Stanford meets Duke in a big one

Posted: Thursday, December 21, 2000

STANFORD, Calif. -- It has everything and then some -- top-ranked teams, elite programs, All-Americans, national television, a sold-out arena, high-profile coaches, revenge, future first-round draft picks, bragging rights among friends.

For a midweek December game between non-conference foes, it doesn't get much bigger than No. 1 Duke against No. 3 Stanford on Thursday night in the Pete Newell Challenge. Both teams are undefeated. Both are challenging for the national title. Not only is the Oakland Coliseum Arena sold out, but Thursday night's crowd might be the largest ever to watch a basketball game in California.

"Everything we complain about, the Pac-10 not being on TV, Dickie V being all over Duke -- now's our chance," Stanford guard Ryan Mendez said, referring to analyst Dick Vitale's penchant for promoting the Blue Devils. "I think it'll be a hell of a game."

Or, as Duke forward Shane Battier said: "These are the days that make all the wind sprints in the summer and all the weightlifting worth it. You don't do all those things to play Little Sisters of the Poor. You do those things to play Stanford and North Carolina and Michigan State."

But peel back the hype, remove the rankings, and what's left? What's the long-term significance? The outcome won't make or break either team's season. It won't shape recruiting success or alter the balance of power. There's no league title on the line. The Final Four isn't at stake.

If anything, the Newell Challenge nightcap matters more to its participants. Cal and Georgia are fighting for NCAA tournament berths and need every win they can get. But Stanford probably will win 22 to 25 games, challenge for the Pacific 10 Conference title and qualify for the tournament whether it beats Duke or not.

"You assume Duke is as good as anybody in the country," Cardinal Coach Mike Montgomery. "This gives you a gauge as to whether you can compete with people you might run into in tournament situations. You say, 'OK, we can play with these guys, so we can play with others at that level."'

Perhaps the most palpable effect of Thursday night's game involves the power ratings, which help the NCAA tournament selection committee determine seeding. If two teams are vying for a No.2 seed, for instance, the committee usually rewards the tougher schedule. In that respect, playing this game is more important than winning it.

"Our approach is that you can't control your relatives, meaning your conference games, but you can control your friends," said a selection committee member who requested anonymity. "Both Duke and Stanford will be in the tournament, but when you put their names up on the board, this game is important for seeding, especially when comparing two schedules.

"And on a neutral court, it's a very good measuring stick. If a team is a No.2 or 3, then a game like this could bump them up to a No.2."

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