Luke DeCock

Kansas crosses tournament paths with a Triangle team yet again

Duke's Coach K on Kansas: 'It is great when you have two programs of this nature....play for a Final Four berth'

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talks about playing Kansas in the NCAA Tournament's Elite 8 during a media availability at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Saturday, March 24, 2018.
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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talks about playing Kansas in the NCAA Tournament's Elite 8 during a media availability at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Saturday, March 24, 2018.

As Devonte Graham desperately tried to explain Thursday, growing up a North Carolina fan in Raleigh meant reflexively hating Duke. That will make the Kansas guard the spirit animal for Tar Heels fans on Sunday as more than a few Triangle threads are entangled in Omaha.

There's Graham, for one, trying to get to his first Final Four in his fourth and final year at Kansas, and with a chance to knock Duke out of the tournament. Then there's the glamour, the one regional final between teams that have both won national titles, and a bunch of them.

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“It's two blue bloods, two great, historic programs, and two Hall of Fame coaches,” Graham said. “And it's a pride thing. And you want to do it. And the fans to have something to brag about. And, of course, getting to the Final Four is on all of our minds. So it's definitely, Duke-Kansas is a huge matchup.”

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It always is when titans like these collide, which lately seems to happen fairly often in the NCAA tournament, and yet again within a few hours' drive of Kansas.

North Carolina lost to Kansas in Kansas City in 2013, N.C. State and UNC both lost to Kansas in St. Louis in 2012 and there was the Billy Packer Game in San Antonio during the 2008 Final Four. Duke and Kansas are playing for the sixth time in the NCAA tournament, all in the Mike Krzyzewski era, but for the first time since 2003, with Duke leading 3-2.

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Kansas beat N.C. State in the 1986 regional final (in Kansas City) and North Carolina beat Kansas (in Kansas City) to win the title in 1957.

The one big difference, to the extent that it matters: Krzyzewski is 12-2 in Elite 8 games, 4-1 as a No. 2 seed. Kansas coach Bill Self is 2-7, 1-5 as a No. 1 seed.

“It's great when you have two programs of this nature, of this status in the history of our game, play for a Final Four berth,” Krzyzewski said. “I think it's great for the sport.”

And yet again, it's the Triangle against Kansas. But if Roy Williams wants to show up wearing a Kansas sticker on Sunday, none of his North Carolina detractors will complain this time.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock



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