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Entries in Duke (9)


Here's Why Duke-Butler Will Go Down As A Classic

Butler's Gordon Hayward Almost Beats Duke

One Great Season

Many spent Tuesday saying, writing or commenting that Monday night's NCAA Championship game was one of the tournament's best finals ever, and I completely agree.

Some, however, see only a stat sheet that shows both Butler and Duke shot poorly from the field, that neither side scored often down the stretch, thereby making it a mediocre game at best.

A LOOK BACK: Complete NCAA Tournament Coverage From OGS

I learned how to cover sports 20 years ago, as a student at the University of Cincinnati, so I heard Bob Huggins ask short-changing reporters many times, "Don't you think maybe our defense had something to do with their poor shooting?"

I've seen games where teams shot atrociously, but I've seen far fewer games that were played the way Monday night's Instant Classic went down. Rarely did we see open shooters put up brick after brick. Heck, rarely did we see open shooters period.

WEIGH IN: Where Does Duke-Butler Game Rank?

That's because determined defenders hungrily hounded their men, swiftly executed switches or fought through screens. A lack of offensive fireworks doesn't always decrease the quality of a sporting event.

Those who dare to look beyond the stats, overlook their own NCAA allegiances and just appreciate the great sport of college basketball certainly enjoyed every frantic second of Monday night's championship game.

And let's not forget the excellent coaching that went into it either. Duke's legendary Mike Krzyzewski showed great trust in foul-prone big man Brian Zoubek and called only smart and strategic timeouts. His 33-year-old counterpart, Brad Stevens, substituted wisely down the stretch, bringing in one four-foul big man for another, trading offense for defense with Matt Howard and Avery Jukes.

Lastly, usually logical ESPN talk host Colin Cowherd accuses Monday night's admirers of getting caught up in the emotion that comes with a seemingly outmatched underdog hanging in against an established giant. Well, that's exactly what I did and I loved every minute of it. All the side stories about David and Goliath, Cinderella and "Hoosiers" were great build-ups and all of those labels were almost legitimized when fresh-faced Gordon Hayward's 47-footer almost banked in and gave deadline writers a reason to reach for the Rolaids.

Some have gone overboard and said it might have been the best NCAA championship game ever, but I'm not going that far. Had Hayward's shot gone in, perhaps it would command as lofty a ranking as that North Carolina State-Houston thriller in 1983. But I'll bet the passage of time will allow the legend to marinate some, giving storytellers some room to ponder.

Regardless of how memorable you think Monday night's game will prove to be over time, one thing is for sure: It was at least a fitting end to one of the best tournaments in recent NCAA history.


Hoosier Heartbreak: Hayward's Heave Nearly Dumps Duke

Duke Beats Butler In The NCAA Championship

One Great Season

How Hoosier would it have been had Gordon Hayward's half-court heave banked in to give Butler a surprising and thrilling victory over Duke in Monday night's national championship game?

After a missed Duke free throw with 3.6 seconds left, Hayward rose up high for the rebound, dribbled three times, got a serious screen from teammate Matt Howard, dribbled once more, then launched the shot that might have changed the great sport of college basketball forever. Even though it just missed, it might have done so anyway.

INSTANT CLASSIC: Where Does This Game Rank?

It was a great rebound by Hayward, a great screen by Howard, a great shot by Hayward and then, ultimately, a great escape by Duke.

Unlike Jimmy Chitwood's heroic game-winner in the excellent basketball movie "Hoosiers," Hayward's shot from the right side of midcourt hung high in the air, giving the 70,000+ at Lucas Oil Stadium and millions more watching on television a second to shove both arms skyward, hoping for one lucky bounce to complete the real-life version the way a largely anti-Duke America would have wanted it. But then it missed.


