Arena in Greenville, S.C., has be­come epi­cen­ter of ha­tred to­ward Blue Devils

Ram­bunc­tious fans of UNC, South Carolina have Duke sur­rounded

The Washington Post Sunday - - NCAA TOURNAMENT - BY KENT BABB kent.babb@wash­post.com

greenville, s.c. — Shortly be­fore 11 p.m. on Fri­day, with­out a hint of cer­e­mony, it hap­pened: Greenville, this charm­ing lit­tle city on the banks of the Reedy River, be­came the epi­cen­ter of Duke ha­tred.

The Blue Devils don’t al­ways need help in this depart­ment, of course. Dur­ing this year’s NCAA tour­na­ment, they are the East Re­gion’s No. 2 seed and a trendy pick to reach yet an­other Fi­nal Four. They are the bluest of bas­ket­ball’s blue bloods at an elite pri­vate univer­sity. They have a cou­ple proper vil­lains in Coach Mike Krzyzewski and guard Grayson Allen.

But here, now, the Blue Devils are al­most sur­rounded. Two of the three re­main­ing non-Duke teams at Bon Se­cours Well­ness Arena — North Carolina, the top seed in the South Re­gion, and South Carolina, the No. 7 seed in the East and Duke’s next op­po­nent — have fan bases with rea­son to dis­like Duke, and on Sun­day they’ll all pile into the build­ing to­gether for the sec­ond-round games.

North Carolina is here and so is its well-trav­eled and full-throated clus­ter of fans. Duke Univer­sity, for the unini­ti­ated, is 10 miles from the Univer­sity of North Carolina’s cam­pus, and the teams have been squar­ing off — often at col­lege bas­ket­ball’s high­est level — since 1920. They’ve faced off in al­most ev­ery imag­in­able sce­nario, the Tar Heels with a 25-win se­ries ad­van­tage, but they have some­how never run into each other in the NCAA tour­na­ment.

This is the tour­na­ment that could change, though it’d be a show­down with the long­est road and the high­est pos­si­ble stakes: the two old ri­vals, their stately coaches and their pas­sion­ate fans mak­ing it to the na­tional cham­pi­onship game. Even on open­ing week­end, weeks be­fore the ti­tle game, that ap­pe­tiz­ing pos­si­bil­ity was on the menu.

“It will be awe­some,” Tar Heels swing­man Theo Pin­son said Thurs­day, be­fore ei­ther team had even played a tour­na­ment game. “That means we’re in the na­tional cham­pi­onship, first of all. I mean, it’s a long way to go. I can’t even think about Duke right now. Right now, hon­estly, I’m go­ing to fo­cus on to­mor­row. But that would be one game that ev­ery­body will be watch­ing.”

On Fri­day, as Duke made easy work out of 15th-seeded Troy, South Carolina fans prac­ticed their cat­calls — es­pe­cially when Allen touched the ball, when he shot free throws, when Allen’s feet be­came tan­gled in the first half and his body smacked onto the hard­wood.

Allen is as fun­da­men­tally sound and clutch as he is skilled at find­ing new ways to trip or kick op­po­nents, maybe the finest Duke vil­lain since J.J. Redick. Krzyzewski sus­pended Allen for a game ear­lier this sea­son, con­tro­versy has seemed to fol­low the ju­nior guard from arena to arena, Allen kept push­ing the lim­its and al­ter­nat­ing be­tween en­rag­ing op­pos­ing fans and av­er­ag­ing 14.1 points to help break their hearts.

He is, in other words, so very Duke.

“My job is to give en­ergy,” Allen told re­porters af­ter his team’s 8765 first-round vic­tory against Troy, and the player is as good at en­er­giz­ing his team­mates as he is at in­cit­ing other teams’ fans.

When he jogged onto the floor a few min­utes af­ter the game be­gan, the arena wel­comed him with the loud­est boos of the day. The man, like his coach — Krzyzewski rarely walks onto the floor be­fore games along­side his fol­low coaches, pre­fer­ring to en­ter a lit­tle later and alone — likes to make an en­trance.

South Carolina, by the way, helped cre­ate Duke bas­ket­ball. It’s a dusty, old piece of trivia among fans with a well-earned in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex — the Game­cocks’ firstround vic­tory against Mar­quette was their first NCAA tour­na­ment win in 44 years — but it’s nev­er­the­less a deep-seated rea­son South Carolina fans will be ready for Sun­day’s con­test.

The Game­cocks, who par­tic­i­pated in the ACC along­side Duke un­til 1971, had some bad luck (and were the vic­tims of poor long-term plan­ning) a few years af­ter that. Af­ter the 1979-80 sea­son, South Carolina’s ad­min­is­tra­tion grew tired of playing in the Na­tional In­vi­ta­tion Tour­na­ment and forced Frank McGuire, the Game­cocks’ Hall of Fame coach, into re­tire­ment. The school’s search for a re­place­ment landed on then Duke Coach Bill Fos­ter, who had been a solid leader in Durham; just be­fore he made the move to Columbia, he had led the Blue Devils to the ACC tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship.

Any­way, when Fos­ter left, Duke ad­min­is­tra­tors were list­less. They had to find a re­place­ment, and even­tu­ally they looked deep into col­lege bas­ket­ball’s ranks to find Army’s 33-year-old coach, an un­proven but dis­ci­plined man named Mike Krzyzewski.

The short ver­sion of what came next is that Krzyzewski, of course, rein­vented Duke bas­ket­ball and has be­come one of the finest coaches in bas­ket­ball his­tory; now 70, “Coach K” has won five na­tional ti­tles and reached a dozen Fi­nal Fours. South Carolina, by the way, has reached the NCAA tour­na­ment since 1980 the same num­ber of times Duke has cut down the nets as na­tional champs. Fos­ter lasted six sea­sons and never reached the NCAA tour­na­ment.

So there’s some re­sent­ment. Which, in the ab­sence of sus­tained joy in most South Carolina sports, has be­come a go-to emo­tion in Columbia.

Then again, Sun­day will of­fer a chance at some mea­sure of re­demp­tion, though ful­fill­ing that would re­quire a mas­sive up­set (al­beit on an arena floor that, be­cause of po­lit­i­cal dis­putes in North Carolina, is ac­tu­ally closer to South Carolina’s cam­pus than ei­ther of the higher-seeded pro­grams from Tobacco Road).

“We need to be real good to be able to com­pete with a team like Duke in a cou­ple of days,” Game­cocks Coach Frank Martin said late Fri­day, shortly be­fore mid­night. By then, the Blue Devils were already pre­par­ing for Sun­day, when that even­ing — just af­ter UNC fin­ishes its game against Arkansas — Duke play­ers and coaches will stride onto the floor as a col­lec­tion of vil­lains th­ese parts have scarcely ever seen.

GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IM­AGES

Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils are used to playing the vil­lains, but this week­end is an ex­treme case.

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