March is finally here. And you may have just started watching college basketball a month or so ago after the Super Bowl. You probably need a little information to help steer your bracket selections one way or another, so that’s what I am here to do. In a three-part series of blogs, I will be giving out my thoughts on each of the four regions along with how I see the end of the tournament shaking out.
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So, what happens this year?
It was exactly 40 years ago when the NCAA Tournament started the process of becoming an iconic event spanning three weeks in March and April and essentially paralyzing life for many people between the ages of 10 and 75. It was 40 years ago when the world saw the creation of a rivalry that would launch the sport and the NBA into a stratosphere of popularity many never thought could be reached. It was when the world saw Magic Johnson and Michigan State knock off Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores.
Magic vs Bird took the game of basketball to a spot of prominence on the American sports landscape. It’s what allowed Michael Jordan to help bring the game to the global heights it has reached now. Video games were created. Documentaries rehashing their rivalry spanning the late 70’s into the very early 90’s were produced seemingly by everyone. They owned the NBA in the 80’s and it all stemmed from the night Magic and Sparty knocked off the future Celtic great Bird.
Fast forward 40 years and college basketball and the NCAA as an institution are flirting with the line of irrelevance in some circles once again. FBI scandals, one-and-done rules, amateurism bullshit, and the NCAA “protecting the rights of the student athlete” are all challenging the sport at the collegiate level as we currently know it. The sport needs an injection of energy into it. It needs an event that can capture the country in a way that hasn’t been seen but can only be seen at it’s level. College Basketball in 2019 needs a final game pitting North Carolina and Duke. And the stars may just be lining up for it.
The best rivalry in college sports has never been played on its biggest stage. Bird and Magic squared off in the NCAA Championship and in multiple NBA Finals. It’s captured the nation one night at a time from a tiny gym in Durham, North Carolina and just a few miles southwest in Chapel Hill.
They have played three times this year, UNC winning twice without Williamson for Duke. Duke won the only match-up with both teams at full strength in a thrilling one-point game on Friday night in the ACC semifinal. They know each other inside and out. Their coaches know each other inside and out. Their fans hate each other, and, most college fans have strong feelings one way or another towards either or both of the programs.
Zion Williamson is the biggest star in college basketball in at least a decade. His military equivalence is a fighter plane crossed with a tank. He’s the most explosive player I have seen play college basketball. Combined with R.J. Barrett, a future NBA All Star, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones, Duke is deservedly the heavy favorite to win it all.
Call It a personal bias for me or not though, the senior leadership for the Heels will propel them to Roy Williams’ fourth National Championship. Their loss Friday sold me on that. Williamson and Duke had to win Friday after he missed the first two match-ups after “his shoe exploded” and he sprained his knee in the opening seconds of their first match-up. UNC dominated that night with stellar shooting performances from seniors Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson. They easily won at Chapel Hill when Coby White got hot and Kenny Williams kept drawing charges on Barrett. With Williamson back, if Duke didn’t win, it would have to be somewhat demoralizing for them. They won by a point. After a rushed shot by the freshman White and missed put back attempt by the other UNC stud freshman Nassir Little.
Duke-UNC is exactly the game College Basketball needs in 2019 and finally, I think we’re going to get to see it. It won’t cover the stain the scandals lingering over the sport are bound to leave. Carolina winning another title only this time in Coach K’s face would be one of the greatest moments my sports fandom could ever dream.
Even more though it can give the game a much-needed jolt and an event like this could leave a resounding impact on the sport. And it would fun as hell to watch too. God damn, I love March.
Follow Matt on Twitter @schools_01