This is what they call putting the cart before the horse. Dick Vitale was yammering about it yesterday on Twitter. At the same time he was talking about how awesomely awesome it would be if Mike Krzyzewski became to the all time wins leader in the Final Four. Feel free to gag on that one a minute. Anyway, CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel(for whom I am temporarily lifting a link ban) takes up the possibility of a UNC-Duke game in the Final Four as "the game that must not be named."
It's the game people in North Carolina don't want to see. Not many outside the state want to see it, either. But this much I can promise you:
Duke and North Carolina are each two victories from setting up a Final Four showdown, and if that happens? If Duke plays North Carolina for the fourth time this season, but for the first time in the NCAA tournament? It would be the most-watched college basketball game of the year. Maybe of any year.
Which is ironic, considering most folks would rather it not happen. Around North Carolina, such a meeting is The Game That Must Not Be Named. People in that state don't root for it, don't pray for it, don't even talk about it. The stakes would be so high, and the losing side would be struck so low, that people in that state want no part of it. Winning that game would be heaven, yes, but losing it would be worse than hell.
I know most people will ask the question, "Why talk about this now?" Well, because it is a possibility and in the modern media age you strike while something is worth talking about because come Monday it might not be happening. Yes, this is looking ahead but I thought it would be interesting to indulge the discussion since there was nothing else happening today besides blatant Cameron Crazy narcissism.
This actually not the closest these two have been to the mother of all UNC-Duke games. In 1991 both teams made the Final Four on opposite sides of the draw. A title game matchup was seen as nearly impossible since Duke was facing UNLV who had beaten the Devils by 30 in the 1990 NCAA Championship. UNC was facing Kansas under Roy Williams, a game the Heels were expected to win. As irony would have it, Duke took care of their end but UNC came up short on theirs which denied us UNC-Duke for all the marbles. In 1998 UNC and Duke were seemingly on a collision course again but Duke choked away a 17 point lead against Kentucky in the regional final. UNC went to the Final Four(without Shammond Williams apparently) and lost to Utah.
Now you have both teams two wins away from facing each other in the national semifinal game in Houston. Setting aside the respective difficulties for both teams and the likelihood it probably won't happen let me point out that Doyel is absolutely right. This is the game no one on either side of the rivalry really wants. We have talked before about the "no-win scenario" but this is not that since there is a huge benefit to the win but also a massive risk to the loss. In other words this is a high risk/high reward situation. If you win, you advance to the NCAA title game and to get there you step on the head of your most hated rival, driving their face into the concrete thus ending their season in tremendous heartbreak. Think of J.J. Redick crying on Senior Night in 2006 and multiply it by a million. That is what you are talking about from a UNC perspective. And if UNC were to lose such a game? We are the ones with our hearts ripped out. There is also the added element of this really being a one shot deal. Odds are you would never get this chance again. A regular season loss or even in the ACC Tournament can be avenged at some point, that would not be the case here.
So, for my money I think this might be too much for me to handle. UNC-Duke consumes 80% of the oxygen in college basketball when it happens. Having these two play in one of the final three games of the season would be so epically hyped I just don't know if it should happen. Like the Final Five Cylons it might be best to not think about or mention this game unless it actually happens.