Big day at the dance

Mar. 20, 2014 @ 10:11 PM

All three local men’s basketball programs take the court in second round NCAA Tournament action Friday with Duke tipping off in Raleigh at 12:15 p.m., North Carolina in San Antonio, Texas at 7:20 p.m. and N.C. Central also in San Antonio, at 9:50 p.m.

All three games will be nationally televised.

Their Triangle neighbor, No 12 seed N.C. State, got the tournament started Tuesday night with a First Four victory over Xavier and almost answered the bell again Thursday night, holding an eight-point lead at 65-57 with 1:31 left to play. The Pack ended up losing to No. 5 seed St. Louis 83-80 in overtime. St. Louis outscored State 13-5 in the final 1:31 of regulation as State misfired on four free throws and a potential game-winning jumper by Tyler Lewis with two seconds left.

Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood may only have one chance to hang a banner in Cameron Indoor Stadium rafters in their first — and maybe only — season playing together for Duke.

That chance begins today at PNC Arena in Raleigh (12:15 p.m., WRAL) when the Blue Devils (26-8) open NCAA Tournament play as a No. 3 seed and take on No. 14 seed and Atlantic Sun Conference champion Mercer (26-8) .

Hood said the Blue Devils are “treating it like our last game, because if we lose, it is.”

Hood and Parker have both been labeled potential NBA draft entrants, though neither one has announced his plans. Parker admitted “this may be the last time we might play together with the guys on the team.”

Duke under hall of fame coach Mike Krzyzewski has won four national titles and reached 11 Final Fours — but has only one since 2004. Krzyzewski was surprising questioned Thursday about his future at the helm and — with the nation’s top recruiting class already in the corral — not surprisingly said this wouldn’t be his last rodeo with the Blue Devils.

Krzyzewski removed any doubt about his status with Duke.

“Did my wife ask you to ask me that or what?” Krzyzewski said. “No, I’m not thinking of retirement.”

In Texas, No. 11 seed Providence makes its first tournament appearance since 2004 against No. 6 seed North Carolina (7:20 p.m., TNT), which also remembers 2004 — that was the last time the Tar Heels stumbled into the tourney on a two-game slide, and they’re in the same rut again.

The Friars (23-11) got an automatic bid by winning the Big East Tournament title. North Carolina (23-9) has had an up-and-down season. The Tar Heels started 1-4 in the ACC, regrouped to win 12 in a row and then dropped their last two games — at Duke and to Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

That coupled with the unforeseen departure of star P.J. Hairston after an NCAA run-in and academic scandals that have rocked the UNC athletic department have made it a tough year for UNC and its hall of fame coach, Roy Williams.

“It’s been a marvelous group. If it hadn’t been for my team, I would’ve jumped off the top of the building,” Williams said Thursday. “My team is the one that was the savior throughout the whole season, and since the off-season. It’s been a tough time around Chapel Hill.”

A win Friday would lessen the pain.

Also in Texas, MEAC regular-season and tournament champion N.C. Central is in the “real” NCAA Tournament for the first time in history and after just three years as a Division I member to boot. The Eagles won the NCAA Division II Tournament championship in 1989, but tonight’s game is a different animal.

No. 14 seed NCCU (28-5) takes on No. 3 seed Big Ten Tournament champion Iowa State (26-7) at 9:50 p.m. (TNT).

“We understand that this is big boy basketball,” NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said. “We definitely have our hands full.”

In the City of Medicine, a billboard on the interstate congratulates both North Carolina Central and perennial power Duke for making the tournament. And soon after NCCU arrived at the AT&T Center in San Antonio for Thursday night’s practice, players joked that they thought police motorcycles around their bus were responding to an accident, not escorting them to the arena.

“I want them to enjoy the moment. It’s not your birthright to be at the (tournament) every year,” Moton said. “But the flipside, (Friday) all that has to be out of your system. ... Put your cowboy hats on and your cowboy boots on whatever you have to do, but (Friday) it’s back to business.”

Complete area NCAA Tournament coverage | B1.