Packer: UNC more likely to make Final Four than Duke

Staff columnistMarch 10, 2011 

— Billy Packer says he would be "a shocker" if Duke makes it to the 2011 men’s Final Four. If North Carolina does, however, Packer said it would be "no surprise at all."

Packer, 71, told me that today while I interviewed him about college basketball. The interview was in conjunction with an event Packer has going this Monday at 7 p.m. at Spirit Square in uptown Charlotte called "Inside the Brackets." At that 90-minute event, Packer, Bob Knight, Phil Ford and Mike Gminski will talk college basketball and speculate about the just-released NCAA 68-team bracket.

It should be a lot of fun. Tickets are on sale to the general public for $20 at 704-372-1000 or www.CarolinaTix.org.

Anyway, as part of the interview I asked Packer – who lives in Charlotte, worked more than 30 Final Fours as a TV analyst and broadcast his last Final Four for CBS in 2008 – what he thought about Duke and North Carolina’s chances to reach this year’s Final Four.

Of Duke, Packer said: "Unless Kyrie Irving comes back – and I have no information that he will or anything like that – it would be a shocker to me to see Duke in the Final Four.

"There are certain players that can make a team special. Duke had that player in Irving. He could break down the defense. You had to guard him with two people when he got inside. Now Duke is too perimeter-oriented. To me, Duke has gone from a team that could separate itself from the field -- like Ohio State is doing now -- to just a good team among 30-40 other good teams around the country."

Of UNC, Packer said: "North Carolina has excellent balance. Kendall Marshall has such a high basketball IQ, and is such a good distributor at point guard, that he has made every man on that team half a man better. The Tar Heels certainly could be haunted by a game with poor outside shooting or foul trouble, because their depth is weak, but overall it would be no surprise at all to see them in the Final Four."

In the current Associated Press poll, Duke is No.5 in the country and North Carolina is No.6. The teams split their regular-season matchups. Both clubs open ACC tournament play Friday and could face each other again in Sunday’s championship game in Greensboro.

sfowler@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5140

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