Wednesday, January 3, 2007

A Rivalry to Write Home About (UNC vs DUKE)

A Rivalry to Write Home About

For those of you just getting to know me (three blogs and growing), I have to confess that I (like many other fans) was a little nervous about what to expect from Duke Basketball 06 – 07. But rather than rehash why I felt this way I will instead focus on a small spark that I saw this weekend while watching Duke v. SJSU.
With a fourteen point lead in the first half and eight Duke players in the scorebook by that time (including Martynas Pocius, whom I affectionately refer to as Hocius Pocius for his ability to disappear from the stat sheet) Duke decided to take a little break from scoring while SJSU reeled off six straight and cut the lead to 34-26 by halftime.
A little more about me before I continue: I'm a glass half-full kind of guy so at this point in the game I chose to focus on the fact that Duke still held a lead and the Lithuanian Houdini – Pocius - had magically poured in four points. Of course, as soon as the game resumed SJSU went on a 7 – 2 run that cut the lead to three and had me pacing the room in a near glass half-empty malaise.
But here comes the spark I referred to: over the next three and half minutes McRoberts grabs an offensive board and gets fouled; hits one out of two. Duke clamps down on SJSU and gets the ball back; Jon Scheyer misses. Another stop by Duke and McRoberts steps out and nails a three pointer for a seven point lead and some breathing room. Then McRoberts rebounds on the next stop and fires it out to McClure who sails in for a layup. Two plays later Paulus hits a three and Duke leads by 12. At that point, even with 14 minutes to go, I could see that the game was over. So could SJSU.
Of course, SJSU is no UNC, but Dayton is no Duke either. So say what you want about Duke's schedule at this point, but when I peek at UNC's sched it is not so impressive itself on closer inspection. Consider the "marquee" games: a squeaker win over an Oden-less Ohio State team that was later DEMOLISHED by Florida WITH Oden; a nice bounce-back win over a surprising Tennessee team; an ugly win over an ugly Kentucky team that will be lucky to win eight games in its conference. And please, PLEASE, include Gonzaga in your really tough schedule (two games outside of the state of NC, both in NY, same place as Duke's out of state game – weird, huh?) argument – the same Gonzaga team that beat down the vaunted 'Heels and yet couldn't find the basket against the Blue Devils. Defense, anyone?
Now, before everyone in Powder Blue country gets in a huff over this, I'm not saying that Duke is the more talented team (they're not). What I'm getting at is that I saw something this weekend – eight guys scoring, none wilting – that suggests that Duke is not in the dire straits many of us feared, which leads me to believe that the rivalry between these two storied programs is more or less in tact and definitely gives me a reason to circle February 7 and March 4 on my "must see" basketball for another season.
I wrote in my last blog that I predict UNC will leave Atlanta this year as the NCAA champs and Roy Boy Williams will collect his second ring and I still believe that.
I just don't happen to think that UNC will leave Durham with a 'W,' which for us Duke fans will mark the '07 Champs season with an asterisk.
And given the youth of both squads, the future continues to look bright for this rivalry. Of course I believe that UNC fans will have to say goodbye to Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright after this season, which tilts the balance back in Duke's favor for next season.
In the end, UNC may own the rest of the nation, but the battle for the state of North Carolina will be a split.
I think Duke fans can live with that…for now.

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