Duke vs. UNC in “Final Four” is as large-scale as university basketball, even if coaches and players downplay it

NEW ORLEAN – The 47-year-old veteran coach sat on a platform in front of an anxious and impatient army of reporters waiting for Mike Krzyzewski’s announcement the day before the most anticipated national semifinal in NCAA tournament history.

It was his last face-to-face encounter with a horde of hackers before the game. The hated bloody rival North Carolina is waiting for Duke on Saturday in the final four. What would be the last questions that would be the final words documented by Coach K at this point?

“One thing before answering anything,” he said after quickly thinking about the game against UNC. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to talk to all of you again. Not that I’m thinking negatively about tomorrow, but I want to clarify one thing.”

You could practically hear the crowd adjusting to their seats, ready for what might be just a quote to prepare the ground for the biggest game ever in the college’s biggest and most legendary basketball competition.

Except: no.

Instead, the cunning 75-year-old outlined another play and changed the subject. Krzyzewski launched a monologue aimed at his complaint to the NCAA and how badly it works. It was well thought out, and Krzyzewski made good moments. It went on long enough, insistently in its own style, to provoke additional questions on the subject. The man had so much time only on Friday, so by the end of his press conference only one question had been answered (about Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis). Then time ran out, and Krzyzewski left the stage, perhaps for the last time.

The gambit was successfully pulled out. K played in the media like a greased trombone of N’Awlins. On the eve of a grand Saturday night between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels from the most famous basketball coach at the college there are no serious jokes or obligatory feelings. Create your own hype.

You know we will.

You just know that getting the opportunity to take revenge for the fact that the last home defeat by the UNC exactly four weeks ago, excites in the soul of Krzyzewski something insurmountable. When the eighth-seeded Tar Heels and the second-seeded Blue Devils finally come out sometime around 9pm ET on Saturday night at the Caesars Superdome, a significant chapter in the annals of American sports history materializes. However, the NBA is basketball in its best and most beautiful form. But no stage in the hoops is greater than the men’s Final Four – both literally and figuratively. Given the sagas behind these programs, as well as the brilliant 94-81 victory of North Carolina, which ended the era of Coach K at Cameron Indoor Stadium, it is fair to say that UNC vs. Duke is the biggest Final Four game in history.

From what little he said on Friday about the game, Krzyzewski tried to downplay the angle of the rivalry. The cruelty of this man!

“I don’t know it’s more important, but it’s not more important because it’s North Carolina,” Krzyzewski said. “It would always be important if it was North Carolina. It’s the most important thing because if you win, you get a chance to play for the national championship. And that has to be your focus. It’s the focus.”

How will it play out? How will these teams approach this grand duel? For Duke – the four-point favorite – he has a chance, if he wants, to adopt the outsider’s thinking precisely because of how he lost the last time these teams met. It was punk. This is – just a few more hours – the most significant victory in the history of Duke Carolina.

“For us, I think we always went with the outsider mentality,” said Wendel Moore Jr. of Duke. Because even though we are the favorites to win, everyone wants us to lose. So for us it makes us outsiders and it gives us the right chip on our shoulders. To really come out and play confident and free. “

Is there any benefit here for Duke, who lost to UNC the way it was?

“Certainly, especially after the game, it’s a sense of defeat, even the ACC Championship, you can say the same thing,” said Duke’s second-year center Mark Williams. “Just understanding that feeling, damn it … that’s all. No more home games, no more ACC championships. So definitely just understand that feeling, keep (it) deep in our minds every time we play.” .

“We all have confidence that we are the best team,” said Duke star freshman Paolo Banchera. “So it won’t go away. But we’re definitely not going to play a big game and we’re not going to think we’re just going out and just winning. We’re going to have to play a great game, probably our best game of the year to beat these guys.”

Bless these players because they worked hard without using the bait all week.

UNC is increasingly saying that there will be more graduates of Tar Heel players than Duke’s big names. Sure, Michael Jordan will be in the house, right? Forty years ago the biggest scene in college gave birth to legend MJ, when № 23 in Carolina Blue abruptly dived a mid-range jumper to raise the UNC over Georgetown in the same building where North Carolina will play Saturday night. There is an anniversary to be celebrated and a rivalry that will have to the highest temperature in history. The tension grows with the clock. This city is becoming more and more disturbing.

Let one factor be clear: UNC benefits from Saturday’s game with much less pressure. Of course, a collision with Duke always causes some stress. For Tar Heels Davis the stakes are certainly huge. But they are number 8 seeds. Heels have already passed K his L to Cameron. It does not take off the table. It’s not a home money situation, but it’s so close that Carolina could ever go against Duke.

“I feel like our guys are in the perfect place because one of the things I think they’ve worked great with is to turn off or mute the noise,” Davis said. “We talked about it for a long time and muffled the noise from the phone – family, friends and fans – and focused on what allows us to be at our best. And I think if you have great kids and great players like Armando (Bacot) and Brady (Manek), who understand that our training, our practice and how hard we play are important for Saturday’s success. And that’s what we needed in the second match against Duke. “

The payoff is huge: if North Carolina defeats Duke, the Tar Hills will forever have an advantage over the Blue Devils and their fans. The task will be considerable, but if Caroline manages to defeat Duke for the second time in a row and end Krzyszewski’s career, then forever. Duke may withdraw three consecutive national titles in the next three years of John Scheer as head coach and remain undefeated against UNC for the next 10 meetings. It won’t matter. This is the biggest stage they first met at the NCAA, and it’s K.’s retirement.

Conversely, Duke’s victory gives the Blue Devils a 2-1 advantage this season, and the team could claim as many victories as one could have won if not to beat UNC in the national championship. It looks like Duke will need to win two championship games in three days to get K and the program, the sixth national title.

“We want to win this game for us as a team and a group,” Banchera said. “It would be foolish to allow other plots to play a role in how we are going to go out and play.”

However, it’s hard to imagine a rival game of any kind in American sport that would be larger in scale than this one.

Now you understand why in the last few days both parties, players and coaches, have not sought to offer juicy quotes and individual jokes. But no matter how in the book all parties play it, one cannot ignore the significance of what awaits Saturday night. These two teams and this single match managed to turn the amazing Kansas-Vilanov undercard into a secondary forage.

“We like to enter other people’s arenas, to be villains,” Moore said. “It seems to me that then we play our best basketball when the scene is bright, the light is on. For some reason it just annoys us. ”

Everyone feels annoyed at Big Easy. The remarkable NCAA tournament reached an unprecedented pair of national semifinals, securing the bloodiest Four Final in history. This Big Easy created epic moments of Final Four and made teams of all time in the record books every time Final Four came here. Jordan in the 82nd. Keith Smart in the 87th. UNC won again in ’93 when Chris Weber called a timeout that was not there. Hakim Warrick’s block to seal it for Syracuse in ’03. Kentucky’s elite team is recovering – defeating Louisville, of all teams – in the Final Four, and then Kansas in the title game in ’12.

There is no place more suitable for staging this game. Duke’s clash against North Carolina amid a cacophony in Crescent City. You get it for the first time only once. The fact is that it is right here, right now – what a blessed bend of this year’s bracket. The sport isn’t getting much better than this.

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