Duke, UNC serve another classic example of greatness of sport

 

There has been no shortage of hand-wringing this season about the supposedly sad state of college basketball. The scoring is down, critics say, and indeed the numbers bear that out. The television ratings are underwhelming, too, critics say. The one-and-done rule prevents fans from developing longstanding relationships with the best players, and the game is too slow-paced and coach-controlled, and the fundamentals are all out of whack and influenced by a roll-the-ball-out summer league mentality.

I’m not here to say that all those things are wrong. A lot of these things are quite right.

But I am here to say — in big, bold, capital letters — that if you think college hoops is going down the tubes … well …

YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN AT CAMERON INDOOR ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT.

As I write this, it’s a full three hours after the epic 92-90 Duke overtime win over North Carolina. I could tell you all sorts of numbers around the game: that No. 4 Duke continued its six-game winning streak by having all five starters score 12 or more points, or that No. 15 North Carolina lost the fourth of its past five games despite absolutely dominating Duke in the paint, or that this result will have huge consequences in the ACC race (Duke still has a shot at catching Virginia) and in the NCAA Tournament (Duke sure feels like a 1-seed, while Carolina, despite losing, sure passed the so-called eye test).

Or I could tell you the following things. These are things that get to the heart of why Wednesday night’s wild and dramatic rivalry game was actually the antidote to all that supposedly ails college basketball:

This wasn’t just me feeling this way, that I had watched the best — or at least the most fun and exciting — college basketball game of the year, perhaps a top-10 classic in the most storied rivalry in the sport.

Just listen to what the players and coaches had to say.

“You had to enjoy a great college basketball game,” said Williams — the losing coach. “If you happen to just like college basketball, then you had to enjoy that part of it. But I happen to love North Carolina. So it’s not so agreeable with me.”

“I’m just emotional right now,” said Duke senior guard Quinn Cook, who scored 22 points in his final home game against UNC. “It was an incredible game to be a part of.”

“It’s tough for this game to always live up to the hype,” Coach K said. “I think tonight’s game exceeded it. (And) so many of the games have exceeded the hype.”

This game might have been the extreme version of it, but it encapsulated every reason I love college basketball: The great rivalries that are filled with as much enmity as respect. The emotional attachment that players and fans have to one game over all the others. The fact that a raucous fan base can — and, as we saw Wednesday night, often does — will the home team to victory. The thought that three likely one-and-done Duke players — Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones — will forever be remembered in Duke lore for Wednesday’s game despite the possibility their stay at Duke will be done in a couple months.

So hate on college basketball if you want. Anyone in and around the sport will admit there are things that need to be changed. But go give a look back at this one special night in this most special rivalry, and remind yourself exactly how great this sport can be when it’s at its best.

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Email Reid Forgrave at reidforgrave@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @reidforgrave.