+ OPINION: Bob Huggins Is Awesome; He Really Is
+ CANDID INTERVIEW: Former Cincinnati Guard Weighs In On Huggins
+ ANALYSIS: NCAA Should Fix Football Before Expanding Basketball
+ WEIGH IN: Why Does Everybody Hate Duke?
+ READER PARTICIPATION: Share Your Hoops Haiku
+ TV CRITIC: March Adness -- Cheers To Dos Equis
+ RECIPE: 7 Ingredients For A National Championship
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ LIST: The Top 10 Analysts In College Basketball
+ LIST: The Top 10 Play-By-Play Men In College Basketball

"Butler really played like America's team tonight," CBS analyst and Duke graduate Seth Davis said after the game, and truer words could not have been spoken.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devils, considered a heavy favorite by many experts and pretty much hated by all humans outside of Durham, N.C., won their fourth national championship, all since 1991 under future Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Some notes:

+ Don't hate Duke. I've said it many times before; I don't love Duke but I don't hate Duke. Sports are played by people we don't know, so it's a waste of your energy to let things get so far out of perspective. I know the blogosphere is a cool place to hate, but Duke is a great basketball program and the Devils deserved the national championship. Three weeks ago when the brackets were unveiled, many complained of an easy Final Four path for Duke. But Monday night the Devils had to beat a great Butler team that had beaten No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Kansas State and a hot Michigan State team just on Saturday. Butler wasn't just some middling team that got hot a month ago. The Bulldogs were legitimate all season.

+ Monday's game was the lowest-scoring title tilt since the North Carolina State-Houston classic in 1983. On Monday, the lead changed hands 15 times and there were five ties, according to ESPN.

+ Just two days after West Virginia coach Bob Huggins described Duke's semifinal victory as the Devils' best offensive effort of the season, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said the Devils' championship game performance "was good of a defensive effort as I've seen from them all season."

+ ESPN analyst Digger Phelps, usually annoying as he shares nothing of value, actually made a very good point during postgame coverage. Butler is stacked with workman-type role players, and Duke is loaded with experienced players. "This game sends a signal to college basketball. Forget the one-and-done guys. This game shows that coaches can go out and find quality kids and build a program with consistency." Phelps cited a few one-and-done guys like Greg Oden and Mike Conley of Ohio State, Michael Beasley of Kansas State, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis and of course, Kentucky's John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, among others. Lots of talent, no rings.

+ Here's a picture of an on-campus bon-fire celebration at Duke, sent out minutes after the game ended by Twitter user @vitags

+ Kyle Singler was huge Monday and definitely deserved Most Outstanding Player honors. But Butler's foul-prone Matt Howard was making a nice case for himself late. In the final two minutes, he made two layups and grabbed a crucial offensive rebound, then set that wall of a pick for Hayward's final launch. Howard was nice.

+ CBS analyst Clark Kellogg correctly called it "a worthy championship game. Duke won this game. Butler did not lose it." Added Bilas: "This is truly one of the great games and great atmospheres at a Final Four that I can remember."

+ I wasn't crazy about one thing Kellogg's play-by-play partner Jim Nantz said at one point in the second half. Nantz began a short story about how there were two Academic All-Americans playing in the game, "... and they're not on Duke." That wasn't cool.

+ Not surprisingly, Twitter users ripped the Jennifer Hudson version of "One Shining Moment." Other hot Twitter topic: many pined for CBS' Gus Johnson to be in Nantz's chair.

+ Butler coach Brad Stevens said after the game: "We just came up one possession short in a game of about 145 possessions. It's hard to stomach being on the wrong end of that ... You're at peace with (losing because) you've got a group that's given it every single thing they have."

+ Though Duke couldn't pull away like many thought it would be able to do, it stuck with its game plan and continued to give good effort, which often prevails in the long run. With about five and four minutes left, it looked like the Devils were starting to get some separation, which reminded me of Ohio State football under Jim Tressel. Sometimes the Buckeyes won't blow teams out, but once that fourth quarter starts, opposing defenses are worn out from 315-pound linemen leaning on them for three quarters, and then OSU starts to move the ball a little easier and ultimately pulls away. I thought I was starting to see that in the last five minutes from Duke, but Butler made a nice collective reach and stayed in it.

+ Coach K said about an hour after the game: "This was a classic. This was the toughest (championship) and the best one."


Why Does Everybody Hate Duke?

Mike Krzyzewski

One Great Season

Did Duke get what seemed an easy path to the Final Four? Probably. Did Duke get a favorable call or two late in its South Region championship game against Baylor? Perhaps.

