UNC-Duke Nail-biter Continues Thrilling Rivalry
Now that the NFL season is over, my favorite part of the sports calendar is underway. The Major League Baseball season is two months off, and approximately 7,129 Americans are following the NHL. All of these frivolities are currently taking a backseat to basketball season, which is entering its most exciting phase. While everyone knows about March Madness (which makes the third month of the year unequivocally the best), not everyone realizes that February is really when the college basketball season starts heating up. These final few weeks before conference tournaments provide the last chance for teams around the country to perfect their execution, address their weaknesses, and secure meaningful victories that will catch the attention of the NCAA Tournament’s Selection Committee.
Last night’s North Carolina-Duke game was the centerpiece of college basketball’s Rivalry Week, the unofficial starting point of the road to the Final Four. It lived up to the hype, with the Tar Heels of North Carolina overcoming an early deficit to control the game in the second half before Duke’s furious 13-2 run in the final three minutes stole them the game. In 2012’s first iteration of the best rivalry in sports, Duke freshman Austin Rivers (son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers) swished a buzzer-beating three-pointer over Tyler Zeller—UNC’s seven-foot center—to win the game, securing his place in every montage that ESPN or CBS will air before the teams play in the future.
The victory sent shockwaves around the state of North Carolina, where nearly everyone prefers one of the two teams (unless you are an N.C. State fan, in which case, God help you), and set the the Atlantic Coast Conference—where UNC and Duke battle for first place almost every year—abuzz. Duke was coming off a surprising home loss to the Miami Hurricanes, and were outplayed for the majority of Wednesday’s game. Yet, the Blue Devils made 14 three-pointers to UNC’s one, including three in the final decisive stretch. Carolina didn’t help their own case, as they had two turnovers and two missed free throws over that time.
This was the most important game of the season for both teams—not just because they are the most bitter rivals in American sports (more on that in a minute), but also because it showed that Duke can compete with the best teams in the country if they minimize their mistakes and make three-pointers. In addition, the game will (hopefully) give UNC a shot in the arm as they approach their final seven regular-season games, including the rematch at Duke on March 3.
For those of you who are stuck on my claim that the Carolina-Duke basketball rivalry is the best in American sports, consider this: none of the other contenders (Red Sox-Yankees, Ohio State-Michigan football, and Auburn-Alabama football, to name a few) feature two teams located as close to each other as Carolina and Duke are. Chapel Hill and Durham are just eight miles apart, giving rise to furious debates among friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers over which team is superior. Supporters of one school openly hate those of the other, and as a Carolina fan I cannot tell you how hard it has been to keep this column as civil and unbiased as it has been so far. My father’s parents met as Duke undergraduates and raised my father in Chapel Hill. When he was deciding between the two colleges, he told my grandfather that he would be “attending the superior institution,” which caused a substantial family conflict when my father revealed that he meant UNC.
The point I am trying to make here is that I have watched at least 20 Carolina-Duke games in my life, and this was one of the three best finishes I have ever witnessed. If this game is any indication of how the rest of the college basketball season will go, then we have a lot to look forward to.