College Hoops: A big weekend on Tobacco Road
By Joedy McCreary
RALEIGH — Big games are always a fixture of the basketball season on Tobacco Road, but a pair of big-name nonconference visitors have created an intriguing early-season men’s doubleheader Saturday.
No. 7 North Carolina plays host to Kentucky in a matchup of the winningest programs in NCAA history. A few hours later, No. 11 Duke takes on No. 18 Georgetown.
The next day, the women take center stage with the No. 2 Tar Heels playing No. 4 Tennessee.
“If I were a fan in this area, I would be ecstatic,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who plans to attend the women’s game but will have to settle for the TV broadcast of Georgetown-Duke.
“I don’t think I’d be welcomed that nicely if I walked in at Durham,” he said.
North Carolina (5-1) has won 1,888 games — second only to Kentucky’s 1,930 victories — and is playing its second high-profile out-of-conference game of the week at the Smith Center.
The Tar Heels hope to build on the momentum generated by their 98-89 victory against No. 3 Ohio State on Wednesday in the marquee matchup of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
A win over Kentucky (4-2) would be their third straight in the series.
“The history has shown basketball in both places has been very successful,” Williams said. “Kentucky basketball’s about the biggest thing in that state. People take a lot of pride in talking about that, and they’ve done it for a really long time.”
The Wildcats started the season in the Top 25 but fell from the rankings after losses to UCLA and Memphis in Maui.
“Everything we do is a test,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “When you don’t win, it’s a failure. There is a way to measure, when you look at it and say, ‘Well, you did this better and you did that better.’ The bottom line is, did you win? When you don’t win, that means you failed. It’s as simple as that.”
Later that night, 11 miles north of the Dean Dome on U.S. Route 15-501, the Blue Devils (6-1) take on a Hoyas team which gave J.J. Redick and Co. their first loss of last season.
Redick is gone, and Duke has countered the absence of his scoring punch with an improved defense that hasn’t allowed more than 51 points in any home game. Meanwhile, the Hoyas (4-2) are coming off a surprising home loss to Oregon, and center Roy Hibbert is wary of his first trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium and its notoriously noisy occupants.
“You have really good players, and also you have the Cameron Crazies yelling at you,” Hibbert said. “They sit like two feet away from you, I heard. We are just going to have to zone them out and make sure we listen to what coach (John Thompson III) wants us to do.”
Then, Pat Summitt leads Tennessee (6-0) into Chapel Hill on Sunday in a rematch of last year’s regional finals in what surely will be the first real test of the season for Sylvia Hatchell’s Tar Heels.
North Carolina (7-0) has won each of its games by an average of 49 points, and its closest finish was a 94-69 win at Arkansas. The Lady Vols have three wins against ranked teams.
The Tar Heels won 75-63 last year to win the Cleveland Regional and advance to the Final Four, and Summitt wasn’t about to shy away from a rematch.
“Any time that there is a program out there that has a chance of being one of the best in the country, I try to schedule them,” Summitt said.