But is that enough to crank up the hate machine yet again this weekend when Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils make another Final Four appearance? Hardly.

If you want to go back in recent history and cite other examples as you present your case against Duke, I know you think you've got some. But isn't it a waste of time to hate a college basketball team? I've never understood the anti-Duke sentiment that rivals the hatred for Notre Dame football. It really is ridiculous, just like the anti-Irish rage.

I've told the story a few times about wearing my Cleveland Indians hat to an interleague game at Cincinnati years ago. I won't re-hash every detail, but for those who aren't familiar, let's just say I got hit with some trash talk after the Reds won and it was indeed embarrassing. Just not for me.

NCAA Tournament

Now I'm all for going all out to support your squad. By all means, have some beers and scream your head off. Be a dork and paint your face. But leave it at that. I've always preferred to be for X than against Y, but in the process of following your favorites, I fully understand you're going to develop strong feelings against a few of your team's rivals.

But you have to remember that Duke didn't determine the seedings or the brackets. That's the NCAA's racket. Those late calls against Baylor? Talk to the men in stripes. The overall Duke conspiracy the last two decades? Dude, seriously.

I've been an Ohio State fan since childhood, but the only time I care what Michigan does on the football field is on one particular Saturday around Thanksgiving. I'm a knowledgeable sports fan and follow most of them closely, but games played by people I'll never meet will never have a significant impact on my life or even my mood on a particular day.

Coach K appears to run Duke's program cleanly. He wins many games with players who often come from backgrounds not typical of college basketball stars. He has positioned his program in such a way that for years on the recruiting trail now, Duke has been choosing players, not the other way around.

I don't have the answers, but I'm wondering what yours is. Why does everybody hate Duke?


Bracket Breakdown: Forecasting The Sweet 16 And Elite 8

John Wall

One Great Season

Surprises abound in the Sweet 16, and not all of them are pleasant.

Two days after Michigan State lost star point guard Kalin Lucas for the remainder of the tournament, West Virginia learned Tuesday that its own floor general, Truck Bryant, has a broken foot and also will be unable the rest of the way. I think Lucas' absence hurts the Spartans more than Bryant's hurts WVU.

But getting back to surprises, Cornell and Northern Iowa are hogging all the headlines. Let us not forget, however, about Omar Samhan and St. Mary's. Sure more unpredictable outcomes are on tap; about the only thing that won't surprise us this weekend will be that Miller Lite will show us the ad with Buster the dumb dog 15 times. Here's a preview:


+ WEST REGION: Xavier Fans Love Unheralded Senior Forward
+ EAST REGION: Cornell Cute, But Big Red Will Be Feeling Blue
+ TV CRITIC: March Adness: Cheers To Dos Equis
+ TOURNAMENT TAKEAWAYS: What The First Weekend Taught Us
+ KANSAS COLLAPSE: Jayhawks Fans Left Speechless, Except This One
+ RECIPE: 7 Ingredients For A National Championship
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ LIST: The Top 10 Analysts In College Basketball
+ LIST: The Top 10 Play-By-Play Men In College Basketball

+ EAST -- Everybody wants to pick Cornell over Kentucky because a) if the Big Red does pull off the grand upset, they can say, "I predicted it. I'm really smart," and b) when UK wins, no one will really remember the idiots who picked Cornell. You've got brains vs. talent, experience vs. inexperience and discipline vs. the playground. Kentucky's youngsters haven't been bothered by the pressure of the single-elimination, high-stakes event. Cornell is good but Kentucky is better. UK wins and then slices past a West Virginia team that won't necessarily be troubled by Bryant's absence. The Mountaineers' real woes come from their inability to shoot the basketball, a large problem if they hope to beat a Kentucky team that averaged 95 points in its first two tournament games. UK advances to Indianapolis after a physical regional final.

