Here we are again, on the eve of another Duke-UNC clash.
The days of Dean and Mike are over, just as the days of Vic and Dean are long
gone. For a couple of years, people proposed Maryland as a substitute, but this
season proved the folly of that notion, as the Terps fell back. ESPN will
be live in the parking lot. Vitale will be going nuts. Dean Smith will
watch on television with antacid pills. Vic Bubas, wherever he is, will be
watching. Matt Doherty will probably find it hard to ignore, too.
Stanford partisans will watch with envy. The best rivalry in sports is
back, and it's hotter than ever. Bring it on!!
There was a sea change in this game, which to us was best illustrated by Corey Maggette's soaring over most of the UNC
frontline to grab a rebound a few years ago. It
was a statement, a way of saying the talent had migrated to Durham, and UNC, at
that point, was no longer relevant. Despite a victory by Doherty in
Durham, Duke's pair of wins within a week without Carlos Boozer reinforced the
sense of dominance the Devils had developed.
But last year, to Doherty's credit, the talent returned even
as his departure became certain, and this year, in the first matchup, things
were straight down the middle. Only Duhon's drive - inner and on the court
- separated the two teams.
And now, the first rematch. We say first because this
could be the year of four, and no, we're not kidding. UNC may be a bit
thin to make it to the conference finals, but with so many possible variables in
the standings after this weekend, who knows when they would play? We'll
have to wait and see. But three games are definitely possible, and both
teams are legitimate Final Four contenders now.
UNC has become so over the past few weeks. They have
some depth problems, some chemistry issues, and various minutiae to deal with,
including injuries. But they have a superb big man in Sean May, probably
the fastest point guard in the U.S. in Raymond Felton, and a big-time clutch
scorer in Rashad McCants. They also have a gifted defensive
specialist, if his health is good.
Ol' Roy Williams has said that UNC's inconsistency is
maddening, but they are coming together at the right time.
As for Duke, coming off a tough loss to Tech, when it seemed
that they could not match Tech's intensity, this is a gut-check game. They
have first place locked up in the conference, and a good shot at a #1 seed, but
they didn't play up to their potential against Tech, no question.
It's also Senior Day, with the final appearances of Chris
Duhon, Nick Horvath, Andy Means, and Andy Borman. We want to give special
props to Andy Means for wearing #53 to honor his high school teammate, John Stewart,
who had signed with Kentucky but died tragically young. It's a very loving
thing he did.
The Andys are joined by tragedy in a sense, since Andy
Borman's brother, who was enrolled at UNC, also died terribly young, and Andy
actually took his junior year off to deal with the issues surrounding his loss.
Of course, we're all pretty familiar with Chris Duhon and Nick
Horvath, guys who have yet to lose a game in the ACC Tournament. In
Duhon's case, in particular, after a tough year last year, when he faced all
sorts of criticism for all sorts of things, some of which were aired in the
press and some of which were not, we couldn't be more impressed. He has
ended his career with one of the truly great seasons by a Duke point
guard. In terms of leading his team, you can stack this season up with any
by Hurley, Amaker, Wojo, Williams, or anyone else you care to mention. Chris has
been brilliant. We've said before how much we admire his willingness to
launch himself over press row, or to throw his body under some behemoth.
It's not obvious on TV, but trust us, when you are diving in front of someone
who weighs 240 or 250 who is about to land on you, it's pretty
Chris has shown enormous guts and character, and set a
standard that will be hard to match.
As for Horvath, we've been fans of his since he got to Duke.
He went from being a kid who was skinny and perimeter oriented to a guy who
everyone says is the strongest on the team, and a guy who has no problem
standing up to anyone on the court. He's become extremely tough and has
shown enormous love for and loyalty to Duke. He was recruited to Duke as a
"program guy," a guy who the staff knew wanted to play for Duke and
who would be around for the length of his natural career. He hasn't been a great
player, but he has been selfless and has become a man at Duke. We couldn't
be more happy with him, or happy for him.
Still, we can't help but remember Shane Battier's Senior Day,
and how things seemed so dark right after that game.
In case you don't remember, that was when Carlos Boozer broke
his foot and Maryland came back and beat Duke. We remember thinking that Duke
was probably finished, that there would be no title shot for this
While we were thinking that, Coach K was wondering if Reggie
Love could conquer the gutless Brendan Haywood, and, as it turned out, he could.
And much to our surprise, Carlos Boozer managed an amazingly
rapid comeback. It occurs to us now that we never thought about how much
heart he showed in doing that, how much guts it took to do it, but as he has
started to rip the NBA up, we get it in retrospect: Boozer was one tough
Anyway, we mention it because there was a sense after the Tech
game that, gee, this team can't do it, they're not good enough, or tough enough,
or whatever enough to pull it off. There's only one word for that. Okay,
There are some others, including the famous barnyard chant
which springs up so often at games, but you may not know that poppycock is a
word of Dutch origin which means warm dung. So it's just a point of
picking your favorite barnyard animal, and a word which conveys, with the proper
intensity, the disgust excrement seems to always bring with it. So
We're not about to give up on this team. We remember too
many years when things seemed difficult. How about 1990, when Phil
Henderson called his teammates a "bunch of babies -" that seemed
pretty dangerous at the time. Or '91, when Duke basically fell apart in the ACC
Finals, with Hurley and Laettner fighting on the court?
The point is, Duke is really fortunate to have Coach K on the
bench. He is a master psychologist and a guy who always sees the glass as
half full. This is a point lost on some posters on our bulletin board, who
misunderstand the concept of "next play." It's not that it
doesn't matter; of course it does. If it didn't, they wouldn't break down
game film and make special videos for players to show where they screwed
What it does mean is that after a mistake, there's no point in
dwelling on it, and you'd better keep your head in the damn game.
And what it also means is that you don't accept failure as
defining you. One of the things Krzyzewski has proved to be absolutely
masterful at is getting his players to view things positively. So while
the Tech game was a dud, there were very positive lessons to take away from that
game. We aren't what you would call insiders, but we do know enough to
know that in the locker room, and in various meetings, that game has been
thoroughly dissected, and the players have been criticized, but then pointed
towards a resolution of that criticism.
And whatever happens Saturday or next weekend, we've certainly
learned enough to never sell this team short. It's a really dumb mistake
But let's hope UNC makes it.
And finally, even as we join in a rousing chorus of "Go
To Hell Carolina, Go To Hell!", and even get misty-eyed nostalgia over Dean
Smith and yellow snow, we have a deep appreciation for how incredibly lucky we
are to have this..this what? This passion, this obsession, this rock, this ACC,
this crowning glory of college basketball. It doesn't get any better, and
we know our UNC friends join us in treasuring it, even as we want to crush each
other and then taunt our friends at work on Monday. God Bless it.
It's hard to imagine life without it.