Local traffic will have some abrupt ebbs and flows over the next few days in Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh. Supermarket aisles will empty. Big movies will play before sparse audiences. At certain evening hours, many thousands of the local population will not be in a car, a store or a theater. They’ll be in a frenzy.
The Triangle is about to experience a sequence of college basketball in which the hyped national “madness” of March could be exceeded by a potent local mix of tension, anguish and euphoria. N.C. State, Duke and UNC are among the last 16 teams in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It’s a scenario as rare as it is wonderful.
The Tar Heels will try to advance Thursday night at 7:47 against No. 1 seeded Wisconsin. The Wolfpack takes on Louisville at 7:37 p.m. Friday followed by the Blue Devils vs. Utah at 9:45 p.m.
By late Friday, it could be over for all of them, leaving nothing much to see in the tournament except the seemingly inevitable coronation of Kentucky. Or, on the other extreme UNC, State and Duke could all win, setting up a super weekend of three games in which each of the local teams would play for a trip to the Final Four.
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Fans in this crossroads of basketball champions are seasoned enough to expect that a sweep by the Triangle’s teams won’t happen. And even with three teams in the last 16, the chances of one of them winning the national title is remote. Las Vegas oddsmakers set the chances of Duke being crowned at 8-1. For UNC, 33-1. N.C. State, 50-1.
But today and perhaps into late Friday and even into Saturday and Sunday, it will be fun to indulge the dream of Duke, UNC and State fans all seeing their team advance to the Final Four.