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2017 NCAA Tournament: A Historic Rivalry

It’s forgotten by many, but the Duke-South Carolina rivalry once burned hotter than Duke-UNC, Duke-Maryland or Duke-Kentucky.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Duke vs Troy
Mar 17, 2017; Greenville, SC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Javin DeLaurier (12) looses control of the ball but the ball goes into the basket against Troy Trojans guard B.J. Miller (11) during the second half in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. 
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

A HISTORIC RIVALRY

By AL FEATHERSTON

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Mike Krzyzewski’s greatest moment as a player came one March night against South Carolina.

Frank McGuire’s Gamecocks had finished 11-3 in the ACC with a talented young team led by New Yorkers John Roche and Tom Owens. Under modern rules, South Carolina would have been an NCAA team – maybe a No. 2 or No. 3 seed (except they were on probation at that time). When Duke upset the ‘Cocks in the ACC semifinals in Charlotte, McGuire’s team had to settle for a trip to the NIT.

After beating Southern Illinois handily in the first round, South Carolina was matched against one of Bobby Knight’s Army teams in Madison Square Garden. And it turned out that the key to the game was the defensive performance that young Army guard Mike Krzyzewski turned in to stifle ACC player of the year John Roche.

“I did defend John Roche,” Krzyzewski acknowledged Saturday. Asked his memories of that game, he said, “Well, we won. He had six points. I’d like to say it was me, but it was because they played a double-high offense. They put their two big guys at the elbow and they screened for him. One of my teammates was so good at that, [Roche] never went to that side.

“We won, I think, 57-45. That was a good one.”

Coach K was close – the actual score was 59-45.

Krzyzewski will get another chance to break South Carolina hearts tonight (8:40 pm) when his second-seeded Duke Blue Devils (28-8) take on seventh-seeded South Carolina (23-10) in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

It’s the first game between Duke and South Carolina in 16 years and just the second since the Gamecocks left the ACC after the 1971 season.

Despite the long layoff, the two teams do have a history.

But it’s ancient history.

It started in 1914, when the two teams met for the first time. The rivalry heated up when Duke joined the Southern Conference (South Carolina was already a member). In 1933, South Carolina beat Duke in the Southern Conference title game in Raleigh.

South Carolina had a brief run of success in the early 1930s, when Coach Rock Norman brought in the “Texas boys” and went 35-3 over a two year period, including four straight wins over Duke.

But that was the exception. South Carolina soon became a whipping boy in the Southern Conference, usually battling Clemson and The Citadel for the league basement. That continued into the first decade of the ACC as the Gamecocks turned in 11 straight losing seasons in the league.

But everything changed in 1964, when South Carolina hired ex-UNC coach Frank McGuire to replace Bob Stevens. The pugnacious New Yorker had won a national championship at UNC in 1957, before leaving to coach Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia Warriors in the NBA. But after one year as a pro coach, the franchise relocated to San Francisco and McGuire refused to move to the West Coast.

At South Carolina, he found terrible facilities, few players and almost no interest in the sport of basketball.

He changed that, re-opening the pipeline of New York talent that has made his UNC teams so tough and spearheading the drive to build a new basketball arena. He energized the South Carolina fan base. The key event in his early reign was a 73-71 victory over No. 2 Duke on Dec. 6, 1965 – just days before the Blue Devils beat defending NCAA champion UCLA in back-to-back games.

From that point, McGuire would be the focal point of a lot of anger and controversy in the ACC --- and with Duke.

The first war was over a New Jersey big man named Mike Grosso.

McGuire changed South Carolina’s fortunes with the Roche-Owens recruiting class. But Grosso could have changed things even faster. Unfortunately, he fell far short of the ACC’s infamous 800 rule (all athletes had to score a minimum 800 on the SATs). McGuire recruited Grosso anyway, announcing that he would be a walk-on at South Carolina – his expenses paid by an uncle who owned a bar in New Jersey.

When the ACC investigated, it was determined that the uncle was merely a conduit for money from the school to the kid. The ACC ruled Grosso ineligible. The NCAA later slapped South Carolina with two years of probation in the Grosso case.

McGuire blamed Duke athletic director Eddie Cameron for “turning South Carolina in” – as if snitching on a cheater was worse than being a cheater. Actually, McGuire was turned in by the president at Clemson, but that wasn’t known at the time.

Relations between McGuire and Duke got so bitter that the series between the two teams was cancelled in 1966-67 – the only time in that era when the ACC didn’t have a balanced home-and-away schedule. By the chance, the two teams met in the ACC Tournament that year and Duke pulled out a semi-controversial 69-66 victory

The Gross furor was merely the warmup act for the bigger controversy – South Carolina’s slow exit from the ACC.

The prime mover in the school’s departure was Paul Dietzel. Hired in 1966 as head football coach and athletic director, Dietzel wanted to leave the ACC over the league’s 800 Rule. He saw too many top prospects end up in SEC schools, which had a lesser academic standard.

