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Strange season has North Carolina and Duke in stranger position of needing a “Cinderella story”


Everyone knows this college basketball season has been unlike others with neither North Carolina nor Duke ranked. Stranger than that is to think of North Carolina and Duke as Cinderella stories in the upcoming ACC and NCAA tournaments.

Teams mounting a roll with upsets are Cinderella stories. North Carolina and Duke will need to defeat higher seeds to advance deep into the ACC tournament and probably will face higher seeds in their NCAA opener.

This is a new kind of March Madness for the two Blue Bloods.

All that would be missing would be Bill Murray adopting his Caddyshack narration to basketball. North Carolina would have to win four games to win it all, Duke four just to reach the finals and then a fifth game.

“I think in order to win, you can’t look at the tournament as a whole,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “You just have to play your next opponent and that’s it, and then win and then try to win again. If you try to look at the whole thing, it can become daunting.

“Someone’s going to say, ‘That’s never been done, you can’t do that, you’re going to be tired.’ Even if you win, you’re going to hear a whole bunch of that. I hope we do, because that means that we’re winning. I think in order to have that said about us, we should just take it one at a time and see how well we can play against Boston College.”

Duke (11-11, 9-9 ACC) didn’t play well enough in its 91-73 loss to North Carolina Saturday at the Smith Center to suggest a run, but the Tar Heels did. If the Tar Heels (16-9, 10-6 ACC) combine that kind of inside domination with three-point shooting they can go on a roll in the NCAA tournament.

North Carolina turned the tables on Senior Night double-digit results. A year ago, North Carolina had endured Duke celebrating an 89-73 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

North Carolina’s players appreciated having 2,400 fans to celebrates nwo that COVID-19 attendance restrictions permit limited fans.

“You got to be moment for grateful for moments like these,” said senior Garrison Brooks, who scored 14 points with five rebounds. “You can’t think about tough times. We’ve been quarantined and separated from everyone else. We had a cherished moment with our team.”

Sophomore Armando Bacot and freshman Caleb Love led the Tar Heels with 18 points each. Duke’s Mark Williams scored 18 points, but Matthew Hurt struggled with only 14 points. He was plagued by foul trouble and hit only 2-of-10 from three-point range.

But Duke is still Duke. The Blue Devils have had their moments, including beating ACC regular-season champion Virginia two weeks ago but is now on a three-game losing streak.

The final weekend of regular season play set the bracket, assuming no teams drop out for COVID-19 reasons, for the ACC tournament that opens on Tuesday in Greensboro.

Duke is the No. 10 seed facing No. 15 Boston College (4-15, 2-11 ACC) at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

N.C. State (13-9, 9-8 ACC), which had its final game Saturday against Virginia Tech (15-5, 9-4 ACC) canceled due to COVID-19 protocols, opens at noon Wednesday as the No. 9 seed against No. 8 Syracuse (15-8 9-7 ACC).

North Carolina also opens on the second day, with an 8 p.m. Wednesday against the winner of No. 11 Notre Dame (10-14, 7-11 ACC) and No. 14 Wake Forest (6-15, 3-15 ACC) Tuesday game. UNC will be the favored seed in its opener, but then, barring other upsets, will face higher-seeded teams.

The teams with byes to the quarterfinal round are No. 1 seed and No. 21-ranked Virginia (17-6, 13-4 ACC), No. 2 seed and No. 11-ranked Florida State (15-5, 11-4 ACC), No. 3 seed and No. 22-ranked Virginia Tech (15-5, 9-4 ACC) and No. 4 seed Georgia Tech (15-8, 11-6 ACC).


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