Schedule change gives Duke-UNC matchup NCAA tourney feel
Posted February 20
It happens all the time. You're working on your laptop, and the small gray field appears in the center of the screen alerting you to an update of a program. This happens often with iTunes.
"Version 7.4.1 is now available for update." It also shows up on your smartphone when an update for one of your apps is ready.
This happened to me – and I certainly would hope to you, too – yesterday with both my WRAL News and WRAL SportsFan apps (available for iPhone and Android devices). Version 3.50 was ready. A few clicks later and the update was now part of my phone. Looks the same, but there was a glitch somewhere in the system that is now spackled over. Well, let me be the first to inform you that the update for Duke at North Carolina, version 1.02, is now ready. We've worked out the bugs that rendered the Blue Devils' luxury coach unable to download eight days ago and the game is now ready for launch.
A week ago, we were all set for the usual Duke-UNC first game madness. To me, it's always seemed to signify the official beginning of NCAA tournament bubble watch madness. Granted, it seems that every night in the college hoops world there's someone talking about the impact a certain win or loss will have on some team's tournament hopes, that's the power of the dance. But I think it's the first meeting between the Devils and Heels that triggers the stretch drive, where every result matters just a little bit more. However, that was a week ago, and that notion was left buried amid the rubble of another week of Wake County Public School snow days and the second winter storm in less than a month.
So what is different about version 1.02? Something HAS to be different, otherwise there wouldn't be any reason for the update. So, it's my job to figure out the difference, no matter how nuanced it may be. Here's what I've come up with.
Whether you agree or not, tonight doesn't seem to me to have the same energy, the same anticipation, the same vibe, as it did before the snow and ice paralyzed the region. The first meeting is always special. It's an event. Almost like when the (insert your favorite sports league) All Star Game comes to your town. We trot out all of the old guys who played back in the days of tube socks and Cons and wax nostalgic.
Doesn't have that feeling for me today. Yes, I know it's only eight days later. Yes, I'm aware that this is still the greatest rivalry since India vs. Pakistan. Yes, it's still going to be special. But I'm all out of glorious prose about the pomp, circumstance and general revelry regarding act one of this season's "Battle of the Blues." That was left on the cutting room floor back on the Feb. 12. However, that doesn't make this game any less exciting or important, just a little less romantic.
So what changes tonight?
Well, when you consider the timing of the week, with both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils having games on Saturday, this clearly has an NCAA Tournament feel to things. North Carolina is expected back at the Smith Center Saturday at noon to take on Wake Forest while Duke welcomes once-beaten Syracuse to Cameron that evening.
Regardless of the difference in opponent and game time, having just the one day off gives this stretch a bit of a regional feel. A Thursday night Sweet Sixteen match up followed two days – or nights – later with a shot at the Final Four on the line.
Obviously, the stakes for tonight's game aren't quite that steep. It's not survive and advance, and both teams are still trying to position themselves as well as possible for whatever lies ahead of them over the next six weeks. But there's no doubt that the coming 48 hours are going to go a long way to determining from where each is going to begin it's March, well, march.
College coaches like to simulate future situations, so when the time comes concepts aren't as foreign, or uncomfortable. That's one of the reasons why you play in preseason and holiday tournaments. You get rapid fire games against a high-caliber array of opponents with a short turnaround. That arrangement is very similar to what you'll face in March, in the NCAA Tournament. Game, catch your breath, get a coke and a hoagie and lace 'em up again. Negotiate that successfully on two different occasions and someone hands you a ladder and a pair of scissors.
That, to me, is what tonight and Saturday are all about. Maybe it's unfair to lump the weekend in with tonight's latest, weather-delayed chapter of Athens vs Sparta, but that's the way I see it. Doesn't make tonight any less fun and it certainly doesn't dampen the impact of the game. The circumstances surrounding it have just ever-so-slightly changed the meaning.
Of course, for some of you, the updates are barely detectable. Either way, enjoy the game.