UNC-Duke II: Vengeance.

(Ed note: don’t miss the Walk-Ons Duke-UNC preview podcast one post below.)

I, Nate Friedman, do solemnly swear that I will not allow myself to reach the heights of emotional investment attained during the first UNC-Duke game. I pledge to watch the game quietly, to restrict my celebrations to guarded fist-pumps and the occasional single clap. I will not throw remotes at the TV or scream swear words when Duke hits sixteen threes. Even if the Heels are winning by ten with two minutes to go, I will not begin gloating. Nor will I allow the outcome of the game to determine my mood for the next week. I make this oath in the interest of maintaining my own mental stability.

I shudder at what's going on out of this shot.

I write these words today because I’m bitterly wary. Have you turned on ESPN this week? Yes? Then you’ve seen The Shot, the first buzzer-beater in the history of the rivalry, approximately 900 times (I categorically refuse to link to it here). You’ve heard Dick Vitale moan over and over like an orgasmic Chewbacca and been forced to watch what in Alabama qualifies as sodomy as the Blue Devils man-humped each other near center court, celebrating.

I speak for a number of my Tar Heel friends when I say there is a certain sense of looming vengeance about this game. One of my friends has been posting on social media every day for the last week, “T-minus X days until dookies cry” (pejorative spelling hers). She’s not alone in the sentiment that Duke stole the game in the Dean Dome, and she’s not alone in seeking just retribution.

I have to admit, I harbor the same feelings, maybe for the first time. Before these last couple years, especially during my first three years in college (2006-2009), there was a sense of something bigger. Beating Duke was important – and spectacularly fun – but it was always a mere piece of the puzzle on the way to bigger and better things. Along those same lines, I’m usually in favor of the Heels losing in the ACC Tournament: a loss before starting the only tournament that matters gives you an extra edge and saves your legs an extra set of forty minutes or two. Duke can have its ACC tournament titles. I don’t care how many stupid racks of test tubes they take home as long as they lose to Winthrop or VCU in the second round. We aim for bigger hardware.

Enjoy your chemistry, kit, NERDS!

This year, the feeling is different, for a couple of reasons. One is the overwhelming dominance of Kentucky. I’ve watched Kentucky play a number of times this year, and they just have “it,” as much as it pains me to admit. I hate Kentucky with an unmitigated disgust (for their seedy coach), but they look like 2009 Carolina – destroying everyone in their path. Even on the rare occasion when that team stumbled, you knew they’d be okay. The biggest question mark of the season was Lawson’s Toe – and after I saw him cross up LSU’s Bo Spencer in the middle of a devastating 2nd half run, I was convinced the national title was simply a matter of coronation. Kentucky has that same look, with the talent to match.

(If you watch the clip above, pay attention to the body language of the team after that play and during the subsequent possessions. That’s what a confident, kick-your-ass team looks like. That’s what Kentucky looks like.)

The other, corresponding reason is a lack of faith in this year’s Tar Heels. Like many of you, I believe Carolina is the only team that can compete with Kentucky talent-wise; the difference is the Heels seem to lack a killer instinct and consistent perimeter play. I know that Carolina has won its fair share of close games this season. But in years where we’ve got the “it” factor, it might be close until UNC seizes the momentum around halftime and never lets up. The game is over, and everyone watching, including the other team, knows it.

Instead, we get games like Maryland, which the Heels win handily but not convincingly. Wednesday night against UMD, Jay Bilas (my hands-down favorite basketball analyst, because he’s both smart and evenhanded – as opposed to, say, the Incredulous Len Elmore) said for the twelfth time this year, “UNC should be winning by 20, but they are missing open shots.” And he’s right. Teams hang around, and in the tournament those Cinderella teams hang around and don’t fall back to Earth. Then you end up taking Southwest back to Raleigh-Durham Airport.

(As for the perimeter play, all season we’ve heard Roy say, “we just missed a bunch of open shots, but they’ll fall eventually.” It’s March. The shots aren’t falling, and I just don’t see the basket getting any wider in the next thirty days.)

I know you’ll roast me, UNC fans, because I just don’t see this team making a run – and even if they do, they’re bound to run into one of the giants. Does anyone really want to see UNC play Kansas again? Or Missouri, which is a Duke clone with faster and better-shooting players?

So instead, my energies have turned toward vengeance. I (silently) demand my satisfaction. I still don’t care about the ACC tournament or even the regular season title-that-doesn’t-exist. But like many, I want revenge for a stolen game that sent the Heels tumbling nearly out of contention for a 1-seed in the tournament that matters.

