ESPN Dunks Best-Ever College Basketball Marks

The latest incarnation of college basketball’s most heated rivalry, North Carolina-Duke, burned its way to a Nielsen record for ESPN Saturday night.

UNC’s 76-68 triumph over the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium March 8 averaged 5.61 million viewers, 3.83 million households and a 4.0 household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

The contest removed the Feb. 23 match-up between Tennessee-Memphis, which averaged a 3.8 household rating, translating into3.63 million households and 5.28 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

Duke-UNC, according to ESPN officials, also proved to be the most-viewed regular season men’s college hoops contest in more than a decade, besting the Kentucky-Kansas game on Jan 9, 2005, which garnered 5.48 million viewers for CBS, and the top-rated since the Tar Heels played the Blue Devils on Feb. 3, 1993, which courted a 4.3 mark for ESPN.

Among households, Saturday’s night action was the tops since CBS captured 3.98 million for the same teams back on March 5, 2005.

Overall, ESPN’s 2007-08 men’s college basketball regular-season telecasts have averaged 964,000 households and a 1.0 rating, growing 12% in households from. 862,000 and 11% in ratings from a 0.9 mark, when compared with the same stage of the 2006-07 season.

The Tar Heels’s triumph Saturday night helped elevate ESPN to a tie for sixth place in basic-cable for the week of March 3-9 with a 1.4 household average, according to a Disney ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen data.