Editor's note: The men's NCAA Tournament began yesterday ... every fan has a prediction. But past March Madness is evidence that if this columnist says something will never happen, chances are it will.
Tennessee basketball coach Buzz Peterson hopes to one day look back at this March without losing his beloved North Carolina smile.
"(I want) some good memories," Peterson said before the Vols ended a disappointing season for the third time in his three years with a loss in the National Invitation Tournament for Major-Conference Rejects.
But if Peterson looks to his heart (a.k.a. his alma mater UNC), his ultimate wish for the 2004 season is sure to come true. Everyone who likes to part of the in-crowd (can you say Tarheel?) shares the following dream...
It starts in Atlanta for the greatest fourth-round NCAA Tournament game (a.k.a. Elite Eight) since Duke's Christian Laettner sank Kentucky in 1992. Instead of another battle between teams with the same shade of blue, this March's history-maker comes from college basketball's fiercest rivals whose blues are anything but the same.
No. 6-seed North Carolina (where Peterson played ball even though he was better known for being Michael Jordan's roommate) faces No. 1-seed Duke (my former school) in the first-ever NCAA Tournament meeting between the elite programs (a.k.a. my nightmare).
Here's some background information on the rivalry that ESPN announcer Dick Vitale calls the most intense in college sports.
The two schools share the same exit off of Interstate 40.
Duke students have always hated the color of the sky on a beautiful day. But just eight miles down North Carolina's Tobacco Road, clouds never cover the blue skies above UNC (where the word "Duke" makes people puke).
Each year that a team knocks Carolina out of the tournament, my family buys and wears apparel with that team's logo. But I knew that was a bad omen for 2004, because I already own way too many Duke shirts.
I was not alive the last and only other time the Tarheels and Blue Devils had to play in the same region (a.k.a. same quarter-section of the NCAA Tournament bracket), meaning a possible pre-Final Four match-up. But my Duke-alum father gave me a history lesson.
Before Magic Johnson beat Larry Bird to win the classic 1979 championship, UNC and Duke were the top two seeds in the East Region. Both lost their first games on the same day on the same court in their home state. North Carolinians called it "Black Sunday."
History does not repeat in March.
Both teams win their first three tournament games this season to advance to their inevitable meeting. When it matters most, the team that is seemingly everyone's favorite overtakes the team that seemingly everyone but my family hates.
Just when I think my life can't come any closer to ending, North Carolina takes its confidence to the Final Four in San Antonio and wins the 2004 National Championship.
America celebrates the Tarheels' return to glory because they are the "cool" guys to cheer for (just ask either the kid wearing a UNC hat sitting next to you or this paper's sports editor).
The Heels are the best. I no longer have a stomach.
But Peterson has rejuvenated confidence.
Even though UT suffered another sub-par season, Peterson is awarded his second raise and contract extension in a year because of his former association with the classy champs.
Because of UNC's success, I am unable to convince any Vol fans of the wickedness of Peterson's Tarheel smile and I go on to suffer through more second-rate basketball seasons from my soon-to-be alma mater.
The dream ends, but my light-blue nightmare is forever stuck in my royal-blue heart.
When I first met and interviewed Buzz, I confirmed my fellow North Carolinian (talking about the state, not the school) had deeper feelings for UNC than UT. When I shook his hand, I saw flashes of the Anti-Christ (a.k.a. UNC's former coach Dean Smith, who still has the most wins of any Division I coach).
But I'm just jealous the sky is Carolina blue. I like to vent by picking on Deano's former players struggling as coaches.
So I deserve to suffer through Duke's most heart-breaking loss ever. Expect Peterson and the rest of the Tarhole Nation to have the last word.
While a Blue Devil victory would be good for me, it would be bad for America. Duke will never beat UNC in the NCAA Tournament.
Editor's final note: This article was written before the outcome of both UNC and Duke's first-round games last night. If the Tarheels lost to No. 11-seed Air Force, then this columnist should be arrested for beating up the Air Force ROTC student early this morning and stealing his uniform.
- Matt Giles is a senior in journalism. He can be reached at mgiles@utk.edu.