Duke vs. North Carolina, as big as Final Four matches get

NEW ORLEANS — Duke vs. North Carolina is big in February. It’s big on the first Saturday in March.

Fans celebrate regular season victories like other NCAA tournament victories. Duke fans light bonfires in Durham after beating North Carolina. North Carolina fans storm Franklin Street in Chapel Hill after defeating Duke.

No, Saturday night in New Orleans isn’t big. It’s outrageous. It’s epic. It is the most important game in the history of college basketball’s greatest rivalry, the two eternal rivals’ first meeting at an NCAA tournament and their 258th ever encounter to be played in the all-time Final Four.

The winner moves one national championship within a win. The loser hears about this result forever. And add the unique caveat that it will be the last time Mike Krzyzewski faces North Carolina in his Hall of Fame career, four weeks to the day after the Tar Heels ruined his last home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium . North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has declared his state the “center of the college basketball universe.” Country singer Eric Church has canceled a show so he can watch the game.

“There’s an incredible amount of pressure, and of course there’s pressure when you’re here on this stage, a chance to play on Monday, championship night. It’s only going to be magnified and intensified because of the rivalry,” Grant Hill, the former Duke star and current CBS/Turner Sports College basketball analyst, told The Post on Friday. “It will be the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. So I think the players feel that and are aware of it.”

Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski
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The proximity of the schools – they are 10 miles down US Highway 15-501, also known as the Tobacco Road – and the teams’ success created this intense rivalry. So is the level of the players involved, from Michael Jordan to Christian Laettner, Rasheed Wallace to Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson to Vince Carter and so many others. There are 38 Final Four finishes and 11 national championships between them.

Hill recalled that when he visited Duke, there would be North Carolina fans working on campus, and they would remind him of the losses to the Tar Heels. He joked it was like “living with the enemy.” Duke wing Wendell Moore Jr. had professors championing North Carolina.

The two coaches and respective players did their best to minimize the importance of the rivalry in the Final Four. Being one win away from the national championship game is important, not the fact that it is the first time Duke and North Carolina meet in the NCAA tournament, they have claimed.

“I can’t really tell you what you want with this question, but we all know how big the game is,” said Tar Heels winger Leaky Black. “Final Four, Duke-North Carolina, it doesn’t get much bigger than this unless it’s a championship game.”

Duke's Paolo Banchero (right) dribbles against North Carolina's Armando Bacot.
Duke’s Paolo Banchero (right) dribbles against North Carolina’s Armando Bacot.
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This week, Black said he was stopped on campus while crossing the street to take a picture of a driver who was breaking traffic. On Tobacco Road, sports announcer JB Ricks is all fixated on the game, according to Spectrum News (Raleigh, NC). People are nervous and nervous about what a loss of bragging rights would mean.

“None of them wanted this to happen because whoever loses this game, they’re going to have to live with it for the rest of their lives,” Ricks said. “It has the atmosphere of a game of the century.”

Duke (32-6) has the most to lose. This is Coach K’s last go-around. It already left North Carolina (28-9) ruining their last home game. And the Tar Heels didn’t even get to that point, having played mediocre basketball for much of the season until they flipped a switch in February. Duke is a two, North Carolina is an eight.

“I feel like they have the most pressure,” said North Carolina guard Caleb Love.

It really puts pressure on everyone. The stakes have never been so high. It will be North Carolina and Duke in the Final Four. let the chaos arise

“Just us meeting at this point, especially after we beat them at Cameron,” said North Carolina forward Armando Bacot, “that’s just the perfect story.” Duke vs. North Carolina, as big as Final Four matches get


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