' introductions] he'd laugh at," Bilas said, adding: "He seemed closest to losing it."
Few ACC classes ever have gone out with more style, or more satisfaction. The cornerstone of the 1985 regular-season champions lost to Wagner as freshmen. And by 43 points to Virginia in the first round of the ACC tournament.
"Can you imagine, at 17, having someone shove a microphone under your chin and ask what it feels like to have Ralph Sampson call you a dirty player?" said Bilas, doing that very thing in his mind.
"Four of us ended up scoring more than 1,000 points for our careers, and not many [senior classes] accomplish that. I can look at Johnny and the others and say: 'You've seen me at my lowest point, and I've seen you at your lowest point.'
"We fought back together.
"Looking back, I don't think I'd have wanted it any other way. Maybe it wouldn't have made any difference if a veteran had been covering [for his mistakes and Duke had finished better than 11-17 that first season].
"But I went through the test of fire. Maybe that didn't make us better basketball players, but it made us better people.
"I remember not seeing my dad lots of times growing up [in California]. He'd leave for work before I got up and get home after I was in bed. He made so many sacrifices for me. I feel we made important sacrifices here."
Krzyzewski was inspired enough to keep his mouth mostly shut before and during the pregame nostalgia. Bilas later reminded everyone that Sunday was nice but not nearly everything.
These Blue Devils are greedy. They would like to cap careers that started with a loss to Wagner with a national championship.
"I said after we lost to Carolina [earlier in the season] that the winner would not be crowned king and the loser would not be demoralized for life," Bilas said. "They say the mark of a champion is taking the other team's best shot and still winning.
"Carolina's been doing that year after year. They can be on a three-game losing streak, and everyone still wants to beat 'em, because they have 'North Carolina' on their chests."
Duke can strut awhile.
So can college basketball.