Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Stage is set for Duke vs UNC

For the first time in 17 years, Duke and North Carolina head into Saturday’s regular-season finale with identical records atop the ACC.

There’s going to be so much hype that Duke guard Greg Paulus said he probably won’t watch TV for the next few days. Yet after an 86-70 win Wednesday night at Virginia, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was talking about. . .the ACC tournament?

“This ACC tournament is going to be wide open,” Krzyzewski said. “The separation record-wise between the top two or three teams and the bottom two or three is not much – the least I have seen, probably, in my 28 years.”

Stay tuned next week, when the ACC tournament starts in Charlotte and Krzyzewski is talking about the NBA finals or the Olympics.

Seriously, though, Krzyzewski was being gracious in complimenting Virginia, which is tied for last place in the ACC but had won three of its last four before Wednesday. Another team that’s tied for last, N.C. State, has lost seven in a row but led Duke by 13 points in the second half before falling 87-86 on Saturday. So Krzyzewski’s point is valid. There is plenty of potential for upsets next week in Charlotte.

But there’s the small matter of Duke-North Carolina on Saturday to handle first.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” Paulus said. “North Carolina is a great team. We’ve had great games with them over the years, and hopefully this is going to be another one.”

A couple key points could decide Saturday’s game. First, North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson has returned from a sprained ankle but admittedly doesn’t possess the same explosion he did when healthy. So the Tar Heels aren’t as good as they could be.

Second, Duke’s Kyle Singler is 3-for-19 on 3-point attempts over his last three games and needs to shoot a better percentage in order to come close to offsetting Tyler Hansbrough’s advantage in the post. The Blue Devils won’t be as good as they could be unless Singler regains his touch.

But in the Virginia media room on Wednesday night, a sudden juxtaposition demonstrated how fortunate both sides are to be playing in this game. During Krzyzewski’s postgame news conference, the bespectacled face of Matt Doherty coaching Southern Methodist against Memphis flashed on a TV screen.

Even if both teams wish they could be better, they are a long way from SMU, and that’s something they can be thankful for. – Ken Tysiac