Monday, March 12, 2001
The Duke-UNC rematch takes center stage
By Brent Musburger
Special to ABC Sports Online
On Sunday afternoon, Dick Vitale and I will bring you the second installment of Duke-North Carolina from the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill, N.C. (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). This game should live up to all the hype, and then some.
There was a time when this game looked like a potential meeting of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the polls. That has all changed in the last two weeks. North Carolina lost on back-to-back Sundays to Clemson and Virginia. On Tuesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Maryland shocked Duke.
What looked like a matchup of certain No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament doesn't look quite so certain now. The winner of this game figures to be seeded No. 1 in the East, which would lead to a possible two games in cozy Greensboro. The loser will head off to some other region.
Those combined three losses in the last two weeks open the door in the South Region for either Kentucky or Florida.
|Carlos Boozer's foot injury leaves Duke without a major inside presence.|
Not only did Duke lose the game to Maryland, the Blue Devils also lost their best inside player, in forward Carlos Boozer. He broke a bone in his foot and appears to be out for the remainder of the season. The Boozer injury is like an arrow to Mike Krzyzewski's heart. He was already shorthanded in guys with a low-post presence.
The pressure is on Matt Christensen, Boozer's likely replacement. He has played limited minutes, and it points out how much Duke misses Chris Burgess, a power player who transferred to BYU.
Mike has stubbornly stuck to his six-man rotation for most of the season, even as critics continued to point out that Duke lacked rebounders as they approached the NCAA Tournament. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, I honestly rate Duke no better than a 6 to get back to the Final Four. That's how much they will miss Boozer at the Big Dance.
The revenge factor
Even without Boozer, I give the Dukies a chance to stun Carolina in Chapel Hill. It amazes me how athletes at the collegiate and professional level draw together to replace an injured teammate in the first game he or she misses.
Over the long haul, there's no way Duke can be nearly as good without Boozer, but in the short run, Carolina would be wise not to be overconfident.
How Duke can win
Look for the Blue Devils to put up 16 to 20 three-pointers. If the outside shots are falling for Shane Battier and Jason Williams, Duke will be able to hang with the favored Tar Heels. Remember, when Duke lost the first game at home, they were absolutely brutal at the free throw line, shooting 13-for-27 (48.1 percent) from the charity stripe.
Every player on the Duke team knows how hard he has to play to make up for the absence of Boozer, and a Krzyzewski-coached team will play hard for 40 minutes.
The Tar Heels
To be perfectly honest, I'm more surprised about North Carolina losing to Clemson and Virginia than I am about the Blue Devils losing to Maryland at home. The Tar Heels looked to me like the best team in the country until they stumbled out of Clemson and then got waxed by the Cavaliers.
You may remember I've been touting Matt Doherty as the Coach of the Year. If that's the case, he needs to have the Tar Heels ready for a maximum effort on Sunday, and then the following week at the ACC Tournament in Atlanta.
Speaking of the tournament, ACC officials say they are expecting crowds of 40,000 at the games. It should be some scene in Georgia.
The other big games
No. 1 Stanford at No. 18 UCLA, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
Since being embarrassed by California in Berkeley, UCLA is undefeated. The run began two days after their loss to the Bears, with an upset of Stanford in Palo Alto. Vitale and I watched the Bruins practice the day after the stunning California setback. The rumors of Rick Pitino landing in Westwood were mushrooming up and down the Pacific Coast. Coach Steve Lavin was embattled, as his athletic director admitted publicly before telling the coach that he had spoken to Pitino on the telephone twice.
The mood at that practice was quiet and somber. But a perimeter shooter by the name of Billy Knight lit up the scrimmage session by netting seven consecutive 3-balls. On a hunch, Lavin inserted him into the starting lineup the next day against Stanford, and Knight keyed one of the bigger upsets of the season.
The Bruins have since gone on a seven-game tear, and Saturday afternoon will host the Cardinal in Pauley Pavilion. But beware of Stanford in this one. They're closing in on the top seed in the West, they've got revenge on their mind, and head coach Mike Montgomery is determined to take his team back to the Final Four.
No. 15 Kentucky at No. 6 Florida, Sunday, 12 p.m. ET
|UCLA point guard Earl Watson has been a catalyst in the Bruins' recent surge.|
Along with Duke-Carolina, Kentucky is in Gainesville to take on Florida. This is a key game in that battle for the top seed in the South. It is amazing how Billy Donovan has been able to hold the Gators together despite a series of crippling injuries. He truly is one of the best young coaches in the country.
Kentucky comes to Florida with a chance to make a statement on the road.
In other news...
Speaking of the Gators, and on an entirely different subject, Jesse Palmer, one of their quarterbacks last fall, is making a favorable impression on NFL scouts. At the combine in Indianapolis, Palmer and Mike McMahon of Rutgers were the two most surprising quarterbacks.
The San Diego Chargers cleared the decks to draft Michael Vick No. 1 when they decided to turn loose Ryan Leaf. However, one scout at the NFL combine in Indianapolis told me that Vick disappointed many of them when he measured exactly at the 6-foot mark, which is small by NFL standards, unless your name is Doug Flutie.
Speaking of Flutie, he's looking for a new home after the Buffalo Bills decided to go with the younger Rob Johnson. Don't bet against Flutie making it someplace else. Maybe my friend Dick Vermeil will give him a look in Kansas City.
Because of salary cap problems, Vermeil lost quarterback Elvis Grbac to free agency. The Chiefs will try to sign free agent Brad Johnson, who's leaving Washington, and Dick has been impressed with Jesse Palmer, who was a senior quarterback under Steve Spurrier at Florida last season.
Veteran QB Todd Collins is still on the Chiefs' roster, and I remember Vermeil was high on Collins, then a star at Michigan, when he broadcast college games with me on ABC.
The quarterback carousel continues in the NFL, and where it stops, nobody knows.
Brent Musburger is a play-by-play commentator for ABC's coverage of college football and college basketball. He is a regular contributor to ABC Sports Online