New Orleans – At 9:21 a.m. Thursday morning, the old absinthe house on Bourbon Street was empty, but certainly not closed. This is the French Quarter known, among other things, for its bars that never close.
“We stay open until as late as business,” said Trish Wilson, the only waiter at the establishment on the corner of Bourbon Street and Bainville that has been serving patrons since 1807.
Wilson has been in her current job for 22 years. This would include tossing drinks during two of the five Final Fours matches played in this city (2003, 2012). I’ve watched the Super Bowls, college games, Mardi Gras, and random weekday nights when an Akron carpet seller could blow up at a place that once served pirates.
Football is more of her thing but at this moment in this place in this city Wilson is a good person to ask about Final Four, in terms of hype, it might also be a great second.
“I think Duke’s in it,” Wilson guessed when asked.
He stated that North Carolina was the opposition and Wilson added, “I don’t know the other two..is there anyone from Texas?”
Welcome. This is where we’re two days away from a hint of one of the four most anticipated final teams in recent memory. It is at least one of the most popular properties. Four blue bloods who – to make the point – actually have blue as the team colour.
But for those who are a little aware of the procedures, the Carolina Duke semi-finalists resonate. So much so that Saturday’s first semi-final between Villanova and Kansas feels like a low-card.
“The bottom card here is going to get more attention than anything we’ve gotten before,” Kansas coach Bill Self said on Thursday. “I don’t look at it that way at all. The majority of the attention and he’s probably right will be in Game Two because it’s Duke-Carolina. Last game for Coach K and all that stuff. We’ve warmed up. I don’t think anyone here is flying under any radar.”
Only Duke-Carolina could make it past the national semi-final that includes Kansas in its 14th final and Villanova in seventh. Five of these have come since 1985. Wildcats coach Jay Wright has won two championships in three years (2016, 2018).
“We never aspire to be one of those shows,” Wright said of Duke and Carolina. “We fight the urge to be like them, because we are so different. Be the best Villanova we can be. But when people abroad associate us with them or consider us part of their heritage and traditions, I have a lot of respect for them.”
Self is already a Hall of Fame coach emerging from his 16th regular season conference title in Kansas. He began his career at Kuwait University as a graduate assistant under Larry Brown in 1985 and 1986.
My self said, “I saw firsthand how it could be there.” “I’m the moderator of the most historical program ever. It means something extra when you stop and think about it [James] naismith, [Phog] Allen, [Adolph] Rob and [Wilt] Chamberlain”.
It all makes this Final Four drooling.
“I don’t know a lot of people are talking about it [Villanova] and Kansas at the moment, “And that’s great for me personally. But I think this can be as predictable and well attended and watched as any Final Four ever.”
On Canal Street on Thursday, the North Carolina band members were well aware of the implications. Tar heels everywhere already have a lifelong keepsake hidden away in the recesses of the happy part of their brain. In a game that was supposed to be Mike Krzyzowski’s last game against North Carolina, Duke lost 94-81 on March 5.
In a sad post-match game, Krzyzewski declared, “Today was unacceptable…”
T-shirts immediately appeared on the University of North Carolina campus that read “94-81, accepted.”
“I feel like we have nothing to lose,” said one of the band’s members, Jennings Dixon, of Raleigh, North Carolina. “Duke has everything to lose. We’re going to have fun. I think Duke must be scared. Even if they are, that’s cool.”
There is something to that. Hubert Davis in his first year succeeded Roy Williams as coach of the Tar Heel team. He has the rest of his life to make a legacy. It would be nice to start handing Coach K losses in his last two Tar Heels encounters.
“I’ve realized we have a skewed perspective because we live seven miles away from our opponent,” Eric Montrose, a former All-American analyst in Carolina twice said on his broadcast over the past 17 years. “We hear it all year. For nine months out of the year, it’s Carolina Duke. Now it’s just been extended into this place.”
“I’ve been here. I’ve played in the Final Four. You get here and there’s no low card. The national media, and the fans, might have that impression. For those who have played at the moment, this is the top.”
Climax will be devastating for the loser. KS has its own revenge motive. The Wildcats broke out on the Jayhawks 95-79 in the 2018 Final Four. Kansas has had a rich history with Duke and Carolina, and vice versa. Roy Williams has trained at both the University of Carolina and the University of Carolina. KU and Duke have met 13 times, all with Krzyzewski coaching. Duke defeated Kansas in the 1991 National Championship at All-Final for Williams.
What are the odds that Carolina and Duke, who have met 257 times but never had a championship. Davis was at the Boy Scout meeting in 1982 when the Tar Heels won their first two National Championships in this city. The next came in 1993 when Davis was in the NBA.
“I remember feeling two strong emotions,” Davis said. “The joy and happiness that they won, but also the sadness that I wanted to be there.”
Davis was alongside Williams in 2017 when Carolina last won the title. But this is different. He was an assistant coach at the time. Before his first day of training as a guard for the North Carolina Flame, he posted a picture of the Superdome in the players’ lockers.
Then there’s the Krzyzewski farewell round that seems to hover over the entire Final Four. Former Providence coach Pete Gillin once said, “The Duke is a Duke. They’re more on TV than the ‘Leave It to the Beaver’ replay.” The never-ending K-Farewell could provide one of the sport’s best endings. That would be with Krzyzewski winning everything in the His last match, cementing his place as perhaps the greatest coach in the game.
“That’s why I want to play Duke and defeat them. There’s a lot of interest on Krzyzewski. Good grief. That’s all I hear.”
Did someone say super that? Pfannenstiel has committed to memorializing all 16 of Bill Self’s home losses in his 19 years as a coach at Kuwait University. But why dwell on the negatives? The Kansas season, after the last of those losses, turned to Kentucky on Jan. 28. Since then, the Jayhawks are 15-3 with all losses on the road.
A friend of Pfannenstiel said, “It’s a solution. They want Duke to win.” No word on “they,” but the friend is known to be a Missouri graduate. So ignore that conspiracy theory entirely.
Perhaps the main theme of this fourth finale should be New Orleans itself. It has survived hurricanes, COVID-19 and continues to bounce back.
“The Final Four in New Orleans is fun because everyone gets together in one place,” Pfannenstiel said. “After the game, you know where everyone will be. They will be in the French Quarter on Bourbon Street.”
When you are there, ask for Trish. She will be happy to fill and fill your mug – as best she can.
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