Fan excitement builds as UNC and Duke ready for Final Four clash
As lucky T-shirts rest on hampers awaiting the big night, anxiety is inching upward and trash talk is getting louder.
North Carolina and Duke meet at the Final Four in New Orleans this weekend. The archrivals have never faced off in the NCAA Tournament and this meeting marks the 98th — and final time — Mike Krzyzewski leads the Blue Devils against the Tar Heels.
“I’m super excited about winning,” said Toby Matthews, a 1994 Duke graduate. "And then I think the driver for a lot of magical thinking and anxiety management is the dread of losing to Carolina in this game. The joy would be great, but I’d much rather have lost to Saint Peter’s or Arkansas than to lose to Carolina in this game.”
Miles Doran is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, as are his parents. He's feeling pretty good about the Heels' chances.
“I have extreme confidence for some reason. I don’t know —no nerves,” Doran said. “We're rolling right now. A lot of people thought we were going to lose to Baylor. We knocked off Baylor, did what we were supposed to do. Now we have one more to get to the big dance.”
Along with fans on Franklin and Ninth Streets, readying for perhaps the biggest game ever in this storied rivalry, other more well-known figures are making their allegiances clear as well.
Eric Church — a nine-time Grammy nominated country singer, and North Carolina native — canceled a sold-out concert scheduled for Saturday in San Antonio so he can attend the game to watch his Heels, with his family.
And J.J. Redick, former National Player of the Year — and, for Tar Heels' fans, one of the all-time most-despised Duke players — offered some healthy ribbing on ESPN earlier this week.
“People in North Carolina and UNC fans all over the country, they have an inferiority complex. They have an inferiority complex and that's just part of the rivalry," Reddick said.
America is getting a reminder this week of what most of us already knew: Tobacco Road has the greatest rivalry in college sports. For his part, Gov. Roy Cooper — who was a prestigious Morehead Scholarship recipient at UNC — took the fun, if not hyperbolic, step of proclaiming this the center of the basketball universe.
As fans experience a range of emotions, there is at least one fact everyone can agree on: one team from North Carolina will play for the national championship on Monday night. Either Duke or UNC will face off against the winner of Kansas and Villanova.