by Ben Collins
Usually, at this point in the day each time this year, some obscure North Carolina newspaper tells us of some horror story that happened on the Duke campus in preparation for tonight’s matchup against UNC. Somebody wrote/drew something terrible/disgusting/hilarious on the football field. Cameron Indoor has increased security. Some kids are planning something really cool (like this) to make everyone’s day much harder. At the very least, the paper will run some tacky human interest story about how Blue Devil fans are wearing blue body paint to class that day.

This is the time-honored April Fools Day of basketball. The first time Duke and UNC face off signals mini Rivalry Day.

But this year? Nothing. The only thing that obscure newspaper — say, the Greensboro News-Record — has run is a reason why the women’s game is better than the men’s. Geez, that might be a harder shot than any hastily drawn nether-regions body part on the football field.

Weren’t these supposed to be the absolutely nutty, Philly-like Duke fans that merited that old Cameron Crazies nickname? And now you’re being out-insulted by a newspaper? This is Hansborough-McRoberts Part II and I haven’t seen any dirt on either of these guys.
Worse yet, UNC fans have yet to infiltrate the campus that is within walking distance of their own. Remember the Duke Lacrosse team, Tar Heels fans? Not to give you any ideas, but that’s a fastball down the middle in the Heckler’s Handbook.

All that, added to the Clemson clock massacre, some rehashed, year-old JJ Redick jokes, and the nation’s general distaste in the Duke, there should be enough collective vigor to at least know that the game is even on today.

But check the front page of The Four-Letter Word, unless you morally object to that sort of thing. For a network that was quick to promote Quite Frankly with Screamin’ A and ESPN Hollywood, there’s no mention of this thing.

So has this rivalry, at least for one year, officially jumped the shark? Is Duke so violently mediocre that the school has faded its way out of our public consciousness? Have the Dukies fallen so far that we officially feel bad sandbagging them? Is this the beginning of the end of this Duke hating era or just a yearlong aberration?

This rivalry day game may mean more than any midseason Duke-UNC matchup ever has. It’s not just for the superficial, hazing-ritual reasons listed above either. This game, especially if Dick Vitale and Brent Musberger pick up on how Duke will be a lackluster 5-5 in ACC play with a loss, could dissuade any potential recruit. This could make up his mind. Duke is on the downswing; teams like UNC and USC (playing UCLA tonight) are the future of college basketball.

And that, in and of itself, is bad for college basketball.

So root for Duke tonight. You may feel your soul burning a bit, but it’s a necessity. Cheer on the Joker to make sure there’s more Batman movies.

Root for the bad guy to save the rivalry.

Or at least let the Cameron Crazies do their thing. Let them make it so loud that Ty Lawson can’t call plays. Let them force Tyler Hansborough into a fit. Make one of their 100 freshman scream their way to a technical.

Then we’ll see if this UNC team is too young to figure out how crazy this arena can be. If only for the hope that the rivalry will still be there when they graduate.

Other than UNC-Duke, A college basketball fan would watch all of these tonight. Really, he would:

- USC-UCLA. I’ll have a USC Upset Special, hold the Mayo.

- Georgetown-Louisville. Pitino’s got this team in the Top 25 with a win tonight, even after that atrocious start.

- Kansas-Kansas State, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State. On the off-chance that they throw down the farming equipment and go all European rioty on us. I’ve always wanted to see that.