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There's not too much to top it. New York and Boston? It's up
there. Cleveland and Pittsburgh? In the old days it was. L.A. and
Boston? Maybe again someday. When it comes to sports, there's just not too
much that tops Duke and Carolina for intensity, for competitive genius, and the
capacity to amaze.
There was the Heyman game, when Art Heyman landed on the UNC bench (they were
still under the baskets at that time) and was jumped on by a bunch of, well,
Heels. He came flying out of the pileup and the brawl was on. Heyman
later proudly said, "I hit Frank McGuire in the nuts."
A few years later, career reserve Fred Lind erupted against UNC, leading Duke
to a classic 3 OT win.
In 1974? Duke had fallen on hard times, and beating UNC seemed impossible.
They were rated #3 in the country, and Duke pulled off the shocking upset.
Then there was the Gene Banks game, his senior year, which was another
And don't forget the Jeff Capel game, when Jeff hit a long, running jumper to
keep the game alive. UNC won, but what a great game.
And then the comeback in, what, 1998? when Duke was down 17 and rushed back
into the game at the end.
For UNC, there are, of course, great memories as well, starting with the
8-points-in-16-seconds game, the Dante Calabria falling-down jumper, the bloody
Eric Montross game of 1993, where UNC made it clear they were very serious
contenders for Duke's crown.
Any fan could go on and on.
This year's is going to be really interesting as well.
UNC is on an incredible run, rolling over just about everyone in sight, Wake
Forest and Santa Clara excepted. They're bound to feel they can do the
same to Duke.
And Duke, despite a raft of injuries and a serious lack of depth, has shown a
flinty resolve this year and has been tough for everyone to deal with.
Nonetheless, UNC has a lot of advantages in this game. While Sean May
and Shelden Williams at the least (from either perspective) neutralize each
other, UNC has Marvin Williams, and that's a tough matchup for Duke.
Williams is as good an athlete as anyone in college who is 6-9, and he's an
excellent shooter as well, with 3 point range. He doesn't start, but when he's
in, UNC probably has a big advantage. Randolph is Duke's best option, but
despite his inspired play, he's still recovering from mono, and up to about 20
minutes a game, and currently has a tendency to foul when he's tired, which is
understandable given how sick he has been.
On offense, J.J. Redick is basically a guard. On defense, he has to often
guard a bigger forward, which is tough. In this game, he'll probably get
matched up with Jackie Manuel, UNC's ace defender.
Manuel, who recently became engaged to his longtime girlfriend, has emerged
as a real force as a defensive stopper. He's probably not quite in the
class of ACC greats like Dudley Bradley or Billy King or Juan Dixon, but he's
damn good, and he could give Redick fits. He's a limited offensive player
(although improved), but offense is a bonus when your defense is that good.
UNC's backcourt is no walk in the park, either. Raymond Felton, who was
erratic and didn't shoot well or make good decisions as a sophomore, isn't
erratic anymore, and he shoots well and makes good decisions now, too.
And then there's Rashad McCants.
McCants gets a lot of criticism for various things, most of which he insists
are misunderstandings. But whatever it is about him that drives people
nuts isn't that far away. This summer, despite being the most talented
player on the U.S. national team, Kelvin Sampson sent him home. Somewhere
along the way, he said that Chris Paul was a better, more natural point guard
than Raymond Felton, which probably didn't thrill Felton.
He's gotten two tattoos, one saying he was born to be hated, the other saying
he's dying to be loved. Make up your mind!
But there's no denying the talent. McCants is enormously
talented. He has had to work hard to adjust himself to what Roy Williams
wants from his team, and he has in large measure learned to not say or do stupid
things, although comparing UNC to prison was not a smart move. Both coach
and player said it was taken out of context, but you have to realize where you
are and whatever you say could be a sound bite. So UNC-as-prison just added to
the McCants legend of disruptive behavior.
Last year, he probably cost UNC the game in Durham when he didn't play hard
defense in the waning seconds of the game.
We also should mention Sean May in more detail, because he is one of our
favorite ACC players. He's fundamentally sound (thanks dad!), and he's never
been a bad influence, as far as we can tell, on anyone. He's had a fair
amount of diversity and just kept going, and this year, he's gotten himself in
great shape and has had a tremendous year.
And last but not least among UNC's starters, at long last free to play a more
natural position, is Jawad Williams, who has turned himself into a likely first
round draft pick.
With all the focus on UNC's other talent, Williams, who has been through all
the turmoil at UNC over the last few seasons, hardly gets noticed, but he's
playing great, and despite playing further from the basket, is shooting .613.
And off the bench, UNC can turn to guys like the aforementioned Marvin
Williams, and experienced guys like David Noel and Melvin Scott. Reyshawn
Terry has also become a pretty solid player, and Quentin Thomas has been getting
his minutes too, although he's nowhere near the player Raymond Felton is.
Clearly, Duke has a big job ahead. Yet UNC is not perfect.
For one, they haven't always played great defense this year, as Roy Williams
will point out to anyone who listens. Felton at times still gets his goat,
and McCants is always going to be a work in progress in that regard.
Manuel is a greatly improved offensive player, but he's still not a terrible
threat offensively, and not someone UNC would want to have the ball if the game
is on the line. He's not awful, but he's not the first option.
Sean May, too, is much, much better than last year, but UNC has had the
option of only playing him for 24 minutes a game. Either he or Marvin
Williams will have to be in against Shelden Williams. May and S.Williams
know each other pretty well by now, so the wild card down low will be how good
Marvin Williams is against the Landlord, or vice-versa.
If you were going on just talent in picking a team, most people would choose
McCants over Daniel Ewing. And while Ewing is not as gifted as McCants, he
is a big part of the reason why Duke has proven so tough to beat this
year. Even though he has been in something of a slump the last few games,
he has stepped up and hit big shots all season, he's perfectly willing to take
the toughest defensive assignment, and he's all about winning. He'll likely draw
McCants, although we could see him taking Felton, letting Dockery take Manuel,
and letting Redick go after McCants.
UNC, of course, is going to try to push it, and while Duke usually likes to
push it too, no one is going to outrun UNC this year. Daniel Ewing said
the other day that he thought Duke played a half-court offense as well as anyone
Now that you've read all this speculation, we'll give you two words and you
can toss it out:
In a lot of ways, his performance sort of underscores the heart of this
rivalry. J.J. Redick could go off for 40, but so could McCants. Lee
Melchionni might pick this game to hit five threes, or UNC's Terry might.
For what it's worth, we'll put our money on defense, and expect that whoever
plays the more rugged defense - and whoever hangs on to the ball the best - will win.