Scott Fowler

Can you imagine Duke, NC State and UNC in Final Four?

UNC, N.C. State and Duke have all made the Sweet 16 and will all fight for spots in the Final Four this weekend. In this photo from mid-January, North Carolina's Marcus Paige, left, and North Carolina State's Abdul-Malik Abu get tangled during a battle for a loose ball.
UNC, N.C. State and Duke have all made the Sweet 16 and will all fight for spots in the Final Four this weekend. In this photo from mid-January, North Carolina's Marcus Paige, left, and North Carolina State's Abdul-Malik Abu get tangled during a battle for a loose ball. Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer

It would require all kinds of stuff – six more wins in a row, to start with, as well as a couple of “how-did-he-do-that?” shots and some outright good luck.

But there’s a chance. There’s an actual chance that Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State will all make the Final Four in the same year for the first time.

If it happens, it would rank as one of the most remarkable achievements in college basketball history. Three schools, all of them no more than 30 minutes apart and in the same league, all making the Final Four? At this point, I would put the overall odds at this happening at 50-1. But it’s still a possibility.

That’s why I think that, whatever their allegiance, true fans of college basketball in the Carolinas this weekend should root for it to happen.

I know it sounds apocalyptic, like cats and dogs raining down from the skies, but North Carolina fans should root for Duke this weekend only and vice versa. N.C. State fans should put aside their rivalries and cheer for both of them and receive the same treatment in return.

Because if this Final Four trio really occurs, everyone with a connection to any of those three schools benefits.

Look, Kentucky is almost certainly going to win the national championship. You know it and I know it.

The three Triangle schools were all fortunate not to be placed in Kentucky’s quarter of the bracket. Beating the Wildcats isn’t impossible but will require the sort of game Villanova once played to beat Georgetown in the 1985 national title contest (when Villanova shot 79 percent from the field).

But nobody from North Carolina has to deal with Kentucky this weekend. The three schools just need to win two games apiece.

North Carolina has the most difficult journey. It needs to beat No. 1 seed Wisconsin on Thursday (7:47 p.m. tipoff). And while the Tar Heels will be an underdog, they at least have the beef underneath to contend with Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky. UNC would then need to defeat the Arizona-Xavier winner on Saturday.

N.C. State and Duke appear to have a slightly easier path. The eighth-seeded Wolfpack already knocked No. 1 seed Villanova out of the East, so now they are faced with a Louisville team Friday night that they whipped in Louisville five weeks ago (7:37 p.m. tipoff). Win that, and N.C. State would play the Oklahoma-Michigan State winner Sunday.

Duke, a No. 1 seed itself, has the easiest road to the Final Four. The Blue Devils should take care of Utah Friday night (9:45 p.m. tipoff) and then would take on the UCLA-Gonzaga winner Sunday.

If all six wins happens, we’ve got history. The three have all made the Sweet 16 together before, most recently in 2005, but never the Final Four together.

If two out of the three schools get to Indianapolis and the Final Four, it won’t be unprecedented (Duke and North Carolina made the 1991 Final Four together) but still is worth celebrating.

And if even one of the three gets there, at least it will end the ACC’s Final Four drought. No conference school has made the last four since Duke won the national title in 2010.

Notre Dame and Louisville are in the Sweet 16, too, of course. And they are in the ACC, too, as I keep reminding myself. But that still feels strange.

What feels amazing is the fact that N.C. State, Duke and UNC all still have a shot at the Final Four and don’t have to go through each other to get there.

I don’t ultimately think it will happen. But what a gift everyone who cares about college basketball around here will get if it does.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

  Comments