KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It's the kind of head-to-head confrontation that has members of the NCAA tournament selection committee and CBS sports executives exchanging high-fives: Duke's Grant Hill vs. Purdue's Glenn Robinson in the Southeast Regional championship.
They are probably the top two players in the nation, surely the most versatile. Two players who have pulled their teams to the brink of the Final Four. Two players who figure to earn huge dollars plying their trade in the NBA -- together next year, if Robinson, a junior, decides to leave Purdue a year early.
Yesterday, each star chanted the mantra of how the best team will win, how one man cannot win a basketball game, how the squad that plays as a smarter, more cohesive unit will continue on to Charlotte.
"There are 13 guys on each team," Robinson said. "What determines this game is how well our supporting casts play, how well our benches play."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said: "As a [Duke] fan, you see Robinson beating you. As a coach, you see so many other ways of getting beat. Whatever happens, this is going to be a great showcase for college basketball."
Robinson and Hill have not played against each other. For two years, each has admired the other from afar. Thursday night in the regional semifinals, each put his team over the top with a dynamic performance.
Hill, a 6-foot-8 senior swingman, flashed his skills in Duke's 59-49 victory over Marquette. He handled the ball smoothly while running the point. He made 10 of 16 shots, combining three-pointers and dunks. He played his usual brand of sticky defense down low and on the wings. He scored 16 of his 22 points after halftime. He finished with nine rebounds and six assists. Krzyzewski called it one of Hill's finest games as a Blue Devil.
In the following game against Kansas, the 6-8 Robinson did what he has done all year, Big Dog bulled his way inside for baskets and burned the Jayhawks with a soft outside shooting touch. He scored 30 of his game-high 44 points in the first half of an 83-78 victory.
Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils will alternate Hill and Antonio Lang on Robinson with some trapping assistance from Cherokee Parks and others.
The Boilermakers will be equally challenged to stop Hill.
"I don't think you'll see much of Glenn on Grant," Purdue coach Gene Keady said. "We could go with Cuonzo [Martin] and Herb Dove in certain situations. The key to containing Hill is to make sure you always have someone between him and the goal. If you let him get inside, he'll destroy you."
"If I'm matched up against him [Robinson], the main thing I'm going to do is pray," Hill said. "We're hoping the Knoxville dog pound gets to him before the game."
"He's a threat as soon as he crosses half-court. Hopefully, we'll have somebody in his face as soon as he does cross. He's got to help us out by missing a few shots."
Robinson returned the compliment. "We're going to have to keep running people at him [Hill]. Hopefully, we can wear him down, although I don't think we can do that. He's so versatile."
Maybe the game won't be decided by Robinson or Hill. Maybe it will come down to the outside shooting of Purdue forward Martin or the strong inside play of Duke's Parks or Lang, three of the tournament's hot players. Maybe a guard like Purdue's Matt Waddell or Duke's Jeff Capel will step up to grab the spotlight.
For now, the subplot of this contest is obvious. The hype $H belongs to Hill, the ACC Player of the Year and premier defensive force in the nation, and Robinson, the Big Ten Player of the Year and college basketball's ultimate offensive threat.
SOUTHEAST FINAL: PURDUE (29-4) vs DUKE (26-5)
Site: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
Time: 6 p.m. today
TV: Channels 11, 9
Outlook: Purdue is one victory away from making its first trip to the Final Four since 1980, the year they beat Duke in the Mideast Regional final and the year before Krzyzewski and Keady began their current jobs. The Blue Devils, a year removed from back-to-back national championships, are a victory away from their seventh Final Four in nine years. It's tempting to paint this contest as a showdown between Glenn Robinson and Grant Hill, because they have led their teams from wire-to-wire and are considered the top two players in the country. The Boilermakers are rolling along with an eight-game winning streak and will need Robinson in top form, but F Cuonzo Martin is averaging 20 points in the tournament and could be a pivotal factor. To advance to Charlotte, Purdue must get more production out of its backcourt, and it must contain Duke's dangerous inside game. C Cherokee Parks and F Antonio Lang are playing their best ball of the season, and they present Purdue with matchup problems. Duke's defense is holding opponents to 41.7 percent shooting, its best showing in 13 years. If those trends continue, Purdue's ride will probably end.