GREENSBORO — Theres no debating that the ACC tournament means more to Duke than it does to North Carolina. It's just a fact, especially when it comes to the coaches. Mike Krzyzewski would go for the win if he had the Generals against the Globetrotters in Greensboro, while Roy Williams always seems like he'd just as soon move along to the NCAA tournament, particularly with the regular-season title in the bag.
Neither Krzyzewski nor Williams was complaining about Duke's 75-58 win Sunday afternoon. Krzyzewskiss team got the title it was denied by North Carolina in the regular season, a third straight in the tournament. Williams team got the wake-up call it needed after playing with fire three times in Greensboro and getting away with it twice.
In the end, the better team won -- today. Who's going to be the better team in a month is a question that remains very much open for debate.
"We played a great game today, but we realize -- I'm not saying we're better than they are," Krzyzewski said. "They're really good."
If they weren't sick of each other already, they may get to hang out again in Charlotte this week, albeit in different parts of the bracket, and maybe even in Houston. The last five times Duke and North Carolina played for the ACC title, the winner ended up in the Final Four -- and the two before that, the loser did.
In an otherwise forgettable year for ACC basketball, the league's two biggest rivals held up the traditional standard. They're now positioned to do the same in the NCAA tournament.
Duke's first two games here were workmanlike, the third unerringly precise. Nolan Smith's toe is fine. That inside game is starting to round into shape -- on the court if not on the scoresheet, where North Carolina both outscored and outrebounded Duke in the paint. Led by Smith's offense and Kyle Singler's defense on Harrison Barnes, the Blue Devils hit their stride Sunday.
"There was something missing, and this week we found that," Krzyzewski said. "There was just a really good spirit. We've had a good attitude, but there's like a newness. I think losing the way we did in Chapel Hill helped us realize that we didn't have that."
That loss in Chapel Hill was a great moment for the post-Larry Drew II Machine as the Tar Heels rolled right along after the loss at Georgia Tech that provoked the inevitable switch to Kendall Marshall. All that success may have made them a little full of themselves, if their first halves in Greensboro were any indication.
Those sloppy, listless opening sequences left the Tar Heels in the upset zone against Miami and Clemson before North Carolina turned it on in the second halves, Barnes in particular in Saturday's overtime win over the Tigers.
Perhaps the emotions of that game left the Tar Heels a little empty Sunday. Or perhaps they figured they could make up another double-digit halftime deficit, only to encounter an opponent in the final that had no interest in playing along.
"As a team, we didn't come to play," North Carolina forward John Henson said. "They were more aggressive. They had more "want to" than us. We've got to come prepared next week."
That message apparently got through when throwing five walk-ons onto the court during the first half Friday didn't.
"Evidently, because I couldn't convince them otherwise" Williams said. "I think Duke convinced them today. Do I like that? No. I'd like to get out of that I've always said you should be able to learn some things when you win, but there's no question it's more effective when you lose."
North Carolina needed an attitude adjustment. Duke made one. Everything resets to zero now, but Sunday was the starting point both teams needed.
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