McGuire, however, became the vocal spokesman for the move. He would later claim that he opposed the departure, but at the time, he was loud, strident and often obscene in his assaults on the ACC. He directed a lot of his ire at Duke’s Cameron, who he claimed was pulling the league’s strings from behind the scenes.

McGuire was especially bitter in 1970 when his best South Carolina team, undefeated in the ACC regular season, was upset by N.C. State in the ACC championship game.

Compounding the bad feelings was the belligerent nature of McGuire’s great team. His players brawled around the league. In a fight with Maryland, John Ribock coldcocked Coach Lefty Driesell, while another Gamecock player pinned Driesell’s arms to his side. John Roche kicked Duke’s Dick DeVenzio in the balls when the Blue Devil guard was lying on the floor. Kevin Joyce kicked UNC’s George Karl.

UNC coach Roy Williams recalled an incident when a UNC player lost his contact lens and a South Carolina player deliberately stomped on it.

“I was a student then,” Williams said. “Now with social media, if they had things going on back them, there would have been guys who weren’t playing for years or years or coaching for years and years.”

Suffice it to say, that South Carolina team was the most hated team in ACC history. Just imagine Christian Laettner, J.J. Redick, Grayson Allen, Greg Paulus and Bobby Hurley on the same team … that was the 1971 South Carolina Gamecocks.

McGuire’s team won the ACC title (as South Carolina guard Kevin Joyce out-jumped UNC’s center Lee Dedmon for a crucial jump ball) and earned a trip to Raleigh for the East Regionals.

It’s impossible to recapture the ugliness in Reynolds Coliseum that weekend. Penn couldn’t not have had more of a homecourt advantage had the game been played in the Palestra as Tobacco Road fans packed the arena to pull against the hated Gamecocks.

The Gamecocks ended their association with the ACC by losing to the Quakers, then to Fordham in the consolation game.

A year later, newly independent South Carolina faced ACC champion North Carolina in the East Regional semifinals in Morganton, W. Va. McGuire tried to stir things up by having his team come out for warm-ups wearing jackets that proclaimed “1971 ACC Champions”.

UNC blew them out as South Carolina entered more than 40 years in the basketball wilderness.

RENEWING THE RIVALRY

It’s unlikely that all the ancient bitterness and hatred will have any impact on tonight’s game.

Instead, the question is whether an outstanding South Carolina defense can stop or at least slow down a superb Duke offense.

“I think we’re a good defensive team … I don’t think we’re a great defensive team,” Krzyzewski said. “I think we’re a better offensive team than a defensive team. “

South Carolina is a much better defensive team that an offensive team.

“They’ll be as good a defensive team as we’ve played,” Krzyzewski said. “They pressure at every position. We have to be strong with the ball. We have to be strong to get open.”

Krzyzewski had praise for South Carolina star Sindarius Thornwell. He called him, “the best unheralded great player in the United States.”

The Gamecocks are also likely to have a semi-homecourt advantage – both with the horde of South Carolina fans pouring in from nearby Columbia, plus a large contingent of UNC fans, who are likely to stick around after their team’s game with Arkansas to cheer against Duke.

Krzyzewski didn’t sound worried by the prospect.

“We’re okay,” he said. “We usually play in packed arenas, often with a lot of people who want to beat us. It won’t hurt us. I think it helps them a little to have people cheering for you. But it won’t intimidate us.”

Grayson Allen, who is always the target of more abuse than any player in college basketball, also insisted that he’s not worried about the atmosphere.

“We like tough environments,” Allen said. “Everywhere we play is a tough environment. We like playing in buildings where it’s loud. When there is noise in the crowd, it gives everybody energy, so we use that energy and play with it.”

There is also a lot of focus on the ACC vs. SEC nature of the two games in Greenville tonight.

The ACC, of course, is the single most successful conference in NCAA play, while the SEC has struggled to obtain a basketball identity (beyond Kentucky). A year ago, the league did so poorly that the SEC hired 72-year-old Mike Tranghese to help manufacture a better NCAA profile.

After the first round – as four SEC teams advanced into the Round of 32 – the SEC can claim progress. But one or two wins in Greensville tonight would do a lot to bolster the league’s image.

Krzyzewski is not concerned about defending the ACC’s image. His sole focus is on advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the 24th time (more than any coach in history).

NOTES

-- Krzyzewski confirmed that freshman Marquise Bolden is battling a flu-like illness, but the Duke coach insisted that everybody else was healthy and ready to go.

-- Duke is 23-5 in second round (Round of 32) games under Krzyzewski.

-- Krzyzewski will be looking for his 999th win at Duke.

-- Duke has an all-time 57-19 edge in the series with South Carolina, but the two teams have met once since Krzyzewski has had the job – an early season victory in the 2001-02 season, when No. 1 Duke routed South Carolina in Maui.

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