Rivalry night at hand

Feb. 12, 2013 @ 04:52 PM

Basketball, someone once observed, around here is the default conversation, much like weather is elsewhere. Step onto to the elevator with a stranger, bump into a friend on the street or in the hallway, and one or the other is likely to remark on last night’s basketball game.

This is, of course, a basketball-crazed area – and not surprisingly with four Division 1 teams within just a few miles of one another and two of them representing one of the great rivalries in American college sports.

And at no time is our frenzied attachment to college basketball more evident than when a matchup of those two historic rivals – Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – is impending.

Tonight’s the first of those matchups this season, and no doubt schedules will be altered and bed-times postponed throughout the region.  Some 9,300 lucky fans will watch in the uniquely intense atmosphere of Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, but hundreds of thousands will follow on television or the Internet in bars, restaurants, family rooms and dorm lounges.

There may be no greater symbol of basketball infatuation than Krzyzewskiville, the Hooverville-like encampment (well, with wireless Internet and beer) that sprawls beside Cameron Indoor as Duke students camp for weeks in the cold, damp and often freezing winter weather for choice seats in the Cameron Crazies section.

All that anticipation peaks at 9 tonight when the two teams tip off. On paper at least, it looks like the upper hand would go to Duke – ranked number two in the nation, a 21-2 record, trailing only surprise powerhouse Miami in the ACC standings. UNC has struggled, carrying seven losses, four of them in conference play, into tonight’s game.

But even the most casual fan knows when these two teams play, anything can happen. And they clearly have the state’s allegiance – Public Policy Polling says 47 percent of North Carolinians say they'll be pulling for UNC, to just 26 percent for Duke..

The teams do share one historic misery this season – both fell to Miami by 25 or more points, the first time in the six decades of ACC play a team has beaten both Tobacco Road schools by that margin.

By shortly after 11 tonight, one team’s fans will pour onto campus or Franklin Street to celebrate. The others will start looking hopefully to March 9, when the teams meet again to close the regular ACC season.

And both will know, as Will Blythe’s 2006 book title put it so aptly, “to hate like this is to be happy forever.”