Does Roy Williams feel overshadowed by Zion Williamson and Duke?
We are only two weeks away from a potential basketball Armageddon.
Central Florida almost derailed it. Six wins remain necessary for us to see it.
But Duke-Carolina – in the 2019 national championship game – looms.
If it happens, our state will shut down on Monday night, April 8. That’s when the ball goes up in Minneapolis and a whole lot of other stuff goes down.
The Tar Heels and Blue Devils playing for a national title? Good Lord. What would the winner do to celebrate? More to the point, what would the loser do to recover?
These two teams have been playing college basketball against each other for 99 years. They have faced off 251 times, including three matchups in the past five weeks.
And yet somehow they have never, ever met in the NCAA tournament.
But it may be coming. Both teams are seeded No. 1 in their respective regions. Duke survived the sort of game most national champions have to survive at least once on Sunday, scoring four points in the last 15 seconds to edge Central Florida, 77-76.
UNC has had an easier time of it thus far, winning both of its tournament games by at least 15 points.
Both teams next play Friday night in the Sweet 16 – UNC vs. Auburn at 7:29 p.m.; Duke vs. Virginia Tech at 9:39 p.m.
Win those, and then win again on Sunday, and Duke and UNC will make the Final Four. One or the other of them routinely appears in the national semifinals — 25 times in the past 38 years — but both of them getting there is an anomaly.
It has happened exactly once before, in 1991, when Duke and Carolina came the closest they ever have to playing in the tournament. But Kansas (coached by Roy Williams) knocked out the Tar Heels and Dean Smith (who got ejected) in the national semifinal. Duke, meanwhile, won the title, beating UNLV and Kansas in a three-day span.
That was 28 years ago. But it could happen again, and this time, both teams would likely be favored to win their first game in the Final Four, too. That would set up Duke-UNC Part 4 this season – a game that would undeniably be the most significant UNC-Duke meeting ever.
And if the fourth matchup is anything like what we saw in Charlotte in the ACC tournament – with Duke winning, 74-73, after UNC missed two shots at victory in the final seconds – it would be extraordinary.
UNC has won two out of the three matchups this season, with Zion Williamson blowing out his shoe 36 seconds into the first Tar Heel win and not playing at all in the second.
Then, Duke barely won with Zion all the way back in that wondrous third game in Charlotte. In fact, the Blue Devils’ survival of two last-second near-misses against UNC in the ACC Tournament was remarkably similar to how they won Sunday against Central Florida., down to the final tip-in attempt slipping off the rim.
The rivalry – which for my money is the best in all of sports – has had innumerable chapters over the years. Players on both sides buy in for life, as do fans. It helps that both teams are almost always great and that the schools are separated by only 10 miles.
As former Duke star Christian Laettner recently told me: “For the players on each side, it seemed like the rule was no talking during the school year, but in the summer we were perfectly friendly. In the school year, though, it was all business. We wanted to beat each other. We wanted to kill each other.”
No one really dies, of course, which would make this the best kind of Armageddon.
The losing players and fans could regroup.
They just might have to move out of the state to do it.