And revenge is a dish best served cold. So if the Heels grit out a win in Cameron, if John Henson swats the Plumlees’ ill-advised shots so many times I resurrect the Blocktopus nickname, or if Zeller finally gets angry and dunks on one of the inferior Duke big men, I won’t gloat. I won’t triumphantly text my friends. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief and maybe smile grimly, knowing order has been restored. And if they lose? I’ll just trod glumly off to bed, knowing I’ve been denied my satisfaction.

Go Heels. Go America.

Contact the author, @nate_friedman, on Twitter. 

About Nate

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2010. I've written about the UNC-Duke rivalry since my best friend from high school took his talents to Durham the same year I went to Carolina. Astoundingly, we remain friends in part due to a moratorium on talking around Duke-Carolina games. Though capable of rationally approaching the rivalry, I generally prefer low-intellect vitriol, because it makes me feel better about myself. Visit my blog at http://thebestmedicineis.wordpress.com
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12 Responses to UNC-Duke II: Vengeance.

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  1. jchenkel says:

    Great article.

    One thing – there really is an ACC “Regular Season Champion”. Not sure how the idea that one doesn’t exist starting floating around recently. They’ve even listed right in the ACC media guide: 2012 ACC Men’s Basketball Media Guide (page 78).

    1. Nate says:

      Did NOT know that. I heard the regular season title myth somewhere, and it made sense.

  2. lisa Friedman says:

    This is too funny. You sure know how to suffer!

  3. sduke says:

    If I am not mistaken, Gene Banks shot in 1981 to beat UNC was also a buzzer beater.

  4. Well said.

  5. sduke says:

    LOL @ “not caring” about ACC titles. So as soon as the Devils have something over you, its all of the sudden not important anymore? That’s the most legendary conference tourny of all time, don’t tell me its not important. I’d argue its more important than the season title with the exception of seeding. What better way to prepare for a bigger tournament than winning a conference tournament? Why would a loss in the ACC tourny help you? Arent you suppose to play your best ball of the year going into the final stretch? Yes sometimes teams get more focused after a loss, but do you really need that much focus against a 15/16 seed? With all of that said, I enjoy reading about someone who gets as upset at me when their team loses, good luck tomorrow hopefully it will be another classic!

    1. Nate says:

      I guess this is the best example you’ll see of just a plain old difference in philosophies. You obviously don’t know this, but this is not a new thing for me – I’ve always thought an early ACCT exit was beneficial for Carolina teams. Usually (and this year is different), the seeding is more or less established by this time, and there’s little benefit to winning it. I always thought grinding out three or four games before the tournament just wasn’t helpful. My best example is 2009, when UNC bowed out in the semis and then won it all. So I agree with Roy, in that I just don’t see its value.

      Compare that with Duke. Just by your post I can see that the big difference is in simply how valuable we consider the tournament. To you, it matters. To me, it simply never has.

  6. sanfransoxfan says:

    Here’s the difference. Duke beat a superior UNC team on your court. UNC remains superior (though more volatile than your ’09 Champs), so a UNC win on Duke’s court will only take away a portion of that loss at home for you, and, sadly, merely place you in company with FSU (remember them?) and Miami as victors in Cameron this season. On the other hand, if Duke were to somehow pull out another win this weekend… oh, my. Then it would really suck to be you guys. For K to have taken this motley crew and clinched 2nd place, with a shot at first? He’s had a very good season indeed, as has his island of misfit 4 and 5-star players.

  7. devilinside says:

    “We aim for bigger hardware.”….Oh yea like what?…that NIT runner-up banner? Enjoy getting swept tomorrow night.

  8. Nate says:

    Sanfran, I don’t know about being lumped in with “merely” FSU considering there’s a little bit more on the line, but I see your point. It’s interesting, actually – there are a number of sports psychology studies that show that qualitatively, a loss hurts more than a win feels good. So yeah, even a crushing victory by UNC will only make me feel a little better. Hence the “sigh of relief and smile grimly” line.

    As for aiming for bigger hardware, that doesn’t mean we always GET it, devilinside. I’m not making up the deemphasis on the ACCT – Roy is pretty vocal in his dislike of it. Although it’s worth noting that plenty of Carolina fans do strongly value the ACCT – I’m just not one of them.

    1. sanfransoxfan says:

      FSU and Miami are why this game is even “on the line.” We each had a quality loss (us to FSU, you to Duke) and an unforgivable one (us to Miami at home, you in record setting fashion in TeeHee). If we hit our free throws in OT, or you score a mere 34 more points in “regulation minus 2 minutes for the coach and starters to seek safety,” this coming weekend has a completely different meaning. I still feel that Duke is playing with house money. They overachieved this season. NCCH? Not so much (but a UNC/UK final would still not surprise me, and I’d pull for UNC against scum-bucket and the Association boys).

      1. Nate says:

        I’m pretty sure we are agreeing by arguing. I didn’t disagree with a single thing you just said.

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