Duke's Zion Williamson is about to face the only thing in college hoops bigger than him

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (“Start 2019 Over Again” T-shirts sold separately at Vanderbilt, which hasn’t won since New Year’s Eve):

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ZION ENTERS THE RIVALRY PORTAL

Wednesday night we welcome Zion Williamson (21) to the Duke-North Carolina rivalry, also known as the only thing in college basketball bigger than he is. That’s partly due to the ESPN hype machine, which has helped make both Zion and this rivalry omnipresent, but let’s face it: Both have lived up to the hot air.

After achieving viral-highlight fame before college, Williamson has further enhanced his profile with spectacular athletic feats but also substantive basketball excellence. Playing Carolina is the next stage of his elevation, with the NCAA tournament and NBA draft on the horizon as stages three and four.

Williamson is the No. 1 draw in the sport, playing for the No. 1 team, likely on his way to being the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. But in the grand scheme, that just makes him another guy in the history of a rivalry that has made heroes out of role players (google Fred Lind sometime) and humbled legends.

Michael Jordan (22), merely the GOAT, saw his ACC career come to a bitter end when No. 1 North Carolina was upset by Duke in the 1984 ACC tournament — the only time Jordan lost to the Blue Devils in seven meetings. It’s also the only time a top-ranked Tar Heels team has ever been beaten by Duke.

Christian Laettner (23), the most decorated Dukie of all-time, had a losing record against the Tar Heels (5-6). Laettner was 2-2 against Carolina in Cameron Indoor, 2-2 in the Dean Dome, and 1-2 in the ACC tournament.

There was a blood-stained Eric Montross (24) shooting key free throws once, and Hansbrough with a broken nose and blood pouring down his face after an elbow from Gerald Henderson. Let’s hope Zion and everyone else avoids that kind of injury.

It’s unfortunate that Williamson will have just this season to be part of the rivalry, thus robbing Carolina fans of developing the contempt that comes with familiarity. They had four years to hate serial tripper/flailer Grayson Allen (25), and made the most of it. Likewise, Duke fans had the full, four-year Tyler Hansbrough (26) immersion and all that it entailed.

(In Cameron Indoor Stadium, it entailed everyone chanting “Ty-ler Tra-vels EVERY TIME!” whenever Hansbrough performed his trademark foot shuffles around the basket. And nobody chanted and gesticulated about Hansbrough traveling more furiously than Mike Krzyzewski’s female family members.)

If Williamson becomes the No. 1 pick, he’ll be the fourth in Duke history, following Kyrie Irving (2011), Elton Brand (1999) and Art Heyman (1963). (Of course, if Williamson isn’t the No. 1 pick, teammate R.J. Barrett might be the fourth Dukie instead.) Of those, Irving has the strangest Duke-UNC history, having never played against the Heels. Irving played just 11 games as a Blue Devil, missing most of his only season with a ligament injury in his right big toe.

Duke’s Zion Williamson (1) celebrates after he scored against North Carolina State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)
Duke’s Zion Williamson (1) celebrates after he scored against North Carolina State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

North Carolina has had just two No. 1 overall picks: Brad Daugherty in 1986 and James Worthy in ’82. (We all know who should have been the other one, right in between Daugherty and Worthy.)

The annual hope is that Duke and Carolina don’t just play twice, but throw in a postseason meeting as well in the ACC tournament. That’s happened a bunch of times. But they’ve actually played four times in a single season four times.

The first of those was in the 1959-60 season, when the two teams met in the Dixie Classic in Raleigh in December, then twice in the regular season, then in the ACC tourney. If the rivalry didn’t have juice before then, it probably did after — Carolina won the first three meetings by 22, 27 and 25 points, then Duke won the ACC tourney matchup by two. There also were four-meeting seasons in 1970-71, 1978-79 and 1979-80, when the Big Four tournament was being contested annually in Greensboro in December.

The one thing there has never been, surprisingly, is an NCAA tournament game between Duke and North Carolina. Dare to dream.

HOW TO SEE DUKE-NORTH CAROLINA IN PERSON FOR FREE

It’s not easy, as you might expect. Not without being on the comp ticket list or having a media credential. But Trevor Kraus (27) says he pulled it off at Cameron, in 2015, part of his young-adulthood quest to sneak into as many big sporting events as possible — the Super Bowl, The Masters, the World Series, you name it.

That conquest of Cameron is part of Kraus’ book, “Ticketless,” which recounts his gate-crashing exploits.

The term he uses is “spin move.” Kraus says the most difficult spin move of his, ahem, career, was at the Copa Libertadores in Buenos Aires. (“Security is simply in another stratosphere,” he told The Minutes.) The Duke scam would have ranked second if he tried to pull it off straight, by going through one of the well-guarded main entrances. Instead, he was alerted to an underground tunnel that connects the practice gym to Cameron, a passage often used by the Duke pep band.

As Kraus tells it, before the game in February 2015 he followed a band member through the tunnel and simply nodded and kept walking past the security guard who greeted him at the top of the stairs into Cameron.

“Having found this ‘secret’ entrance, which didn’t require a ticket check, turnstile, etc. made things a little easier,” Kraus said. “All it took was “a single quick, confident nod.”

Minutes disclaimer: Do not try this at home. Or at Cameron on Wednesday.