+ SOUTH -- Purdue's grit has been impressive, but Duke is too versatile for the Boilermakers. The Devils are difficult to guard on the perimeter, and they're balanced on the blocks. Slow them down, speed them up, they can play either style and they can defend just as well. Duke beats Purdue and then meets Baylor, an easy winner over St. Mary's, in the regional final. The Baylor-St. Mary's game will be an excellent one, but the Bears will have a little too much firepower, even for Samhan and company. The Duke-Baylor final shall be a dandy, but the basketball gods gave Mike Krzyzewski a dangerous and balanced team this year, as well as a comfortable path to Indianapolis. Of course Duke will advance to meet Kentucky once again when the stakes are high.

+ WEST -- Syracuse, Syracuse, Syracuse. No offense to Kansas State or the Big 12, but the Orange are playing lights out and  I don't believe Arinze Onuaku's return will disrupt any rhythm Jim Boeheim's bunch found in its first two tournament games. And those were some games, eh? The Orange won each time by more than 20 points, including a surprisingly easy blowout of Gonzaga in round two. Syracuse breezes by Butler and will take a large load of confidence into the regional final against KSU. I'm still not fully convinced about Frank Martin. His glare and his overall freakish nature are well documented, and I get the connection he has with his players. But the Elite Eight is the big kid's table, and Boeheim has sat here before. Many times. And Kansas State might be a little beaten up after a nasty regional semifinal against Xavier. KSU will barely beat the Muskies in a knock-down, drag-out brawl. I can't wait to watch that game. But Syracuse advances from the West.
+ MIDWEST -- Northern Iowa proves it's not a one-trick pony with a defeat of a battered Michigan State team. I don't think it will require a gimmick or a heroic late shot, either. The Panthers followed up their defeat of UNLV by staying focused enough to beat top overall seed Kansas in the tournament's biggest upset so far. UNI really controlled that game from start to finish, and although it got sloppy late, it had just enough in the tank and will do the same against the tournament savvy Tom Izzo and his proud Spartans. Ohio State worries me some. Many think the Buckeyes are a lock to come out of the Midwest, but Evan Turner could struggle against Tennessee in a regional semifinal. The Vols will throw some athleticism his way, and since he's not a natural point guard, ET might struggle again with turnover problems. Perimeter assassin Jon Diebler will once again need to hit six or seven threes to keep UT's defense away from Turner some. I think Diebler will do it, and OSU will get a stronger fight in this round than against UNI in the regional final. Ohio State advances to face Syracuse in the Final Four.


Why Duke Will Win The NCAA Championship

Mike Krzyzewski

One Great Season

I recently asked a savvy sports blogger if he knew any Duke writers who could write a piece about how the Blue Devils could win the national championship. I just wanted to have each of the No. 1 seeds represented at least once this week here on OGS.

His reply, humorously, was, "No, thank God."

I know it's something most of us do: hate Duke basketball. Coach K and his Devils are a lot like Notre Dame football. We call both programs elitists and we ridicule the NCAA for its man crush on each. Instead of hating the faceless NCAA, we direct our vitriol toward Mike Krzyzewski and his troops and feel like vomiting every time we hear about Touchdown Jesus.


+ GUEST COLUMN: Why Duke Will Win The National Championship
+ GUEST COLUMN: Why Syracuse Will Win The National Championship
+ RECIPE: 7 Ingredients For A National Championship
+ GUEST COLUMN: Why Kentucky Will Win The National Championship
+ MYTH MADNESS: 3 Tournament Trends To Ignore This Year
+ FREE ADVICE: Here's How To Win Your NCAA Office Pool
+ QUOTEBOOK: Selection Chairman Dan Guerrero Explains Himself
+ NCAA TOURNAMENT: First-Round Pairings Announced
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ LIST: The Top 10 Analysts In College Basketball
+ LIST: The Top 10 Play-By-Play Men In College Basketball

But once you get beyond the childish hatred, the reality is that Duke has one of the best college basketball programs in the modern era. Still, we call the Devils chokers because it's been nine whole years since they won their third national championship in a decade. How awful.

So if we can be objective for a minute, we have to accept the fact that Duke could very well win another national championship this year, and here's how:

First of all, its backcourt is one of the best in the country. John Scheyer and Nolan Smith are a great tandem, and although Kyle Singler is hardly listed as a guard, he can bring a guard's game with a decent handle and excellent outside range for a big fella.

