Day 15: UNC-Duke Final Four

The Tar Heels come into the Game of the Century as the hottest team in the nation
The Tar Heels come into the Game of the Century as the hottest team in the nation

The Center of the Basketball Universe

It's been an anxious week around the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area this week.. I just tried to get a sub from Harris Teeter for dinner before the game and the person who would have made my sandwich was a Duke fan - when we each saw the other had a different shade of blue, we didn't need to exchange words to understand that I wouldn't be having a sandwich tonight. After we exchanged brief pleasantries, I turned around and was greeted with high fives and the customary "Go Heels!" salutation by a Dad with his two daughters decked out in Baby Blue.

This week our beloved Governor Roy Cooper declared the Triangle the "Center of the College Basketball Universe". It's the first time - and quite possibly the last time - that these teams will ever meet in the tournament again. It could very well be the last time Coach K ever coaches again.

I have never been apart of something as exciting as having two local teams who are the biggest rivals in all of sports, go head to head to decide who moves on to the National Championship game on Monday to face Kansas or Villanova. But honestly, I called it - and I don't mean like I just picked my favorite team to win it all because they're my favorite. UNC is the best team in the country when they play their game and they had a huge slump in the middle of the season that worried me.

From on the bubble to the Final Four

North Carolina wasn't really a team that was on the radar to be a national title contender, given that this was the first year for Coach Hubert Davis. I remember the first two loss skid for the Heels against #10 Purdue and then #5 Tennessee on Nov 20th and 21st in 2021. The team looked really fresh and not like a team that would make a run in March - especially after getting stomped on by Kentucky on December 18 right before ACC play.

Caleb Love dunks on Duke player

A couple games got postponed at the end of December, the Heels dropped one to Notre Dame and then two in a row to Miami and Wake Forest. I was among the many skeptics who worried the Heels wouldn't have any quality wins to get into the tournament, and unless they turned their play around, would be NIT bound. Then they got hot - and beat Duke to close the season.

Hubert Davis and the moment things changed

I absolutely love Hubert Davis and was so thrilled that he was hired to replace Roy Williams (whom I was very sad to see go). I knew he could have the Tar Heels back to their blue collar status soon enough, but nobody would have guessed the turnaround from being considered a bubble team to blowing their way through the tournament. Their only real opponent were the refs in the Baylor game in the Round of 32 game.

It was the days after the loss to Wake Forest and the UNC players were expecting an earful and a rough practice to get them motivated. But Hubert Davis did no such thing - he showed up in practice and gathered everyone and told them that "He loved them". He told his team that he was proud of the way they represented themselves, the way they worked, and their attitude to never give up.

That's why Hubert Davis is great - he's unflappable. His years under Roy Williams were more than enough to prepare him for a role that is not too big for him to fill, despite replacing a college basketball legend. He's got the sauce to take a team to the Final Four in his first year of coaching though - really, nobody should be surprised UNC could reach such heights this year given their talent.

From Final Four Player to Final Four Coach

Hubert Davis Final Four

He may not have the coaching experience of the dark haired devil who he's facing tonight, but he has a whole different approach which I really admire. He is such a well spoken, humble, and stoic personality that you can't help but love Davis. He also returns an unconditional love that shows in this teams tournament run.

UNC almost blew a huge lead to Baylor after horrible reffing allowed the Bears back into the game. But the team came together - a sign of the resiliency of their coach. This team is really special and they have the chance to do something really special tonight - earn a national championship game birth and end the coaching career of Coach K.

Hubert Davis says its just a game basketball - all the hoo-rah around the game is just noise. If the Tar Heels can play with that mentality like they have the whole tournament, we'll have a shot at the title on Monday night.