Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It’s Kind of a Big Deal

It’s Carolina Day the first of the two most important scheduled days of a Dukie’s year, it's almost a sacred day consecrated with the hate of generations so you have to excuse me for being a little (obsessed) focused.


Christian Laettner used to say that the Duke-UNC game day had a different feel than any other. He’s right. Waking up and knowing that game is today is a lot like the feeling kids get on Easter Sunday.

It’s not that you’re going to get a bunch of candy, although an Easter basket is a fine way to start a new spring day. There’s just a special feeling about the day, and you don’t have to be particularly religious to feel it.
So for those of us in the Triangle, we wake up a bit giddy, and it doesn’t take long to get out of bed, and we watch the clock drag around in circles until the appointed time arrives.

It’s still kind of amazing to think that it’s such a big deal nationally. We sort of know this, but for us here, it’s a local thing.

Barry Jacobs
Carolina-Duke Rivalry Defines Us
For those joining our communal life already in progress, this is a pinnacle moment during winter in North Carolina. We are ready for Duke and North Carolina to play a basketball game.

This is the event, or more accurately the first of two annually scheduled games, that kindles the greatest wealth of memories and fuels the greatest passions and interest among residents in our neck of the woods. Other contests come and go, but this is the game we count on to be played fiercely, well, and without notable diminution of concentration or effort for as many minutes as the action lasts.

This is the clash that causes old-timers to reminisce most avidly, rattling off names, situations, plays, and results with the fervor of parents bragging on their children.

This is the game we savor, measure seasons by, analyze endlessly before and after the fact. Only the final score is not subject to reinterpretation.

The fine women’s programs at Chapel Hill and Durham actually have performed at a higher level than the men in recent seasons. Yet few people in North Carolina gave Monday’s meeting of ranked women’s squads at Cameron Indoor Stadium more than a passing thought. It was a Duke-Carolina game, but not THE Duke-Carolina game.

Tar Heel coach Sylvia Hatchell reportedly felt it necessary to manufacture a celebration after her squad won handily on national television. She directed the team bus to downtown Chapel Hill, then led a few of her players in throwing toilet paper into two trees. That’s a bit like nominating yourself for an award; the only recognition Hatchell received was a police warning for littering and an admonition to clean up.

Back at Cameron, humbled (well, OK, unhappy) Duke students endured a large contingent of UNC fans whooping it up after the poised Tar Heel women dismantled the Blue Devils. The Crazies replied by chanting, “Wait ‘Til Wednesday!”

That being the day of the first men’s clash. So, there!

Last March a bit of real blood was added to the proverbial bad blood such rivalries generate -- at least among fans – when Gerald Henderson felled North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough with 14.5 seconds remaining in a decisive Tar Heel victory at Chapel Hill.

Hansbrough’s nose was broken by Henderson’s apparently inadvertent blow, requiring the UNC star to wear an uncomfortable protective mask for a handful of games. Video of the foul was replayed endlessly on TV and the Web, and post-game comments were scrutinized like courtroom testimony.

Newcomers may have heard or read something about this incident.

The foul, and feeling about it, elevated the level of anticipation for this year’s initial meeting a few notches above normal.

Normal being a controlled frenzy.

This is big stuff. This is so big, TV’s Dick Vitale aimed his on-air return from throat surgery to coincide with a game he has helped hype to the heavens. This is so big, even Vitale cannot overblow the stature of the rivalry.

Now, to his credit, Vitale may be, oh, shall we say, a bit bombastic, but he does his homework. The man knows an argument can be made that no rivalry in American sports equal this one in terms of talented players and coaches, extensive history, depth of fan interest, and consistent quality of competition.

In fact, the high level of competition in UNC-Duke men’s games could serve as a definition of consistent excellence. Since the advent of the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 1953-54 season, Duke and UNC have met in men’s basketball 143 times. Of those contests, only 3 saw neither team ranked in the top 20 in the AP poll.

That’s one in every 48 games, or 2.1 percent of the time, in which neither team was considered among the nation's best. The last such meeting occurred on February 27, 1960. That is five weeks after N.C. State head coach Sidney Lowe was born, and preceding the birth of three other ACC men’s coaches.

By contrast, in 25 of 143 games (about one in every six), either Duke or Carolina was ranked first in the country. Included was the opener of the Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center in January 1986, won by the top-ranked Tar Heels over No. 3 Duke.

Prior to this season, both squads ranked in the top 10 when they met on 37 occasions, a little better than one game in every four. In such circumstances, the higher-ranked team wins about half the time. Duke is currently #2, North Carolina #3.

Wednesday’s game has the usual tangle of subplots.

Opponents repeatedly try to pound the slighter, perimeter-oriented Blue Devils, who have taken to counting the stitches needed to close their respective wounds. Can Mike Krzyzewski’s aggressive, denial man-to-man defense keep the Tar Heels from getting good looks at the post, where Hansbrough lurks as an often-dominant presence?

North Carolina has been impressive, but not consistently. Will Roy Williams’ Heels be able to prosecute their usual offensive onslaught, best in the ACC, if an ankle injury limits playmaker Ty Lawson’s surpassing quickness with the ball? If Lawson can't play, will a compensatory hero emerge?

And did we mention something about an incident involving Hansbrough and Henderson?

UNC’s Wayne Ellington was Henderson’s high school teammate at The Episcopal Academy in Pennsylvania, and vouches for his friend’s good nature. The Tar Heel sophomore helped facilitate a few informal games this summer at the Smith Center involving players from the respective squads. Hansbrough and Henderson played in one of them.

“I feel like we have a good enough relationship where we can play pickup,” Hansbrough said recently. The junior insisted the collision of nose and elbow was a matter relegated to the past.

Not for fans, however.

Given the likelihood of ambient hostility, it would be a surpassing act of sportsmanship, and a welcome one, if Hansbrough made a point of publicly shaking hands with Henderson prior to the game. The competition will be sufficiently heated without the taint of hatred.

Then again, harboring grudges, nurturing past slights, aching to get even, is also integral to a rivalry. Wednesday’s loser is sure to begin looking forward to March 8 as soon as the blood, er, perspiration dries. That’s when North Carolina travels to Durham for round two.

Duke-UNC, Round 1
From Duke Blue Planet

A warm, sunny day in Durham welcomes the 224th meeting between Duke and UNC. All of the coverage and hype has focused primarily on Gerald Henderson, Ty Lawson, style of play, and the return of Dick Vitale, overlooking the most important storyline of the game -- the ACC regular-season implications. Duke and UNC have jumped ahead of the pack as we approach today's eight-game midway point in the league. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels have combined for just one ACC loss while every other conference squad has at least three losses in the league. Duke or UNC has won or shared 14 of the past 17 ACC regular-season titles and today's game will have a significant impact on the continuation of that trend.

Duke/UNC in the Polls
  • Since the ACC made its debut in 1953, Duke and UNC have met in men’s basketball 143 times. Just three of those 143 games (2.1 percent) saw neither team ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll. The last such meeting occurred on February 27, 1960.
  • In 25 of the 143 games (about one in every six), either Duke or UNC was ranked first in the country.
  • Prior to this season, both teams ranked in the top 10 when they met on 37 occasions (26 percent of the time).
  • For the sixth time since 1986, Duke and UNC and will meet with both teams ranked among the top three in the country.

Go to Hell Carolina.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: