Saturday, March 10, 2007

UNC-Duke not all that important

Every once in a blue moon, I wish that I didn’t attend college in the state of NC. It is usually a boon for me to look around and see all of the great things that North Carolina offers a resident: an incredibly expanding job market in several of the state’s burgeoning urban centers, one of the nation’s leading gatherings of intellectual and cultural growth, a vast diversity of landscapes and populations, and finally, excellent sports traditions, especially in college basketball.

However, in the past few weeks, I have gazed upon these basketball giants and wondered where their perspective has gone. Where is the humility?

In last week’s regular season finale between Duke and UNC, Duke’s Gerald Henderson delivered the elbow shot heard around the world to UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough. As soon as replays of the infamous play were scrolling across the screen, TV analysts like Billy Packer were making declarative statements while North Carolina fans shouted death threats at the Duke coaching staff from several feet away.

Throughout the next week, North Carolina papers ran arguments and counter-arguments about the intent, harshness and punishment of Henderson’s foul. For many followers of North Carolina-Duke basketball, this issue was the most important thing on their minds when they woke up. Everything was black vs. white, or in this case, sky blue versus royal blue.

Fans of North Carolina and Duke, however, have failed to recognize that the rest of the country really does not care about their petty little arguments. The rest of the country does not see college basketball revolving around these built-up institutions of all things that are supposedly great about sports, rivalry, and success.

When the rest of the country looks at North Carolina and Duke, they don’t see greatness, they pomposity.

Hold short before mincing my words, however. I am not saying the North Carolina and Duke have not set the bar for success and intensity of support for college basketball. The two schools have combined for fourteen Final Four appearances since 1990. Duke’s Cameron Crazies have been copied and emulated at numerous schools around the country.

What I am saying is this: the rest of the basketball world is realizing that they can do things just as well as these two schools, and they don’t like being told that Carolina-Duke is all that matters.

As a matter of fact, states like Florida matter. That’s why the ACC elected to give Tampa Bay a chance to host the ACC tournament, much to the chagrin of North Carolinians who protest that the tournament is not in their back yard for once.

Some of the best basketball is being played in the Midwest this year where schools like Ohio State, Kansas, Wisconsin and Southern Illinois are putting together strong bids for late runs in the tournament.

The rivalry games of Virginia/Virginia Tech, Texas/Texas A&M, and Tennessee/Florida have arguably had even more impact on the landscape of college basketball, and their respective groups of fans have certainly brought their collective intensity and love of college basketball to bear.

Despite their talented young players, legendary coaches, and stubbornly die-hard fans, neither North Carolina nor Duke is the best team in the country this season. Nor are their programs so important that the rest of us should kneel in wonder. So let’s bring home a little more humility and less self-importance to the Tar Heel state. The rest of the country is waiting.

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