No one has to sell Jim Corrigan on Duke-North Carolina. A college basketball maven from birth, he grew up in the Tar Heel state, played at Duke and watched his uncle, Gene Corrigan, serve as ACC commissioner.
But after 22 seasons as an assistant coach in the Colonial Athletic Association, the last 15 at Old Dominion, Corrigan has come to embrace the league's signature rivalry.
The Monarchs and Rams added a keeper to the archives Saturday afternoon with two-plus hours of wild, weird and undeniably entertaining basketball.
ODU prevailed 69-65 before a capacity home crowd of 8,424, and long after the fans had exited, Corrigan proposed a question.
Conceding the athletes aren't quite as good — no one mistakes Gerald Lee for Tyler Hansbrough — wasn't this game as intense and riveting as Duke-North Carolina a few days earlier?
As someone who was courtside for both, I had to admit he had a point.
Of course, Monarchs-Rams lacks the heritage, national implications and ESPN fawning of Blue Devils-Tar Heels. Corrigan never said otherwise.
His contention was, at the mid-major level, Saturday was about as good as it gets: two state neighbors, quality teams both, trading haymakers and wily strategies in their second collision in a month.
"That game almost ends up being a blur for me with all the big plays," ODU coach Blaine Taylor said.
The top-shelf plays began immediately.
Monarchs forward Frank Hassell passed over a low-post double-team to Ben Finney for a layup; Rams point guard Eric Maynor, the CAA's best at any position, dusted Darius James with a crossover, penetrated and found Bradford Burgess alone in the left corner for a 3-pointer.
After 21/2 minutes, the teams had combined for 15 points. No way could they sustain the frantic pace.
Sure enough, the next 41/2 minutes were scoreless as Taylor and VCU coach Anthony Grant experimented defensively, changing tactics more often than President Obama does Commerce nominees. What both discovered was that zones baffled the opponent.
Taylor used a 3-2 and 2-3. Grant went 2-3 and then diamond-and-one with 5-foot-10 Joey Rodriguez shadowing the 6-9 Lee. It was bizarre but temporarily effective.
After the game, a reporter asked Lee when he was last guarded by a 5-10 guy.
"When he was 5-10," Taylor quipped.
There were other oddities.
ODU (16-9, 9-6) committed five turnovers in the opening five minutes of the second half as VCU scored 14 consecutive points. The Monarchs committed one in the final 15 minutes.