No. 1 Syracuse (25-0) vs. No. 8 Duke (20-5), Sat., 7 ET, ESPN
Watching live sports is a little like a blind date: It sometimes works out really well, but oftentimes, it’s just kind of disappointing, and you never know in advance which you’re going to get. Consider the Super Bowl, which featured the exact matchup everyone pined for all season, but was pretty much a major buzzkill from the start.
What took place at the Carrier Dome the night before the Super Bowl, on the other hand, was the polar opposite. In front of a record crowd for an on-campus basketball game, the first Duke-Syracuse matchup in nearly 16 years not only lived up to great expectations – including ours – but smashed them.
Featuring two stellar teams and a pair of Hall of Fame coaches, the game was a contrast in styles. Syracuse wore Duke down with its size advantage and C.J. Fair’s 28 points, while the Blue Devils picked apart Jim Boeheim’s vaunted matchup zone with 15 three pointers. One of those, a game-tying buzzer-beater by Rasheed Sulaimon, is perhaps the signature play of the college basketball season to date.
The defining moment of the game came with 14 seconds left in overtime and Syracuse up by one, when Rodney Hood’s dunk attempt was blocked by Rakeem Christmas in a play that looked a whole lot like a foul. But as Mike Krzyzewski said, “This game is too good to talk about one play.”
For college basketball aficionados, the game became a shining example of the passion that makes the game special – if you will, a taste of March Madness a month early. And considering how the first game delivered, the rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium is even more anticipated. (Want to go? Tickets start around a cool $1,400.)
While Duke will have the home-court edge this time around, it will also have to tackle undefeated Syracuse two days after a snow-postponed grudge match in Chapel Hill. But there’s no reason to think these two teams can’t stage another instant classic in what might just become a marquee matchup every single season.
“When we go down there,” Boeheim said following the first Duke-Cuse game, “we’re going to have to have an unbelievable night.”
If recent history is an indicator, he won’t be the only one to describe it as such.
LAST WEEK’S PICK:
One of the key storylines going forward is whether Arizona can remain a title contender without Brandon Ashley. We’re still not sure, but at the very least, it’s made for some exciting games. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they came out on the wrong end of this Valentine’s Day thriller against their in-state rivals.
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No. 8 Duke (20-5) vs. North Carolina (17-7), Thurs., 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Speaking of Duke-Carolina, the heavily hyped first matchup of the season between the Tobacco Road rivals got pushed back a week because of a massive snowstorm that had people abandoning their cars on the highway. No such worries for the rematch.
No. 13 Louisville (21-4) vs. No. 10 Cincinnati (23-3), Sat., 12 p.m. ET, CBS
The defending champs, led by likely First-Team All American Russ Smith, have won eight of nine. The one loss, however, was at home against Cincinnati, quietly one of the best defensive teams in the country. Consider this a worthy appetizer for Syracuse-Duke.
Team of the Week:
Overshadowed by the Duke-UNC-Syracuse troika, Virginia has now won nine straight games, its longest ACC streak in 32 years. If the Cavaliers win their next three games – and looking at their opponents, there’s a decent chance – a game against Syracuse on March 1st could decide the entire conference season.
Look so good on the court pic.twitter.com/weFf2XfiBU
— Justin Amazing (@justinamazing1) February 15, 2014
Pitt lost to UNC on Saturday, but Lamar Patterson was the winner in terms of sneakers, perhaps for the whole season. Patterson wore an impossibly rare pair of Zoom LeBron IV Fruity Pebbles, which generally sell for Yeezy money, if you can even find them.