I've always said that I am a lucky fan to be associated with two great rivalries. In football, the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is great.
But it ain't Carolina-Duke.
Carolina-Duke is a rivalry that has many layers to it.
PROXIMITY. The campuses are just 8 miles apart...making it a near high school basketball experience. Teams routinely dress in their own locker room, take a bus down the road to the other's gym, play the game, then get on the bus and go home. No road trip; no hotel; no baggage. People really fail to realize this. These guys see and hear about each other constantly. Imagine if the Yankees played in the Bronx and the Red Sox played in Brooklyn. There are students who actually attend classes at BOTH SCHOOLS!
BLUE: There is Duke blue and Carolina blue.
PUBLIC VS PRIVATE: North Carolina was the first public university when it opened it's doors in 1789. It is truly the university of the state...as it is an excellent school that is a great value for in-state students. Across the way, there is Duke who is a private school and looked at as a school for "yankees".
WINNING: The Heels are #2 in wins. Duke is #4. Between them, they have 7 NCAA tournament titles. This will be the 135th straight time that at least one of these schools will be ranked heading into this game.
COACHES: Coack K may be regarded as the best college coach out there....and was rewarded with the duty of coaching our USA team in the Olympics. But, Roy Williams has the highest active winning percentage.
TENT CITY: The fact that students would spend weeks living out of a tent just in hopes to get their tickets to this game says a lot about the importance. I mean, it's gonna be on TV anyways...but everyone want to be a part of it.
THE ARENAS: Yeah, I believe this...but a Carolina-Duke game in Cameron Indoor Stadium is the ultimate in college hoops. The atmosphere there is like a zoo feeding. Everyone is into it and the two hours the game goes on is like labor [um, I guess]. Duke fans have their smack and "cheer sheets" and all the aura of a cigar humidifier. If there is one thing Matt Doherty did right in Chapel Hill was help dump the "wine and cheese" crowd atmosphere into one that is much more lively. Students are closer to the action...and while Heels fans haven't gotten to Duke's level of geekness....the fact that there is over 20,000 in there [or 2.5 times Cameron's capacity] can be tough to deal with.
THE STARS: Sure, we can all run off the superstars of these two teams. Jordan. Laettner. Hurley. Worthy. Carter. Williams. Stackhouse. Ferry. Jamison....etc. But guys like Jeff Capel, Eric Montross, Gene Banks and the like come up just as huge. And many of these stars are recruited by both schools. Bobby Hurley wanted to be a Tar Heel, but Dean Smith was gonna see if he could land Kenny Anderson first. While that happened, Hurley went a bit east to Durham. The Capel Brothers....Jeff and Jason....attended differents schools. Duke went hard after Vince Carter. Carolina thought they had Christain Laettner.
HATE AND RESPECT: The fans hate each other...but there is respect there. I hate Duke, but I respect Duke. They do what they do well. The graduate players, play tough schedules and play by the rules. Most Duke fans think the same of Carolina. Since the players were mostly recruited by both schools and have played and seen the other players....they aren't really about the hate as much as the competition.
THE CARLYLE CUP: And this is where I think the rivalry truly gets legs....they are good at other things too. Just last week, UNC and Duke met as the #1 and #2 ranked teams in women's basketball. They are solid soccer programs....men and women. Golf, lacrosse, tennis and the rest are fought for vehemently during each athletic season. The program with the better overall showing wins the Carlyle Cup. Currently, it is in Carolina's hands.
THE GAME: Alright....enough of the small talk.
Duke heads into this game as a decided favorite. They are the #2 team in the country with their only loss coming to a rabid Georgetown team.
Carolina heads into this game on a modest win streak, with an impressive win in Maryland to boot. However, the Heels have been less than stellar at home of late.
But, while Duke will walk into Chapel Hill with such a stellar record....they have squeezed by a bit this season. They had to beat Virginia Tech at home with a half court buzzer beater. They also let Florida State take them to overtime in Cameron. North Carolina beat both of those teams on the road already.
You will see some of the top freshmen in this game. Duke has Josh McRoberts....the top rated player in the Class of 2005.....and Greg Paulus. North Carolina brings in possible freshman of the year Tyler Hansbrough...as well as Bobby Frasor, Danny Green and Marcus Ginyard.
But the biggest names will be on Duke's side. JJ Redick is a Player Of the Year candidate and Sheldon Williams is a fierce inside presence on both ends of the court. How North Carolina deals with these two guys will set the tone for the game.
In the past....UNC has done a masterful job negating these two. Williams has had to deal with Carolina's Sean May who ended last season with a Final Four MVP award. May also had the game of his life the last time these two met....he had 26 pts and 24 rebounds in the Tar Heel win.
Redick hasn't had a huge game against the Tar Heels [shooting a combined 25-of-71]....mainly because defensive hawk Jackie Manuel did the best job in the nation at getting in his face and staying there. Manuel, like May, is gone so the Heels will have to find guys to do the job.
Those "guys" are freshmen. The true test of Hansbrough will be in this game against an older, wiser center. Heels fans [like me] may hate to admit this....but Hansbrough plays like a Dookie in his passion and can-do attitude. That will be a good thing against Duke: he won't be intimidated.
As for Redick, I'm very scared of what he may do. The best Heels defender is Ginyard...but he doesn't start and, again, maybe to young to understand the nuances of defending Redick as Manuel did. The key is to fight thru the screens....and Ginyard must do so if he wants to stick to JJ.
Another key matchup will be the point guard spot....where both teams start freshmen. Bobby Frasor will have to deal with that rabid Duke pressure. He cannot make too many mistakes or Duke will run away with this one. On the other side, Paulus has had his ups and downs too....and will have to deal with Carolina's defensive intensity and getting back on defense to limit Tar Heel transition points....something that must be there for Carolina to win.
THE PREDICTION: I am going to be honest with you.
My head says Duke 81-71
My heart says Carolina 79-77.
Let's git it on!!!!