The No. 4 Arizona Wildcats and No. 6 Duke Blue Devils, two of the country’s top college basketball programs, will meet in the NIT Season Tip-Off final on Friday, and both teams are fortunate to be there.
Both teams showed signs of weakness against lesser teams earlier in the tournament but also showed their mettle by overcoming said weaknesses by winning when all hope looked to be lost.
Date: Friday, Nov. 29
Time: 6:05 p.m. ET
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.
The Wildcats (6-0, 0-0 Pac-12) opened up against Drexel on Wednesday night listless and uninspired. Trailing 27-8 in the first 13 minutes, they would go on to win 66-62 in a game that nobody thought would be as tight as it was.
”I think the story line for this game may be that Arizona was overlooking Drexel but that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said, according to arizonawildcats.com. ”We watched every tape and invested a lot of time and it became apparent to me we were in for a handful.”
The Blue Devils (6-1, 0-0 ACC) have had a tougher road to the final scraping by a 1-4 Vermont team, 91-90, at Cameron Indoor before a 74-64 squeaker over Alabama (3-1) in Madison Square Garden.
Duke looked horrible at home against a far inferior opponent, giving up 90 points at home, which had the Cameron Crazies and the rest of Blue Devil Nation crying foul.
“Well, they were terrific and we were awful, and being terrific made us look worse,”said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski during a press conference. “As a unit that is all of us. This was an unacceptable performance, and we were lucky to win.
The 74-64 victory over Alabama was closer than the score shows. The Blue Devils held the Crimson Tide to only 22 first-half points but then allowed them to come roaring back with a 12-0 run to pull within six points to begin the second half.
Freshman phenom Jabari Parker stopped the bleeding with a layup and one at the 11:45 mark and put on a one-man show, scoring 10 of the next 12 Duke points. The Tide rolled again, pulling back within six with under three minutes remaining. They would close the game out on a 10-6 run, but their defensive lapses were glaring.
“Since Kansas, we haven’t been playing like a Duke team defensively,” said sophomore forward Rodney Hood, per The News & Observer. “It’s a program game, it’s about fighting for the program.”
Regardless of how they got there, Both teams are in, and the hype machine is in full effect. The matchup of freshman sensations Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon is reaching a fever pitch on Twitter.
Fans @ MSG get a Holiday treat in Duke vs Arizona title game @ 6 ESPN – Parker- Gordon 2 of best 1st yr PTPERS – Lots of other talent also!
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) November 29, 2013
And why the match-made-in-heaven showdown between Aaron Gordon and Jabari Parker may as well be hell for Sean Miller http://t.co/wk7pRUQKYP
— Tracy McDannald (@TracyGOAZCATS) November 29, 2013
The front page of ESPN’s Men’s College Basketball page has their faces prominently displayed with the title “Everybody’s Looking at You.”
“Boy, college basketball fans are in for a Black Friday treat,” wrote ESPN.com’sKieran Darcy. “Two weeks after that fantastic Champions Classic doubleheader in Chicago, we get another top-10 clash—No. 4 Arizona versus No. 6 Duke, at Madison Square Garden, no less.”
The former No. 2-ranked Parker and No. 4-ranked Gordon are living up to the hype. Parker has begun his collegiate career scoring 20 or more points in each of his seven games this season. Parker is only the second player in Division I history to accomplish the feat along with a little-known player out of the University of Texas—Kevin Durant.
Aaron Gordon hasn’t been lights out in the scoring department but has shown more strength as an all-around player, averaging 12.5 points as well as 9.7 rebounds per game. He is also second on the team in blocks with nine.
This game isn’t only about the freshmen but also about the coaches and storied programs.
Arizona is 21-2 all-time in the NIT Season Tip-Off, including an 8-1 record at Madison Square Garden, while Duke has won 15 straight NIT Season Tip-Off games with their last loss coming 17 years ago to Indiana. Coach K and the Blue Devils are 23-7 in all games played at Madison Square Garden.
Arizona has won the tournament three times, second only to Duke’s four tournament titles. A battle for the ages is indeed in store for everybody, so enjoy this holiday treat as I assume this will be the last time we see Parker and Gordon match up in the regular season at the collegiate level.