INDIANAPOLIS -- Rarely, if ever, have two opposing teams in the semifinals of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament mirrored each other so closely. Not only in the way they played, but in the way they spoke and acted and even dressed.
Rarely, if ever, have two opposing coaches at the Final Four known each other's moves so well, though one has unabashedly copied everything from the other and still refuses, at least publicly, to call his mentor by his first name.
Welcome to North Carolina (29-5) and Kansas (26-7), the Tar Heels of Dean Smith vs. the Tar Heels -- sorry, Jayhawks -- of Roy Williams, this afternoon at the Hoosier Dome. It's a matchup made in Blue Heaven.
"We can pass as brothers and sisters," Kansas point guard Adonis Jordan said yesterday. "Everything we do we got from North Carolina."
It's the first intrasquad scrimmage in the history of the Final Four. The Tar Heels don't have to watch tapes of the Jayhawks, and vice versa. All they have to do what the other team does, just better.
"It's not being played between the coaches," said Williams, who was an assistant under Smith for 10 years. "It's still being played by the guys running around in the short pants."
But don't forget the coaches. Smith has coached 30 years in Chapel Hill, has won 717 games and one national championship (in 1982), which is one reason that Williams copied the Tar Heels' system when he left for Lawrence three years ago.
There is the motion offense, the half-court trapping defense, the four-corners delay. There is one fist to signal man-to-man pressure and another fist to signal that you are tired. And, of course, there are the backdoor layups.
"When I watch them on television, it's like, I know this play . . . here comes the trap . . . this guy's going to take the shot," Jordan said last week. "But playing them? It's going to be very weird."
"We may not get any simple backdoor layups, but if the one of our teams get one, watch the other [coach] smile," said Smith.
The similarities don't end on the floor. There is the way players on the bench stand to greet a teammate as he comes off the floor, the jackets and ties on the road, the rule that freshmen carry the bags, not to mention the Gatorade buckets.
"How do you think I got a bad back?" said Kansas senior Mike Maddox, who as a freshman played for North Carolina alum Larry Brown on the Jayhawks' 1988 national championship team.
But there are some differences. The Tar Heels play their run-and-jump defense more than Kansas, and the Jayhawks use their 1-3-1 zone. Kansas might push the ball upcourt quicker, and more often, than North Carolina.
There are some who think that Williams, 40, is a little more flexible than the man for whom he worked for 10 years. It was the ability to adjust to different styles that enabled Kansas to beat such disparate teams as Indiana and Arkansas at the Southeast Regional.
"I think they run Dean's system better than Dean does," Temple coach John Chaney said after the Owls nearly beat North Carolina, losing 75-72, Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J.
The Tar Heels have more size than the Jayhawks and a deeper bench. Smith has more big-game experience than his protege, though he has been criticized by some for not winning the NCAA title before 1982 in New Orleans or since.
Williams is, of course, not in that group. This is idolatry, folks, pure and simple. "I'm not very smart, but I'm smart enough to know that I wouldn't be the coach at the University of Kansas if it wasn't for Coach Smith," said Williams, who never, ever, calls Dean Dean.
Told yesterday that UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian said his feelings about Smith could be a deterrent, Williams said: "I am in awe of Coach Smith, but I was in awe of Bob Knight, too. That doesn't take away from my team's preparation or execution."
Even their contrasts are interesting. While the Kansas coach is a graduate of North Carolina's class of 1972, Smith is a 1953 graduate of Kansas. He played twice in the Final Four, including on the 1952 national championship team.
Smith and Williams get together before each season to discuss strategy, and Williams is still popular in North Carolina, so much that he is being mentioned as a possible successor when Smith decides to retire.
Williams' ties to campus came in handy last week, when Kay Thomas, one of the basketball office secretaries in Chapel Hill, faxed a copy of an inflammatory quote by Arkansas center Oliver Miller to Williams in Charlotte.
"I did call him to tell him that I wouldn't do that this week," said Thomas.
In Blue Heaven, loyalty goes only so far. Especially when a national championship is riding on it.