This morning I had the chance to speak with Rece Davis—host of ESPN’s College Football Live pregame show and College Gameday basketball road show—about the Capital One Cup (he’s a member of the advisory board), tonight’s Duke-UNC basketball game, and teams who could make a run at the title during March Madness. The following is a transcript of our conversation:
How did the Capital One Cup come about?
It was an effort and initiative by Capital One to try to reward the best overall athletic programs at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics, meaning in Division I only, for their cumulative performance on the field. What we do is on both the men’s and women’s side we take 13 sports and they’re divided into groups, the highest group being the one that fans follow most closely—men’s basketball, football, baseball. For the women’s side it’s softball, volleyball, women’s basketball. Those sports based on their finish in national championship races are awarded points, and those are weighted more heavily than some of the other sports. All of them are important, but we wanted for the fans to identify a little bit and be able to easily follow and understand how the standings came about, and in order to do that we gave a little more weight to the sports that are normally the highest spectator sports. But the most important thing about the entire Capital One Cup—the competition’s great, people can keep up with it on our website, they can keep up with the bragging rights, how their school’s doing, how their rivals are doing—but the most important thing is that Capital One is offering $200,000 to both the men’s winner and the women’s winner to fund graduate-level scholarships for student-athletes.
We spend so much time talking about how in a perfect world athletics are an avenue in order for student-athletes to pursue their education or further their education. Capital One is putting its money where those mouths are in order to give student-athletes an opportunity to further their education. At the end of the spring season we’ll announce the winners; the two winners will come to the ESPY [Awards] in Los Angeles in July to pick up their award, and Capital One will give them the money to fund those graduate-level scholarships. I think it’ll be a great and exciting thing for the schools to compete in and the fans to follow along by the various media platforms. They can root for their team and see that it’s not only important, in Duke’s case for instance, to do well in men’s basketball, but lacrosse—also a weighted sport in group two—soccer teams, golf teams, all of those have importance in the standings.
Today is the most important day of the year for a lot of students here at Duke: the Duke-North Carolina game in Cameron. What do you think makes this rivalry so special and what are some of your favorite Duke-Carolina moments?
There are so many great moments. Number one, what I think makes [the rivalry] excellent is proximity and the commitment to excellence. A lot of rivalries measure themselves solely by whether you beat the other guy—that’s important for North Carolina and Duke, but it’s more important for them to strive to win championships. It’s not the be-all, end-all [to win or lose in the regular season], even though it might feel that way sometimes for some of the fans. There’s always something more to strive for, and when this rivalry is at its best is when these two teams are both competing for national championships, and when they both are potentially No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. I can remember [Jay] Bilas talking about when he was an assistant that there was some thought that you didn’t really want to play [UNC] in the Final Four or the national championship…. Not that Duke was afraid to do it, I’m not suggesting that.
Perfect example, North Carolina wins the national championship in basketball a couple of times, Duke comes back and wins it last year. There’s a chance to keep the rivalry going in a circle and to continue to pursue championships. It’s a weird twist of fate if they were to ever wind up meeting in the NCAA Tournament. You might not ever get the opportunity to atone for that; you might never get your shot at redemption. I remember after North Carolina lost [in the tournament in 1991], Jay telling the story that Coach K came in and told the guys, “Just because they lost doesn’t give us permission to lose.” Duke of course went on to win that game in ’91 against UNLV and went on to win the national championship. I think the way that they push one another to excellence, the way that when one wins a championship it spurs the other one onto greatness and just strengthens the resolve to be the best they can be, I think all those things make [the rivalry] great.
UNC comes into tonight’s contest on a bit of a hot streak having won its last five games. What do the Tar Heels need to do to have a chance of winning this game?
I think number one they have to take care of the basketball. I think they need a big game out of [Harrison] Barnes and out of [Kendall] Marshall. Both of those guys are starting to mature and play well, particularly I think Barnes is starting to mature into the type of player that most ranked as a preseason All-American. I think those two guys have to play extraordinarily well in order to give them a chance to beat Duke. They have to find a way to contain Nolan Smith, who I think is the most important player on Duke’s team. As great as Singler is, Nolan does so many things for them on both ends of the floor. I think he’s going to be a huge key tonight. If North Carolina’s going to have a chance to win they have to have a good game from their young guys and they have to find a way to really keep Nolan from controlling the game both offensively and defensively.
You and the GameDay crew have talked recently about the lack of a great team in the college game this season. Out of all the teams you’ve seen, which ones have the tools to make a deep run in March, and who do you think might surprise some people?
Part of the nature of not having a “great” team or an overwhelming team is that there are a lot of teams that can make a deep run. If you ask me right now, obviously if you’re voting in a poll for No. 1 you have to respect the zero in the loss column for Ohio State. But if you told me right now just to vote for the team that’s playing the best and potentially the best team, I would vote for Texas. They’ve got tremendous athleticism; I think that their chemistry is lightyears ahead of what it was last season. The emergence of Jordan Hamilton, now Tristan Thompson has played very well for them…. They’re a stifling defensive team. Digger [Phelps] did a great breakdown last week about how they have five guys playing the ball on virtually every pass. They’re reacting beautifully, they’re anticipating beautifully, and they’re just smothering their opponents defensively. They’re very good in transition and they’re a very good team in their halfcourt offense as well. That’s not to say that I think they’re unbeatable by any stretch of the imagination.
I think that Texas, Kansas, Ohio State and Duke are the teams that I look at right now as being the most likely to make it to the Final Four and win a national championship. I still think that there is the potential for a team like Kentucky. They’re not very deep, but they’re talented and I think they could surprise some people in March as their freshmen continue to mature. Despite the fact that they lead the Big East, I don’t think that there are great expectations for Pittsburgh simply because of their tournament history. Because of that, I think that people might undervalue Pittsburgh a little bit. I think that they play with great chemistry; they guard, they stick to their philosophy. I think they certainly could make a run and surprise people. And if experience counts for anything, Notre Dame has a bunch of seniors starting, so I think Mike Brey’s done a tremendous job with his team after losing [Luke] Harangody and Tory Jackson. I think that they could surprise some people as well. There are a number of Big East teams that are capable of making a run to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
Does Digger Phelps always check to make sure that the ties he buys will match with the set of possible highlighter colors?
I think he thinks that it has become his trademark. It used to be the carnation, then it was the white hair, and now it’s the tie and highlighter. Now it’s also the dance fever that you can see on YouTube. Please watch carefully—it can cause permanent retinal damage if you view it too closely. Sort of like the sun, you take a peek and then you look away.