NEW ORLEANS — I’ve regularly covered Southeastern Conference basketball since 1989 and watched it on TV since the 1970s.
At times it might be as impressive as any league in the country, but most of the time – not quite the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Ultimately, that’s overwhelmingly the case again this season as traditional ACC powerhouses Duke (32-6) and No. 8 seed North Carolina (28-9 ), play in the main event of the Final Four on Saturday night (8:49 p.m. Eastern, TBS) at the Superdome in the first NCAA duel between the two programs.
No. 2 seed Villanova (30-7) and No. 1 seed Kansas (32-6) play Game 1 (6:09 p.m., TBS).
In November and early March, the SEC was considered the best league in the nation or close to it with Auburn and Kentucky in the top 10 for most of the season and Tennessee and Arkansas ranked. Kentucky and Tennessee each blasted North Carolina before the start of conference play – 98-69 and 89-72, respectively. And Alabama beat ACC member Miami 96-64.
Bejeebies! How did North Carolina get here?
The ACC has put its fewest teams in the NCAA Tournament since 2013 with just five – Duke, North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame – having had to win a play-off. The SEC also put five – Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and LSU without a play-in. So even, no, or SEC better?
The ACC went on to claim 14 victories over the Big 6, namely the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big 10 and Big East conferences, en route to placing three teams in the Elite Eight and two in the Final Oven. . The SEC had exactly zero wins in the NCAA Tournament against the Big 6. And everyone left the first weekend except Arkansas, which beat No. 1 seed Gonzaga from the Coast Conference. west lightly considered and reached the Elite Eight.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked Friday about a conference considered “deteriorating” earlier in the season and whether he was surprised with the ACC’s performance in the NCAA Tournament. The question came from a news outlet that covers an SEC school.
Coach K said he was surprised “we didn’t get more” at the NCAA Tournament.
Krzyzewski pointed out that the NCAA selection committee may have placed too much emphasis on the start of the season. The fans and the media certainly did.
“You don’t know your course better at the beginning than at the end,” he said, speaking of academics.
Some things don’t change. The ACC remains No. 1.
Even when Shaquille O’Neal was at LSU from 1989 to 1992 and dominated his opponents before becoming an NBA legend, the SEC couldn’t match the ACC. Duke and center Christian Laettner played twice for the Shaq and the Tigers, winning 88-70 at home at Cameron Indoor Stadium in 1991 and beating the Tigers, 77-67, in Baton Rouge as the No. 1992.
Duke was No. 4 in Game 1 and No. 1 in Game 2 and won Krzyzewski’s first two national championships each season.
Something is missing from this dance – Dick Vitale
O’Neal came closest to a Final Four in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 1990 and 1992. At the time, Kentucky – the only true ACC team in the SEC for most of history – had not participated in the Final Four. since 1984 and hadn’t won a national title since 1978. Arkansas reached the Final Four in 1994 and won the national title, but it was a league rookie, having just joined the league in 1992. Does not count. Florida reached a Final Four in 1994.
Meanwhile, the ACC dominated the 1990s with national titles from Duke in 1991 and 92 and North Carolina in 1993.
I remember watching many Duke-North Carolina games on TV around this time before or after going to an SEC game and thinking, “Jesus, this is just another world,” as Cameron Indoor fans seemed to walk off set. .
Oh, and here’s North Carolina’s Eric Montross bleeding from his eye against Duke on February 5, 1992 at the Dean Smith Center. North Carolina’s No. 9 won a slugfest, 75-73, in the “Bloody Montross” game by scoring 12 points with 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Today, Kentucky won national championships in 1996 and 1998, and Florida won titles in 2006 and 2007. But the ACC still looked like another world on TV.
Which is better blue – Duke’s or North Carolina’s?
I’m watching CBS on March 4, 2007, and, oh, here’s Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina bleeding from a broken nose at the elbow of Gerald Henderson of Duke. Hansbrough scored 26 goals with 17 rebounds in an 86-72 win for the Tar Heels. Henderson got fired.
What a league!
Duke won another title in 2001. Maryland won it in 2002. North Carolina won two more in 2005 and 2009, and Duke won it in 2010 and 2015. Then North Carolina won it. got another in 2017 and Virginia in 2019.
From 2008 to 2022, the only SEC national championship was Kentucky in 2012.
The biggest difference between the ACC and the SEC is the fact that the SEC has nothing close to North Carolina-Duke. Kentucky-Arkansas was something, but only briefly in the 1990s.
Just watch tonight’s game in the SEC Heartland to see how the other half is playing.
“It’s the greatest rivalry of all time,” Duke junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. said Friday. “It’s really the only way to put it.”
Yes, Duke-North Carolina in basketball is Alabama-Auburn in football, but Auburn is nowhere near the level of Duke and/or North Carolina in basketball in football.
“I’ve never seen anything else like it,” Moore said. “Growing up in Charlotte, I watched every Duke-North Carolina game I could. Each one of them was an amazing game. I was hooked on TV from start to finish. That’s really the best way to explain it. It’s iconic.
Moore was asked what he would name a movie depicting the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. He fought.
“So much emotion in every game,” he said. “It’s really just legendary.”
Retired Krzyzewski summed it up best before his final Duke-North Carolina game:
“It would be more of an album or a set than a song,” he said.
Or “Die Hard” would work.
It would be the same for “There will be blood”.