And unlike typical Duke interior units of years past, the Devils can actually bang on the blocks this time around. Brian Zoubek, Miles and Mason Plumlee, Andre Dawkins and Lance Thomas are hardly stars, but together they give the Devils depth, athleticism in some spots and 25 fouls. That will be key in the Elite Eight when Duke matches up with Baylor, whose backcourt is about equal to Duke's.

Although the ACC brought subpar competition this season, the Devils went outside the league to play six teams from BCS conferences, as well as Gonzaga, going 5-2 in those games. Seasoning cannot be underestimated. Denny Crum used to take his lumps during the regular season, losing eight or 10 games every year, never sniffing a No. 1 ranking, but always had Louisville prepared for the NCAA Tournament in March.

And an admirable schedule will have come in handy by the time the Final Four rolls around. Kentucky didn't play a difficult schedule, but what it lacks in seasoning, UK certainly makes up for by being immensely talented. Duke won't need to necessarily slow things down, but against the Wildcats, the Devils might want to exhibit patience the way a more experienced team should be capable of doing.

And if Duke gets to the title game against Kansas, you've got two of the game's best coaches, matching championship pedigrees and trying to out-strategery the other. While KU is the most complete team in the country, I can't help but think Coach K would have a strong game plan ready for the Jayhawks. Not everyone can play great every night, and Oklahoma State of all teams showed the nation that KU is defnitely beatable.


Thursday Hoops Notebook: Big 12 Girls Gone Wild

Brittney Griner

One Great Season

Turns out female thuggery isn't reserved for college soccer. Check out this gem from Wednesday night, when Baylor's Brittney Griner, already a Youtube sensation for her dunking, clocks Texas Tech's Jordan Barncastle.

One thing I never get about cry-baby athletes is the rage-fueled quest to retaliate. Moments before the punch, Barncastle certainly fouled the hell out of Griner, but the refs made the call. Quit acting like a 2-year-old and go to the line and sink the free throws. Or, if you really have problems managing your hate, wait until you're at the other end of the court and return the favor with a hack across the mouth.

Remember the in-game conduct last fall of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert?

SEEDING MADNESS: Ohio State has worked its way into the conversation about NCAA Tournament top seeds. The Buckeyes have won 10 of their last 11 games, and despite a complete absence of a bench, they're well coached and their starting five is among the best in the country. I'd like to know the last team to earn a top seed with seven losses.

And don't forget the Bucks have the best player in the country, do-everything Evan Turner, who's more than capable of carrying OSU to a championship a la Danny Manning in 1988.

IF IFS AND BUTS: Speaking of Ohio State's starting five, imagine this lineup if no Buckeye would have left school early in 2007 or 2008:

+ PG Mike Conley Sr
+ SG Daequan Cook Sr
+ SF Evan Turner Jr
+ PF Kosta Koufos Jr
+ C Greg Oden Sr
+ 6th man - David Lighty Jr
+ 7th man - Jon Diebler Jr

THAT FINAL TOP SEED: Duke is more likely to win the ACC Tournament than Kansas State is to win the Big 12 Tournament, so expect the Blue Devils to grab that top honor out West. But then the question becomes, "Who's more deserving of the first No. 2 seed? Ohio State or Kansas State?" That does make a difference because the team that doesn't get it will be squared up with Kansas, Syracuse or Kentucky. Good luck getting past that trio.

FINAL THOUGHT: I hope the brackets line up in a way that will give us Kansas, the best team in the country, and Syracuse, the most complete team in the country, in the championship game on April 5 in Indianapolis.


Thursday Hoops Notebook: Duke, Syracuse Survive Scares

Syracuse Beats Connecticut

One Great Season

On the surface, two Top 10 teams won a pair of high-profile games against conference rivals on national television Wednesday night.

On talk radio and in the blogosphere, however, Syracuse and Duke are looking like a couple of teams who won't get past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

My dad used to tell me you're only as good as your last game, and I've always agreed with that to an extent. But a team's body of work throughout a season also merits equal consideration.

