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We have seen the Corona beer commercial throughout the NCAA Tournament.
On Saturday, art will come to life on a basketball court in the Final Four at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Which basketball blue blood has the best shade of blue in the NCAA Tournament – Duke’s navy blue or North Carolina’s sky blue?
For the first time since the NCAA Tournament began in 1939, those two school colors will clash in a March Madness bracket on Saturday in a national semifinal (8:49 p.m. eastern, TBS).
Duke and North Carolina, located just eight miles apart, have 11 national championships and 38 Final Fours between them. They have also been in the same NCAA Tournament 36 times before this one, but have never met.
“The sky’s the most perfect shade of blue – classier, more distinct,” says former North Carolina guard Vince Carter while wearing a Carolina blue T-shirt on a beach in the commercial.
“Guys, we all know what the most elite shade of blue is,” says former Duke forward Christian Laettner while wearing a Duke blue Hawaiian shirt.
Let’s just hope blood red doesn’t stain either fan base’s attire in the stands.
These two fan bases hate each other in a natural, neighborhood rivalry. North Carolina is the public, flagship institution of the state. Duke is a private school.
“We’ve always been a minority here,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday. He said that in 1984 in his fourth season at Duke when he accused ACC officials of a “double standard” toward then-North Carolina coach Dean Smith, who had dominated the ACC since the 1960s and won the 1982 national championship in the Superdome.
“So, I guess that’s where my Polish thing helps me a little bit,” Coach K said.
Smith retired in 1997 with two national championships and 11 Final Fours. He died in 2015 at age 83. Krzyzewski, 75, will retire after this season with five – or six – national championships and an NCAA record 13 Final Fours.
“The fan bases are different, you know,” Krzyzewski said with a laugh. “And with the proximity, it evokes things that can’t be done in other areas. So, go at it.”
Oh, they will.
Duke and North Carolina almost played for the first time in the NCAA Tournament in 1991 as each reached the Final Four at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. They were in different brackets, but if each had advanced, they would have met for the national title. Duke won 79-77 over UNLV, but North Carolina lost 79-73 to Kansas.
“That would’ve been for everything. That would’ve been something,” Krzyzewski said.
Instead, Coach K and Duke won their first national championship with a 72-65 win over Kansas.
Before that, Krzyzewski put the Duke-North Carolina rivalry into perspective by musing about a potential pairing for the national title and what it would mean for the loser in a Sports Illustrated article at the time. His comments ring as true as ever today – three days from the historic game.
“I wouldn’t wish it (a loss) on anybody,” he said. “It would be horrible.”
Because there would be no chance for redemption. When North Carolina or Duke lose to one another in the regular season, there is a second regular season game and possibly an ACC Tournament meeting. If one or the other loses that one, there is still the NCAA Tournament. Duke just lost 94-81 at home to North Carolina to end the regular season, in Coach K’s last home game, no less.
“Today was unacceptable,” Krzyzewski said to the crowd in an impromptu address after that one. “And I’ll tell you, this season is not over.”
But the season will end for one of the teams in blue Saturday. No Duke or North Carolina team has ever had to deal with a loss to the other to exit from the NCAA Tournament and end the season.
That would be no way to end the greatest basketball coaching career since John Wooden, who won his 10th national title in his last game in 1975 at UCLA just after announcing his retirement. But Krzyzewski is not thinking about that.
“I haven’t looked at it as us against Carolina,” he said. “I’ve looked at it as, ‘We’re playing in the Final Four.’ You can’t go into the Final Four thinking rivalry, payback or any of those things. You’ve got to go in thinking, ‘We want to win a championship.’ That’s how I’m looking at it.”
The North Carolina and Duke fans who will flock to New Orleans, though, have different agendas. For example, the only thing greater than a national championship is one in which you beat your rival along the way. Florida’s national championship in football on Jan. 2, 1997, in the same Superdome, was that much sweeter as it came over hated rival Florida State.
“I know there’s going to be TV and radio, and a Duke guy and a Carolina guy, and they’re going to be talking stupid stuff,” Krzyzewski said. “And that means nothing. That’s what sport for fans is about. It’s not for coaches, and it’s not for players. Let’s just stick to what we’re doing. The ability to ignore is a big thing.”
North Carolina first-year head coach Hubert Davis was on the North Carolina team that almost played Duke for the national title in 1991. His coach ignored the possibility.
“That was not even talked about with Coach Smith,” he said. And that’s Davis’ strategy now.
“As celebrated and successful as both programs have been, I am surprised that it hasn’t happened,” he said. “But the significance of it, I don’t know. And I don’t really care, and I’m not even thinking about it.”
You will be, and so will Coach K and everybody else.