Roy Williams is old enough to remember when South Carolina was the scourge of the ACC, when games against North Carolina and Duke were border wars and proxy fights over the direction of the conference. And then the Gamecocks left, taking their 1971 ACC championship with them.
There might have been enough of the old vitriol bubbling underneath the arena to pop a board loose, as good an explanation for Friday’s emergency repairs to the arena floor as any. It will be impossible to hold it back Sunday in this ad hoc ACC-SEC challenge, with North Carolina facing Arkansas in the early game and South Carolina hosting Duke in the late game.
The South Carolina fans will root against Duke, there’s no question about that, thanks to the years of pent-up old ACC animosity that goes back decades. Plus, it’s Duke, which is typically only the home team in NCAA games played in New York, even when Grayson Allen isn’t booed getting off the bus.
It is a little unique that a No. 2 seed gets a road game Sunday, a special bonus knuckle sandwich courtesy of House Bill 2, which got these games bumped from Greensboro to Greenville. The rest of it?
“It’s always going to be like that for us,” Allen said Saturday, a verbal shrug.
The real question is, do South Carolina fans hate Arkansas more than they hate North Carolina? On the one hand, SEC fans are at each other’s throats when they’re not chanting “S-E-C” at someone else. On the other, both schools lay claim to being The Real Carolina – and Williams was able to rewind almost five decades to tell the story of how a North Carolina player lost a contact lens and South Carolina’s John Roche tried to stomp on it while everyone else was looking for it.
“In those days, big rivalries meant there was a lot more going on than everybody knew about,” Williams said. “Now with social media, if they had things going on back then, there would have been guys that weren’t playing for years or years or years or coaching for years or years. It was a fierce rivalry. A very heated rivalry. There was a lot of things openly said between the two teams, and yet you had Frank McGuire and Dean Smith who had a great deal of respect for each other.”
How the Garnet shirts swing in the early game may be the most dramatic dynamic of the evening, if you share the opinion of Brent Musburger’s buddies in Las Vegas that Duke and North Carolina are heavy favorites to advance to New York and Memphis, respectively.
Friday was South Carolina’s first NCAA win since 1973; Sunday’s games will conclude the NCAA’s first visit to Greenville in 15 years, thanks to their flag and our HB2. The first day of basketball went smoothly, with the minor exception of the emergency repairs to the playing surface between the North Carolina and Duke games Friday.
North Carolina’s radio broadcasters spotted a board that appeared to have warped upward late in the Tar Heels’ win over Texas Southern and the officials warned both benches about the spot. Roy Williams told the Tar Heels to run their offense on the other side of the basket. By the time Duke took the floor to warm up, slightly delayed, the raised edge had been chiseled into submission and sanded down.
It left a strange white blemish in the varnish, a ghostly apparition in a building already starting to overflow with basketball ghosts.
These are close quarters, even if North Carolina and Duke aren’t facing each other. As Williams did a television interview in the hallway outside the locker rooms, Grayson Allen was coming from Duke’s practice, walking down the hall toward Williams, from the coach’s left. He got within a few feet of Williams before turning to enter Duke’s locker room – just outside Williams’ peripheral vision, or at least it seemed that way, but Allen never took his eyes off the coach, or at least it seemed that way.
Their history is never far from the surface. Sunday, other ACC history that had long been buried will resurface as well, impossible to hold back as it surges back to life.
“That was way before our time,” South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell said. “Way before our time.”
That time has come again, rivalries dormant for decades coming back to life thanks to a quirk of the bracket and the costs of a law.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock