Duke University and the University of North Carolina are separated by only 10 miles along U.S. Highway 15-501 — more commonly known as Tobacco Road. And their college hoops programs are fabulous, folks. The No. 5 Blue Devils of Duke from Durham, NC and the No. 9 Tar Heels of UNC from Chapel Hill, NC have combined for a grand total of 11 NCAA Tournament championships. . . Duke has five titles and Carolina has six. Can you say holy cow? My sentiments exactly.
Head Coach Roy Williams in his 15th season with the Tar Heels has led his squad to back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tourney championship game. In 2016, Carolina fell a Kris Jenkins buzzer-beating triple short of adding one more title to their name. Instead, the Villanova Wildcats won their second championship and first since 1985. But in the tourney last season, the Heels held the trophy high and cut down the nets after escaping Gonzaga, 71-65. Can UNC make their third-straight championship game appearance in 2018? Of course, they can. The only problem is that the greatest sporting event the galaxy has ever seen demands the Tar Heels win five straight games against the best that college hoops has to offer in order to achieve this.
As for Duke and Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski in his 38th season at the helm for the Blue Devils, they’ll have a shot at winning another title after capturing their last in 2015. Think about it. Clearly, there’s something in the water in North Carolina — especially on either side of that 10 mile stretch of highway — that divides these two juggernaut programs.
The Tar Heels defeated the Blue Devils, 82-78, on February 8 in arguably the best rivalry in college sports at Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Down 12 during the first half to their hated Atlantic Coast Conference rivals, UNC fed off of sensational senior guard Joel Berry II’s 21-point effort. At just six feet tall and 195 pounds, Berry has been Carolina’s top scorer and catalyst during the 2017-18 season. And although the Heels have an exceptionally balanced attack with four youngsters averaging double-figures in points per night, Berry’s leadership (as well as 17.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game) provide UNC’s spark. Dynamic with the orange off the bounce, Mr. Berry’s best attribute is his stroke. Let’s just say that he has a wicked jump shot, and he’s cash-money from the free throw line.
Duke avenged their loss to Carolina in Chapel Hill with a 74-64 victory on Saturday, March 3. This time on their home floor in Durham, and in front of all the Cameron Crazies inside the always electric and raucously loud Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils’ 6-foot-11 and 234-pound superstar freshman forward, Marvin Bagley III, brought his A-game with 21 points and 15 rebounds against the Heels on Saturday night. Meanwhile, Berry managed just six points in a Tar Heel loss. Duke’s win deadlocked the regular-season series between the ACC rivals at one apiece.
The Heels may have four players that average double-figures in scoring on the season, but the Blue Devils quietly have five young pups that do the same. Mr. Bagley is the anchor for Duke — 20.7 ppg, 11.2 rpg, and 1.6 apg for one heck of an amazing talent. Thinking you’re not reading his stat line correctly? Well, you are. Bagley is a double-double powerhouse.
What about Grayson Allen? The senior guard is Duke’s heartbeat. Indeed, the Blue Devils’ pulse is kickstarted by Mr. Allen. Standing 6-foot-5 and moving the scale to 205 pounds, Grayson is strong and unusually athletic. I can’t believe that listing is correct — Allen has to be closer to 220 based on his upper body size alone.
Grayson doesn’t look like your typical extraordinary athlete, but this dude can jump out of the gym. He’s simply nasty when he attacks the rim off the dribble, dropping home 15.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, and 4.5 apg.
In his final season at Duke, Allen is Coach K’s floor general. Yes. . . The Blue Devils’ success relies heavily on the shoulders of both Marvin and Grayson. They must play well throughout the Madness of March in order for Duke to survive and advance.
It’s looking like UNC will end up snatching a No. 3 or No. 4-seed when the field is announced on this upcoming Sunday. As for Duke, a likely No. 2 or even a No. 1 seed is on their horizon come Selection Sunday. But no matter the seeding, it’s hard for me to think that San Antonio will be void of both programs. Look for either the Blue Devils or Tar Heels to represent the state of North Carolina in the Final Four.