And that's why two narrow victories over inferior teams five weeks before the tournament even starts shouldn't worry fans of Syracuse or Duke. Teams play more than 30 games every season. What doesn't kill you in one will make you stronger in the next, right? And these are wins we're talking about!

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Bloggers are always looking for an angle they think hasn't been considered -- or at least published -- often times abandoning clear logic for the sake of uniqueness. Being original gets you noticed, but sometimes for the wrong reason.

What gets lost in all the analysis and doom and gloom are these facts: both squads are on top of their leagues, they're riding nice conference winning streaks and have top NCAA tournament seeds well within their grasp. A team couldn't possibly ask for more than that heading down the stretch.

SYRACUSE SIDESTEPS UCONN: The Orange held off a game Connecticut team Wednesday at the Carrier Dome, beating its Big East rival to remain on top of the conference.

Syracuse got balanced scoring en route to the 72-67 win that stretched its best start in school history to 24-1. The Orange are 12-1 in the Big East, a half game ahead of Villanova.

While Syracuse certainly didn't play its best game of the season, at this point, when players are trying to avoid the wall that often approaches in February, even a home win over a struggling UConnn team is a feather in the Orange fedora.

I still think 'Cuse -- with offensive balance; a late-game, go-to guy; a perimeter marksmen; blue-collar interior guys; a cool-under-pressure freshman playing beyond his years and of course that outstanding zone defense -- is a Final Four team.

Duke Beats North Carolina

DEVILS STEP ON HEELS: Neither North Carolina nor Duke did much outstanding, but Dick Vitale described it accurately maybe 10 or 12 minutes in when he said on the ESPN broadcast, "nobody's shooting all that well, but the effort is certainly there."

That was true in the second half of Duke's 64-54 win as well. North Carolina hit some big shots, like Connecticut, to keep it close late in a game with a superior rival, but in the end, it was the more experienced, more poised team that finished.

Just because Duke struggled to beat one team that clearly has many, many shortcomings, that hardly means it's time to hit the panic button. If they're hitting their shots, the Devils are once again a dangerous team for anyone who can't play an up-tempo style.

But since Duke wasn't hitting shots, it was stuck on the 49-point mark with six minutes left in the game. That was probably the biggest surprise to me. I thought the Devils would approach 100, but the low-scoring win was good enough to keep Duke (20-4, 8-2) atop the ACC, a full game ahead of Maryland, which visits Duke on Saturday. That's when we'll get a better idea whether the Devils are a threat to make a deep run in March.

THROW OUT THE CLICHES: It's 2 a.m. ET Thursday and the SportsCenter repeat just began on ESPN.

"You know what they say ... Throw out the record books when Duke and North Carolina get together," is how the anchorman opened the show.
Does anyone really say that? It seems these days that the only people who say that are broadcasters who claim that everyone else says it. But no one I know ever says that in seriousness. They only say that others say it.

BIG TEN, BIG FUN: Since the league's expansion a few years ago, the Big East race seems to be by default the best in the sport.

But I'm really intrigued by what's happening in the Big Ten. Michigan State has lost its three-game grip on first place in the last nine days. The Spartans went from 9-0 in the league to 9-3, and will play with a gimpy Kalin Lucas for the rest of the season. I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure Lucas' ankle will not heal by playing on it.

Illinois and Ohio State, meanwhile, we're two of four teams tied for second place last week, and now they're the two teams tied with Michigan State for first place. The Illini pulled off a rare win at Wisconsin Tuesday, and will welcome Ohio State to Assembly Hall on Sunday.

That large game begins a huge stretch for Ohio State, which follows its Illinois visit with a home date against Purdue on Wednesday, then travels to Michigan State on Feb. 20.

Meanwhile, those Boilermakers are lurking just a half game back at 8-3 and Wisconsin is 8-4. One game separates five teams. That will be fun to watch.

Are you following me on Twitter? @onegreatseason | @johnpwise


Rivalry Weak? Duke Should Roll North Carolina

Duke, North Carolina Renew College Basketball's Best Rivalry

One Great Season

Sports fans -- even worse, broadcasters -- love to say you can throw out the record books when "these bitter rivals get together."

