BROOKLYN – Bigger stage, smaller stakes for Carolina-Duke III.
It’s never NOT a big deal when the Tar Heels play the Blue Devils in basketball, of any sport for that matter. This is a homegrown, Tobacco Road rivalry that dates back to when Duke was called Trinity and UNC did not have a ram for a mascot. But if you can ever say, “Let’s play this one for fun and glory,” the third time in the 2017 season, and the 12th time for the ACC championship, is it.
Sure, you want to win the first game, no matter where it is, because it is the unofficial start of March Madness after the Super Bowl. Having lost in Cameron, the Tar Heels were under pressure to even the season series at home on Senior Night and secure a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. So this one is really for show.
Since Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he favors the ACC Tournament being played in big markets like New York, where it has more value to the conference than in little, ol’ Greensboro, talk has abounded over whether the league even needs a bigger stage. After all, it is the ACC and every game is on national television, and as Roy Williams said while risking his own presidential response there is already too much nonsense out there on social media.
But the New York newspapers have not exactly given the ACC tournament splashy coverage, the most going to Syracuse because the Orange are from, well, New York. Carolina and Duke might rate more ink because they are, well, Carolina and Duke and don’t really need it. They are already power programs, bigger than most others.
Duke is playing in its third game in three days and is pretty gassed after its emotional comeback win over Louisville. Mike Krzyzewski admitted to leaving senior forward Amile Jefferson on the bench for most of the second half because he needed the down time and his freshmen bigs were playing okay.
If the fresher Heels work hard to get position and the ball inside, they should beat Duke again. Unless Luke Kennard goes off for 40 to prove HE should have been ACC Player of the Year instead of Justin Jackson. With seeds secure, let’s go play and all have fun.