Sunday, March 6, 2011

Observations From Carolina-Duke

North Carolina beat Duke last night to claim the ACC regular season championship. Quite a game to watch.

THE RIVALRY: Well, below is a nice list of why this is the best college hoops rivalry ... and may be the best collegiate rivalry. The schools are 8 miles apart. One is a private school; the other a public school. One is filled with out-of-staters; one is mainly in-state students. One plays in a small bandbox that is hell on opponents; another plays in the ACC's largest arena that is hell on opponents. One has the Crazies, the other has the Wine and Cheese Crowd (though it sure didn't sound very winey or cheesey last night).

Not to mention the players. There are lots of guys that were recruited heavily by both schools. Harrison Barnes was all but sealed to go to Duke before Carolina swooped in and got him. Danny Ferry was a Tar Heel fan but signed on to Duke. There are many, many others ... including next year's freshman sensation Austin Rivers who both Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski went after (Coach K won).

And remember in high school when you might run into your rivals at McDonald's or the mall or something? Same thing happens here. They are around each other all the time.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: Last night was the sixth time the outright ACC regular season championship game down to the final game between these two teams. Of the 58 seasons of ACC basketball, North Carolina has won at least a share of the regular season title 28 times. Duke has 19 titles. Only twice (2001, 1979) have both schools tied each other for the ACC crown. Still, that means 45 of the 58 ACC championships have been won by UNC, Duke or both. The last school outside of these two to win an outright ACC championship was Wake Forest in 2003 (Virginia and Maryland have each shared an ACC crown in that time).
PRIME TIME: This was the first time CBS showed a regular season game in primtime.

REMEMBER DECEMBER?: What made this matchup all the more unlikely was how these teams were perceived in December. UNC was, at one point, 4-3 and looked very disjointed. Heck, back in January, they were spanked by lowly Georgia Tech by 20. This team was sitting on the bubble and it looked like last season would repeat itself. The Heels have won 20 of 23, the ACC and now have a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament in the bag and could climb to a No. 1 or No. 2 depending on what happens in the ACC Tournament this week.

As for Duke, there were people saying that this team could go undefeated. They were defending champions, brought back everyone but Brian Zoubek and Jon Scheyer and added Kyrie Irving and Seth Curry. Now, who knows what would've happened had Irving not gotten injured ... but injuries happen in sports and are part of life. Still, Duke was 15-0 and looking like they'd roll into ACC play.

They have been 12-4 ever since, which isn't anything to sneeze at. But for a team that many felt couldn't be beaten, they've looked rather suspect down the stretch.

PLUMLEES: Most overrated Duke recruit(s) since Ricky Price. Two of the brothers are already at Duke with another one on the way. Add all of them together and they could equal one Brian Zoubek.

Duke must have the Plumlees do something in the NCAAs. Last year's team was set up in a similar way (mainly a guard oriented team), but Zoubek ate up a ton of space, was active and a solid defender. These Plumlees aren't that. Neither was Zoubek until his senior season, but that doesn't help Duke out right now.

DEXTER STRICKLAND: Now that Larry Drew II is gone, Strickland has taken on the role as the Tar Heels that makes you most nervous. Strickland forces shots, drives into traffic and seems to go against the offense at times. But he makes some of those shots and had the big dunk at the end of the game that put the nail in Duke's coffin.

NOLAN SMITH: He should unanimously be the ACC Player of the Year. To see his basketball maturity over the past four years is stunning.

ROY WILLIAMS: Ol' Roy has to win the ACC Coach of the Year award. Guiding this team to an ACC title is one thing, but to do it after you lost a lottery pick (Ed Davis), two transfers (Travis Wear, David Wear) and having another kicked off the team (Will Graves). He then had to deal with Larry Drew II quitting on the team in the middle of the ACC season and losing Reggie Bullock to a knee injury. They now only have 8 scholarship athletes playing right now and their backup power forward is 6-4 Justin Watts. To pull this off is one of Roy's biggest acheivements.

NEXT WEEK: All this is fine and dandy, but we may get to do it all over again next week ... and a No. 1 seed could be on the line.

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