As the Duke-Carolina football game with the most at stake in the last 50 years approaches, many Tar Heels fans are fretting more over the Blue Devils than usual this time of the year.
After all, who would imagine that Duke might reach the ACC football championship game before Carolina? That’s what a Duke victory (9-2 and 5-2 in the ACC) produces Saturday in Kenan Stadium.
And what about all these basketball superstars Mike Krzyzewski continues to sign when his own Hall of Fame career is supposed to be winding down, not revving up?
Well, nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems.
First of all, the Tar Heels will win the football game and deny Duke a spot in the ACC title game next week in Charlotte. Both teams are having fine seasons with fast finishes and will wind up in pretty good bowls. Since mid-October, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels have been on winning streaks, and both are far better than they played in September.
But, surprising as it may seem, Carolina has produced more explosive playmakers than Duke has. And while the Blue Devils will score some points on a still-young UNC defense, the Tar Heels will score more and repaint the Victory Bell light blue. Over 60 minutes, Marquise Williams and company cannot be contained.
Bet on it.
As for basketball, Carolina shocking overrated Louisville brought some fans in off the ledge after the dismal display against Belmont the week before. The nagging question remains about the eligibility of leading scorer P.J. Hairston (and lesser so senior reserve Leslie McDonald), but the bigger issue should be who’s emerging as the new stars of the team.
Despite a demonstrated lack of rebounding and defense in narrow victories recently, Duke has the bigger names in its program with more coming next year. They are still the sexier team, but basketball is a funny game with a long season. What it looks like in November rarely resembles what it looks like in March, for better or worse.
Duke’s glamor recruits aren’t staying around very long. Jabari Parker is a one-and-done, and the Okafor-Jones-Winslow triumvirate of incoming freshmen has the same plan in mind, if all three can get enough minutes, points and rebounds to become first-round draft picks.
But the point is this: programs are developed in different ways, and Duke looks to be changing its approach, almost as if Krzyzewski knows he has three or four seasons left and is trying to load up with high-profile talent and win another NCAA or two before he retires. That’s far more the Calipari-Kentucky recipe than what made Duke among the best programs over the past 25 years.
Carolina, by contrast, has and is signing up very good players who will be in school for three or four years. What you are seeing from Marcus Paige has superstar written all over it; Brice Johnson’s head is getting out of the way of his skill set; and youngsters like Kennedy Meeks and Nate Britt have already had their moments. Others like Isaiah Hicks will have theirs. You can bet on that, too.
So, whether Hairston plays this season or not at all, the Tar Heels will have a good basketball team and make the NCAA Tournament. They will be better next year with the addition of Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson and Joel Berry, all highly rated prospects. And what if dynamic Dante Exum, Cecil’s son, comes back from Australia to wear Carolina blue for a year or two before going pro?
See, on the grand scale, there should be far more feeling good than fretting. And don’t worry about Duke. For starters, they’re not winning Saturday.