By Dave Skretta/The Associated Press
NEW YORK — College basketball’s marquee rivalry apparently ends on Tobacco Road.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams is picking Duke to win the national championship next week in Indianapolis, which might be considered treason by the most ardent of Tar Heel fans.
The top-seeded Blue Devils play West Virginia on Saturday, with the winner meeting the Michigan State-Butler winner in the final.
“I think Duke is the favorite. They’ve proven that, they’re the No. 1 seed, they deserved the No. 1 seed,” Williams said Monday, calling West Virginia his second choice. “Duke is the favorite, there’s no question in my mind about that, but it’s the Final Four and anything can happen.”
Williams said the atmosphere in North Carolina has been chaotic, just like it was a year ago, when the Tar Heels beat Michigan State for their fifth national title.
But he made it clear that there is no animosity between the ACC rivals, and he thinks Duke’s success is good for North Carolina, and vice versa.
“I don’t pick the team that I want to win, because I sit there — really sit there — and I watch the game,” Williams said, “I don’t get caught up in, ‘I hope Duke wins, I hope Duke loses.’ If Duke is successful it’s important to North Carolina.”
Williams made his prediction at a news conference for the semifinals of the NIT, where North Carolina plays Rhode Island on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. But while he was content to play the diplomat, not everybody was ready to follow the company line.
“Any time Duke is doing well,” the Tar Heels’ Marcus Ginyard said, “it hurts my heart.”
Williams is close with several coaches in the Final Four, calling Michigan State’s Tom Izzo one of his best friends in the profession. He’s also never been shy about expressing his admiration for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski
Williams has even worked with Bob Huggins during summer camps in Las Vegas, and thinks the West Virginia coach will shed his dour facade — and a few tears — if he wins the title.
“There’s no question about it, it would be extremely important to him,” Williams said. “He’s an emotional guy and you see this gruff exterior, but I tell you what, he’ll be just as bad as Roy Williams if he wins this thing. He’ll cry just as much as Roy Williams did.”
Just because he has an opinion on the NCAA tournament doesn’t mean Williams has been glued to the television set the past two weeks, like millions of college basketball fans.
In fact, it’s been quite the contrary.
“I haven’t watched hardly any games,” he said, smiling. “I’m a spoiled little brat. If you’re not going to let me play, I’m going to take my ball and go home.”