North Carolina makes it to the men’s basketball Final Four and stages a colossal clash with arch-rival Duke

PHILADELPHIA — North Carolina and Duke have faced each other 257 times since 1920. They’ve featured in No. 1-vs.-No. 2 thunderclap matchups, fought frequently in the ACC Tournament, and even faced once in 1971. NIT semi-finals.

Game 258 will be the first to take place in the NCAA Tournament, a cosmic collision seemingly taken from Tobacco Road fan fiction. North Carolina and Duke are located eight miles apart and have combined for 248 NCAA Tournament wins, but their meeting in the Final Four in New Orleans will come with the highest stakes in the game. story of the rivalry.

Sunday’s 69-49 gutting of No. 8-seeded North Carolina of 15-seeded Saint Peter’s sends the Tar Heels to the Final Four for the 21st time in program history, extending its all-time lead over UCLA (18). With a week of buildup before the age-old rivals take to the field, expect the game to be billed as the most anticipated meeting in the history of the Duke-UNC rivalry.

North Carolina coach Hubert Davis landed a Final Four offer in his first season on the sidelines at UNC. And his rise to the national stage as a head coach creates another basketball providence. Davis’ first Final Four as head coach inevitably intersects with the heralded exit of Mike Krzyzewski from Duke, who is retiring this season after leading the Blue Devils to the Final Four for a career-high 13th time.

“I didn’t think about it at all,” Davis said of Duke. “The only thing on my mind is to celebrate with the rest of the players what just happened today. Next week will be next week. And we’ll deal with that next week. But right now I don’t want to. not thinking about the next week and wasting today’s moment.”

The confluence of teams, stakes and Krzyzewski’s career potentially ending at the hands of North Carolina creates the opportunity for generations of bragging rights for the winner.

There are two distinct possibilities: either UNC ends Krzyzewski’s career this Saturday on the biggest stage possible at the hands of its bitterest rival, or Duke gets the chance on April 4 to face the winner Kansas. and Villanova to dispatch Krzyzewski with his sixth national title. .

This game follows UNC’s incredible Duke in Krzyzewski’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, which at the time was considered the rivalry’s ultimate ambush. Now, the kismet support giveaway gives UNC bragging rights on bar stools and tee boxes statewide for decades.

“I don’t really want to answer that right now,” UNC junior Armando Bacot said when asked about Duke. “That’s a good question. But I can’t answer it now. The coach will get mad at me.”

Two programs that have combined to play 334 NCAA tournament games have never faced each other in all those trips. (The National Tournament game wasn’t possible until 1975, when the NCAA began allowing more than one team per league to participate in the event.) They only made it to the Final Four once. together, in 1991, when Krzyzewski won his first championship.

While Krzyzewski’s farewell will continue to suck in a considerable amount of oxygen, the work Davis has done deserves special attention. UNC has been through much of the first three months of this season, which included resounding losses to everyone from Kentucky and Wake Forest, at home to Duke and even visiting Pittsburgh.

But Davis has consistently guided the Tar Heels on the wrong side of the bubble to the Final Four after that mid-February loss to Pitt. By doing so and winning four games in his first NCAA tournament, Davis becomes the first head coach in his first season on the sidelines to reach the Final Four since the late Bill Guthridge guided the Tar Heels there in 1998.

“The shared experiences and the time we spent on and off the court allowed us to grow together, to understand each other, to accept each other,” Davis said on Saturday, “to see the gifts and talents that … allow that we are collectively the best we can be, and we’ve settled in now. We’re in a place of unity because of the time shared together.

As for Sunday’s game, midnight struck for Saint Peter’s shortly after the whistleblower, and the little school’s enchanted run in Jersey City, New Jersey, ended with a thud. North Carolina took a 9-0 lead and never really felt threatened – with superior size, a distinct athleticism advantage and enough guts to never give the Peacocks a wink.

Saint Peter’s historic run in the NCAA Tournament came more from collective courage than offensive precision. And on Sunday, they spat so much in the first half that they managed to mute an electric crowd at the Wells Fargo Center who were eager to witness history again.

Saint Peter’s shot 1 for 11 from 3 in the first half, and their futility was best summed up after coach Shaheen Holloway took time out just 2:30 into the game and the Peacocks trailed already 7-0. He crafted a deft play off the break, which culminated in a wide open lob to top scorer Daryl Banks III. Banks missed the layup, setting the tone for Saint Peter’s 7-for-31 shooting half.

Saint Peter’s dug in at halftime 38-19, prompting the perpetually growling Holloway to contort his facial expressions into inventive expressions of revulsion. The Peacocks exit the tournament as the only No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight, a new standard for underdog runs.

The cold reality for Saint Peter’s will likely continue into the week as Holloway is set to become Seton Hall’s new head coach. Holloway is a graduate of Seton Hall, one of the most important actors in the program’s history who also helped build the current iteration of the program by serving eight seasons as Kevin Willard’s assistant.

Holloway certainly didn’t want to go out that way, with TV trucks racing for the Tobacco Road B-roll at halftime. UNC had it all worked out: Bacot grabbed 15 rebounds in the first half, finishing with 22 and seemingly doing rim pull-ups as he separated the Saint Peter players like bowling pins. He also led the team in scoring with 20.

“The bacot is good, man,” Holloway said. “When you’re 22 and 20, it’s pretty impressive. He did a good job and he got 15 [rebounds] at halftime. Nobody really dominated us like that before. He was everywhere. Touched everything.”

Brady Manek added 19 points for UNC, as the 6-foot-9 senior who can score inside and outside (4-for-6-of-3) showcased exactly the type of player Saint Peter had no answer.

Their performance helps set up North Carolina and Duke’s third meeting this season. The Blue Devils won by 20 in the opener at Chapel Hill on Feb. 5, and UNC came back with a stunning 13-point win a month later in Coach K’s Cameron Indoor Stadium farewell to Durham.

The third and final encounter, however, comes with a whole new layer of story, importance and attention, a delightful twist in a rivalry that has spanned more than a century.

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