There are certain things in life that are guaranteed. The sun will rise in the East, despite Billy Packer's continued attempts to destroy the universe with his bald spot. The eternal debate between whether the chicken or the egg came first will continue with little progress.
And the Great State of North Carolina (the campaign is underway to have our name legally changed) will forever be divided in loyalty between the Four Horsemen of the ACC—the teams that always hover over all others, regardless of their success in a given season.
The denizens of Tobacco Road are spoiled rotten when it comes to college hoops; at various points in the last 20 years, every single major North Carolina school was a relevant factor in the NCAA.
North Carolina State has its share of supporters, and Wake Forest has carved out a little niche for itself. But for the heart and soul of the Carolinians, only two schools truly matter: Duke University, and the University of North Carolina. The Blue Devils and the Tar Heels. The Cameron Crazies and the Pride of the Old North State.
Hell against Heaven. Come on, you saw that coming.
Tonight's matchup was the first in the 2011-2012 NCAA College Basketball Season. As this article is being written, Tyler Zeller just hit the first of two free throws. Then he missed the second, prompting Austin Rivers to take a Grapefruits of Titanium-sized three-point bomb for the one-point victory, 85-84.
And now, here comes the point where yours truly has to spend three minutes figuring out a new title, since North Carolina no longer handled Duke.
This is the plight of a fan caught in the Fight for the Piedmont.
Just when you think you have the answers, the players change the questions. The Blue Devils flipped the equation on tonight's game, altering the script for a most bizarre finale.
After taking off on an early run at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill Wednesday night, North Carolina came roaring back to take the lead heading into the half. Once the second half began, the Tar Heels seemed to be picking the Blue Devils apart inside. It was a free-for-all to the rim.
Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes both played outstanding for North Carolina tonight, with Marshall in particular straight-up abusing Duke's weaker interior defense with constant cuts to the paint.
Yet Marshall, Barnes and Zeller ran into something that they couldn't quite contain on this particular night: Austin Rivers, the son of Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Austin scored 29 points in the frenetic Duke victory, going 6-of-10 from beyond the arc and securing five rebounds. Harrison Barnes led the way for North Carolina with 25 points, and Tyler Zeller posted a double-double in the losing effort.
For college basketball fans, it was another crazy chapter in College Basketball's own personal version of the Hatfields and the McCoy s. For fans living in North Carolina, this was simply the first salvo in what usually amounts to a three-battle war each year, lasting from early February to tournament time in March.
Duke squeaked out a victory that they had no business winning in Chapel Hill tonight. Five-to-one odds suggest they'll lose a game they have no business losing to this very same team when the two meet again at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Such is life in North Carolina.
"It's a pretty good day," Celtics head honcho Doc Rivers said of his son's team's victory at the Dean Dome Wednesday in a postgame ESPN interview. "It's amazing how they stuck around." That's the mystique of college basketball in the Carolinas, in all honesty; it just sticks around.
Whenever you think the rivalry is played out, the mortal enemies find new ways to torture one another. Tonight was Carolina's turn to taste the bitter agony of "Oh, God, we just lost to a freshman!" I'm sure Duke will enjoy the same fate later on.
In the final analysis, the better team won tonight in Chapel Hill. It was a gutsy performance from a gutsy team. Now let me go and pray for the poor fans of North Carolina, who are probably queuing up at the bar as we speak.
You'd be surprised how many sorrows are drowned in the suds of local pubs after the Blue Devils and Tar Heels make mincemeat out of one another.
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