PHILADELPHIA — Cinderella had no chance against the lumbering stomps of destiny.

From the moment North Carolina and Duke each advanced out of the Sweet 16, their impending Elite 8 matchups were fait accompli. The die was cast. Only the final score was unknown.

That score — North Carolina 69, Saint Peter’s 49 — is utterly forgettable in the context of what comes next.

For the first time in the history of the most storied rivalry in college basketball, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are meeting in the NCAA Tournament.

But this is not just the NCAA Tournament. It’s the Final Four.

That accomplishment is nothing new for either program, with North Carolina making its 21st appearance and Duke its 17th. But none of them have been anything like this.

This is the final Final Four for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who surpassed mentor Bob Knight as the most iconic college basketball coach of the post-John Wooden era. No figure is viewed with more derision in Chapel Hill than Coach K, whom Carolina fans have referred to as “The Rat” for decades.

Win and the 2022 Tar Heels will be remembered forever. Even more than Michael Jordan and James Worthy’s team or Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson’s 2009 steamroller. Because they will have the opportunity to do something no other Carolina team has or ever will — end Coach K’s career.

Lose as the penultimate speed bump on the way to Krzyzewski’s 6th and final national championship?

Carolina fans are going to wish the Heels lost to Saint Peter’s while they had the chance.

The stakes could not be higher for what could be the most anticipated Final Four matchup since Magic faced Bird in the ’79 title game.

Fans ready for Duke before Tar Heels

The chants began before the nets were cut down.

“We want Duke! We want Duke!”

It was a brief interlude before those fans returned their focus to celebrating that which had just been accomplished rather than what was to come. But you can bet there is only one team capable of getting Carolina fans to jump so quickly from basking to the next step.

One enterprising fan found the back of a “Let’s Go Peacocks!” poster and decided to give it some tastefully profane cosmetic work.

But if the Tar Heels themselves began looking forward to this matchup ahead of time, they certainly didn’t show it.

Even after the game seemed too early to discuss Duke for Armando Bacot.

“It’s a good question,” Bacot said when asked what the upcoming game will mean for both UNC and Duke. “But I can’t answer it right now. Coach will get mad at me.”

The Tar Heels went to bed knowing the Blue Devils loomed after Duke blew out Arkansas Saturday night. And there had to be a temptation to pay it some heed.

But North Carolina never looked remotely distracted against Saint Peter’s, which demanded focus after becoming the lowest seed to ever reach the Elite 8. The Tar Heels opened with a 9-0 run and were never seriously pushed after the game’s first 12 minutes.

Carolina coach Hubert Davis said closing the regular season with the circus that was Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor helped the Heels avoid distractions.

“I don’t think anything can be as crazy as it was leading up to the game over in Cameron,” Davis said. “As I said before, we keep our eyes straight ahead and we ignore all the noise.

“And I consistently tell them to turn down or turn off the noise of the phone, family and friends. If you do that — just focus on our preparation and our practice, then our play will be good. And that’s what we’re going to do this upcoming week.”

Davis went so far as to say that he hasn’t even started thinking about Duke yet.

“I haven’t thought about it at all,” he said. “The only thing on my mind is celebrating with the rest of the players on what just happened today. Next week will be next week. And we’ll deal with that next week. But right now I don’t want to think about next week and lose the moment of today.”

From most other coaches, it would sound like hogwash. But given that this is still his first season, Davis’ comments struck as genuine.

“There’s so much joy and there’s so much happiness and thankfulness and appreciation,” Davis said. “I want to stay there. There’s enough time to go to our game next week. I want to enjoy today.”

For Davis and the Heels, maybe Sunday really was all about enjoyment and reflection. And rightfully so.

But for the rest of us, the anticipation has already begun.