They'll tell you it doesn't matter how badly North Carolina might be struggling, that no extra practice or motivational speech is needed for the Tar Heels to get up for a game against rival Duke.

The No. 8 Blue Devils (19-4, 7-2 ACC) make the short bus ride to Chapel Hill to take on UNC (13-10, 2-6) Wednesday night (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) to renew one of the best rivalries in college sports.

YOUR THOUGHTS: Which Rivalry Is Better Than Duke-UNC?

North Carolina is not good. A preseason No. 6 ranking and early wins over Michigan State and Ohio State offered up nothing more than fool's gold. The Tar Heels have long been loaded with McDonald's All-Americans, stacked with talent at every position, particularly in the backcourt in recent years.

But Larry Drew II is not Ty Lawson. Nor is he Raymond Felton. Shoot, he isn't even Ed Cota.

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UNC's problems run far deeper than Drew, but under coach Roy Williams, as the point guard goes, so go the Heels. Ed Davis is a nice interior player, but the supporting cast around these two, while not lacking talent, just isn't even coming close to clicking.

Duke, on the other hand, has been waiting for a game like this against its hated neighbor. I suspect Mike Krzyzewski will keep his foot on the gas once his team earns its first double-digit advantage, which should be about three minutes in. The Devils have lost three straight in this series and six of the last seven meetings, so look for a payback-driven rout.

Annoyingly scrappy John Scheyer (can't wait until next year so we'll never have to see him play basketball ever again) and backcourt mate Nolan Smith average 37 points a game between them. Devils Scheyer, Smith and Kyle Singler are among the top seven scorers in the ACC.

If you scan the league standings, you'll see North Carolina is looking up at nine teams above it. That's usually the case during football season, but when a potent Duke team that has designs on a deep March run gets to visit an inferior North Carolina team in the best rivalry in college basketball, I can't help but think the Devils will want to stick it to the home team.

And that's exactly what will happen at the Dean E. Smith Center Wednesday night, when Duke could very well put up 100 against the NIT-bound Tar Heels.

Are you following me on Twitter? @onegreatseason | @johnpwise


No. 9: Duke vs. Connecticut, 1999

UConn wins the 1999 national championship

Each Monday until the national championship is played in Indianapolis on April 5, One Great Season will count down the Top 10 National Championship games since 1979, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson squared off in Salt Lake City. Today's No. 9 is the 1999 championship game between Connecticut and Duke, played in St. Petersburg, Fla.

One Great Season

Connecticut and Duke were the only teams to be ranked No. 1 during the 1998-99 regular season, so when the Huskies and Blue Devils won their Final Four semifinal games on March 27, expectations for a great title game shot through the roof of Tropicana Field.

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And the sides didn't disappoint two nights later. UConn won its first national championship, 77-74, over a seemingly unbeatable Duke team that was playing in its eighth title game.

The Blue Devils hadn't lost since November and were going for an NCAA record 38 victories, as well as the school's third national championship.

Connecticut, meanwhile, was a fairly new player in the elite class of college basketball. The Huskies got to the Elite Eight to open the 1990s, only to lose to Duke when Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater sent the Devils to the Final Four.

But to close the decade during which Duke won two national titles, Connecticut earned its first crown for coach Jim Calhoun by playing an up-tempo game that many thought would have favored Duke's more athletic players.

The Huskies, however, got 27 points from All-American Richard Hamilton, as well as two huge defensive stops late in the game.

Connecticut's Ricky Moore, one of the top defenders in the country, got great positioning to force Duke's sharpshooting guard, Trajan Langdon, into a late traveling violation. Moments later, UConn's Khalid El-Amin converted two free throws to stretch the Huskies' lead to 77-74 with 5.2 seconds left.

And when Duke looked for Langdan on its final possession, the fifth-year senior couldn't even get a potential game-tying shot launched because he fell near the three-point arc and lost control of the ball.

With that, UConn had its crown and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was left to ponder a sixth title-game loss.

The Top 10 National Championship Games Since 1979

+ No. 10: Indiana State vs. Michigan State, 1979