OTHER MUST-SEE RIVALRY GAMES THIS WEEK

Virginia dispatched Virginia Tech (28) in Blacksburg on Monday, on a night when the Hokies played pretty well in their sixth straight game without point guard Justin Robinson. The Cavaliers threw the ball around more than usual but also made 11 threes, and they’re next to impossible to beat when that happens.

Purdue at Indiana (29) on Tuesday. The Boilermakers get a Sweep The Leg opportunity with the crippled Hoosiers, who are one loss away from a guaranteed losing record in the Big Ten and on the brink of being pushed out of NCAA tourney contention. Stunningly, Indiana hasn’t won a home game since Jan. 3.

Harvard at Yale (30) on Saturday. First place in the Ivy League (and perhaps the U.S. News Best National Universities rankings) will be on the line. The Crimson won the first meeting in Cambridge, but the Bulldogs are a game up in the standings at present.

Texas at Oklahoma (31) on Saturday. A more storied football rivalry, to be sure, but the desperation in this matchup will be real. Both teams are trying to stay on the right side of the bubble — the Longhorns (15-11, 7-6) beat the Sooners (16-10, 4-9) in the first meeting in Austin.

Michigan State at Michigan (32) on Sunday. Big-time matchup between Big Ten co-leaders. As noted in the Minutes First Half, the Spartans are in the process of reinventing themselves without big man Nick Ward. The Wolverines have stumbled three times in the last month on the road, but remain undefeated at home on the season.

Villanova at Xavier (33) on Sunday. No, this isn’t a vintage Wildcats-Musketeers matchup, with Xavier wallowing at 13-13. But Xavier did snap Villanova’s four-year streak of Big East titles last year, and one of these two has won the league five years in a row. Villanova has won the last five meetings.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright yells to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Villanova head coach Jay Wright yells to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

UNDER THE RADAR LOVE

Each week The Minutes will shine a light on a player doing big things at an out-of-the-way program. Last week’s subject, Chris Clemons of Campbell, became the ninth 3,000-point scorer in Division I history over the weekend.

This week: Antoine Davis (34) of Detroit.

He’s made 118 threes in his freshman season. With five more, Davis will break the freshman record held by a pretty fair shooter named Steph Curry. It’s all been part of the goal set by his father, Detroit coach Mike Davis (35).

“When we went in the gym, my goal was to make him the best shooter to ever play basketball,” Mike Davis told The Minutes.

Funny thing is, Antoine was a bit late getting the basketball bug. Despite growing up around the game, and memorably being carried around while wearing an Indiana basketball jersey when Davis was coaching the Hoosiers to the 2002 Final Four, he resisted diving into the sport.

“He was so far behind,” Mike Davis said. “He didn’t like basketball, didn’t want to be in the gym.”

That finally changed around the beginning of high school. And that’s when Antoine started shooting thousands of shots a day with his dad. He started being recruited by mid-major schools while Mike was coaching at Texas Southern, the best program in the low-major SWAC. Antoine signed with Houston, then opted out to stay with his father — and then Mike got the job last summer at Detroit.

That became a package deal, and at a spindly 170 pounds, Antoine Davis became the No. 2 scorer in the nation at 26.5 points per game on a rebuilding Titans team — despite being the focus of every opposing gameplan.

“They’re playing two people on him, face-guarding him, run-and-jumping him,” Mike said. “I’ve been coaching basketball a long time and I’ve never seen defenses like this on him. He’s learning from it. He’s got to take a lot of shots or we’re going to get beat by 50. He can’t be that shy little guy he used to be.

“He doesn’t look like much. He looks like the guy you ask directions to the gym, not the guy you see in the gym. But he realized he could play with anybody, and he realized he had a gift.”

STAT OF THE WEEK

This gem comes courtesy of Jon Wilner, who writes the always excellent Pac-12 Hotline column for the San Jose Mercury News:

The last time neither UCLA (36) nor Arizona (37) finished in the top four of the conference standings, the conference wasn’t even the conference. It was the Pacific Coast Conference, Idaho was a member and the year was 1947-48.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Kermit Davis (38), Mississippi. The Rebels take a four-game SEC winning streak to South Carolina on Tuesday, their longest league winning streak in four years. They’re currently 18-7, 8-4 in the league, comfortably in the field of 68 barring a late collapse. This is a radical turnaround from the 12-20 debacle of 2017-18, which led to Andy Kennedy’s departure and Davis’ arrival from Middle Tennessee. Nobody expected anything from the Rebels this season, yet here they are, better at everything, and angling for a top-four SEC finish and double-bye into the quarterfinals of the league tournament.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Mike Dunleavy (39), Tulane. The longtime NBA coach surprised a lot of people when he came out of retirement to take the Green Wave job in 2016. Three years in, everyone is re-thinking that decision. Dunleavy is 24-62 at Tulane, 8-40 in the American Athletic Conference, and this season is the worst of the three — the Wave is 4-20, 0-12 in the league, and lost twice at home last week by a combined 58 points. It’s a total disaster.

BUZZER BEATER

When hungry and thirsty in the great American city of Denver, The Minutes recommends a visit to the classy old Ship Tavern (40) in the classy old Brown Palace Hotel. Get the open-faced prime rib sandwich and a barrel-aged Old Fashioned, pretend you’re a gold tycoon from the turn of the 19th century and thank The Minutes later.

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