There have been some obvious classics in this historic rivalry. Do any Duke-North Carolina clashes stand out to you?
I think the biggest one that I saw as a kid was in 1974, when North Carolina was down by eight points with 17 seconds to go and made this miraculous comeback. Bobby Jones had a couple of steals. Walter Davis hit some big shots. That was such a big game, and that’s one of the ones that I remember the most.
I was young and I watched that game, and, to this day, it’s one of the greatest comebacks that I’ve ever seen. There are other great games, but that’s one that stands out in my mind.
Here’s the thing: Although this game is a big deal for the players, and I really think it is, it’s more of a big deal for fans than anything else. These players actually play together year-round in summer leagues and all know each other. I mean, there’s a huge rivalry, but I believe it’s more intense with the fans than it is the players.
Where does this rivalry rank nationally in your mind?
I think it is the greatest rivalry in college basketball. The rivalry in football isn’t the same, but in college basketball this is the biggest rivalry in the country.
I know in the Big Ten you’ve got the traditional big rivalries. Kansas has plenty of say in the Big 12. But there’s no other rivalry in the country that, to me, is as big as this. I tend to think the intensity of this game is something entirely different.
Plus, it’s always interesting to see what the Cameron Crazies come up with in games like this.
With plenty of talent on the court, what are some of your keys to Wednesday’s game?
Let me start with Duke, which was tested mightily by Boston College. I still feel the Blue Devils have a strong nucleus in Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Quinn Cook. Curry is a great shooter and really opens stuff up inside, and Cook has developed into a very good and very consistent point guard.
They do miss Ryan Kelly, who has not played since Jan. 8. They’ve found out who they are without him, but even if they do that, the Blue Devils still miss him. I think that their depth has been sorely affected by the loss of Kelly.
However, Plumlee is a veteran player facing off against a lot of young players. He might be able to take advantage of that.
Now, for North Carolina, this is a game that has got to have James Michael McAdoo perform at a high level. I think you never saw his impact as much as that game against Miami. If a team is successful at taking McAdoo out of the game, it is very hard for North Carolina to win. So if there’s any one player that’s the key to this game, it’s James Michael McAdoo.
Duke has a lot of weapons. If one of those weapons falls off a bit, somebody else can pick up the slack. For the Tar Heels, though, when they play a great team, McAdoo has to have a great game for them to win because there’s no other Tar Heels post player left to pick up that slack.
One last key for North Carolina: When P.J. Hairston is hitting his shots, as I’ve said all year and I still believe it, it opens things up for Roy Williams’ team and gives the Tar Heels another option. Fittingly, to my last key, it particularly opens things up for McAdoo inside. Hairston has got to be on in this game; he’s got to be knocking down 3s.
Who has the edge?
I give the edge in the game to Duke, particularly since Duke is at home. I don’t know how these young players for North Carolina are going to respond. For a lot of them, this will be their first trip to Cameron Indoor. That can be intimidating for anybody. People can try to prepare you for it, they can say, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen,’ but until you get in that atmosphere and listen to the Crazies going nuts, you can’t be completely ready.