Tourney prediction: Duke, UNC to have 1st NCAA meeting for title

  • Nick Celario

It’s the most maddening time of the year — March Madness.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is in full swing, and already — and probably unsurprising — there are some upsets.

The biggest one of the day perhaps is No. 12 Murray State topping No. 5 Marquette, 83-64, in the West Region. Murray State’s star man Ja Morant posted a triple-double with 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds to help advance the Racers to the second round.

I had pegged No. 14 Yale beating No. 3 LSU to be the first big upset of the tournament out of the East Region. That prediction looked like a bust when the Tigers went into halftime with a 45-29 lead, but the underdog Bulldogs came surging in the second half.

Yale hit four 3-pointers in the final minute to close the gap, but LSU hung on to escape with a 79-74 win to advance despite not having head coach Will Wade, who is suspended indefinitely for his involvement in an alleged cheating scandal.

We got plenty more basketball to go, and I’m anticipating the moment when the next tournament Cinderella emerges.

I had a lot of fun following Loyola of Chicago’s ride to a Final Four berth last year. I’m hoping for a similar story.

But when I filled out my bracket, again just out of gut feeling and without any rhyme or reason, I had couple of historical powerhouses vying for the national championship at the end of it.

I have two No. 1s Duke and North Carolina, No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Purdue reaching the Final Four. Coming out of the semifinals, I got rivals Duke and UNC playing for the national championship.

Surprisingly, The Tar Heels and Blue Devils have played 250 games in their storied rivalry but have never met in the NCAA Tournament.

The only time the teams met in the postseason was in the 1971 NIT tournament — North Carolina won that game. Seriously, how did that even happen?

North Carolina swept Duke in the regular season, but perhaps got away with at least one when Duke phenom Zion Williamson suffered an injury moments after the opening tipoff when his foot exploded out of his shoe.

Duke topped UNC in in the ACC tournament semifinals en route to winning the conference title.

So, as much as I’d like to see a Cinderella team go all the way, I believe a Duke-UNC game for the national championship will soon be coming down the pike.

On top of that, Williamson is probably the most touted NBA prospect since LeBron James.

This game would just be too epic. It has to happen.

And if both teams were to reach the championship game, I got Williamson, RJ Barrett, Coach K and the Blue Devils cutting down the nets.

Enjoy the madness, everyone. I hope your brackets aren’t thoroughly busted already.

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Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or ncelario@thegardenisland.com.

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