I know lots of fans are grateful to have basketball back. Last week, I wrote about the creeping dread that comes with successful seasons, and the almost-relief that comes with seeing those fears realised. Last Saturday’s season-starter for the men’s basketball team, against Radford, saw 17,000+ fans welcoming the start of a new athletic season (and some non-zero number below that celebrating the distraction from the ongoing football season).
Please don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled that it’s basketball season, too. I grew up living and dying with the Heels on the hardwood; I watched Sean May (now Coach May) win a national title when I was 11 years old, and I cried like hell in 2016 in my final year of college when Marcus Paige hit the circus shot that should’ve won a title for him and Brice Johnson. In no way am I trying to diminish the excitement for a new basketball season and all the hope that comes with it. I’ll actually get to see the men’s team in person for the first time on Sunday, and I’m ecstatic.
It’s great that it’s basketball season. It’s even better, for me at least, that there’s still football. I’m well-documented on this site as being a fan of college football first and foremost, and there’s nothing quite like being in the thick of it, here in the winding-down of the year. Despite the shine coming off the proverbial apple in the form of sequential faceplants to start the second half of the season, the Tar Heels have found their way back into the AP Top 25 and, with a decisive win over Campbell, will hope to get their season back on track to salvage what they can of what may be Drake Maye’s final season in the southern part of Heaven.
There’s another school, about eight miles down the road, that is likely experiencing something similar. Duke started the season strong, ranked as high as #16 before back-to-back losses to ranked teams cast them out of the Top 25, back to the fiery Blue depths from whence they came. Riley Leonard, the starting quarterback for Blue Devils to start the season (with a huge win over the Clemson (Paper) Tigers, no less), has been fluctuating between playing hurt and not-playing hurt, and their stout defense has not been enough to float the team from Durham in their last few games against ranked teams.
The fans who cheer for the incorrect blue may be even more anxious for basketball season than we are, but some of them are still guaranteed to make the trip to Kenan Stadium tomorrow night. It’s not every year that both of these teams come into this rivalry either ranked or having recently been ranked nationally, and that’s something to be cherished. I want the Blue Devils to lose every game they play by no less than 30, to be sure, but I also paradoxically think the rivalry is more exciting when both teams are good. I feel that way about, say, a Final Four matchup in basketball, and I feel that way when there’s nothing on the line but pride and a big wheeled bell.
It’s basketball season in North Carolina, but there’s still football to be played. The rest of the Tar Heels’ season starts tomorrow, along with another ringing chance to beat the team from Durham and keep the Victory Bell in Chapel Hill.
It’s a good season to be a sports fan, and it’s a great day to be a Tar Heel.