NCAA Basketball Preview
North Carolina Tar Heels vs Duke Blue Devils
As the great sports writer Al Featherston intelligently points out from time to time, ESPN treats the first Duke-UNC game (Enter contest) as a demarcation between the end of football season with the Super Bowl and the brief reign of college basketball from February to early April. It’s a nice position to be in for both programs and for the ACC in general. They don’t do that for Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas, UCLA or any of the rest. Duke and UNC have something unique.
Kentucky-Louisville comes close, but they aren’t next door neighbors. It’s still infuriating that UNC’s academic fraud scandal gave them such advantages but when you walk up to the gym, you’re not thinking about that. You walk up and you get on the other side of Wallace Wade and you hear the Crazies already. You hear that crowd from that far away, even before the game started. There is this feeling of the pulsing energy and the tribalism from your side. It gives you a sense of belonging, a quickening of your step. More than anything at that moment, you want to be in that sea of exultation.
And then the game starts.
It’s usually such a crackle of emotions, whip sharp, and typically one team jumps out to a quick lead before things settle down and the game reaches full intensity. As Al has pointed out from time to time, not only is the series been dead even for a long time, there’s very little margin in total points scored. Right now, UNC appears to have the advantage. The Heels have more size, a better point guard and a more developed team.
And yet those things don’t matter.
It didn’t matter when Austin Rivers hit that shot in Duke’s big comeback in Chapel Hill. It didn’t matter when Dante Calabria hit a shot while falling down. And it didn’t matter when Hubert Davis hit his big shot or when Chris Duhon drove the length of the court to hit the winning layup. The potential for magic is never higher than it is in a Duke-UNC game. Quite simply, there’s nothing else quite like it.