Kansas, Kansas, Kansas (Ugh!)

It had to be Kansas. Kansas. Kansas.

Roy Williams may be over the heartbreak and heartache his leaving Lawrence caused in 2003, but it’s just getting worse with me. The tweets, emails and blog posts are already out there, claiming that Bill Self has built a better program at KU than ol’ Roy has at UNC over the last 10 years.

Statistics don’t show that (they’re pretty damn even, in fact), but the fact that Tar Heels have now gone home at the hands of the Jayhawks in three of the last six NCAA Tournaments makes it seem that way to a lot of basketball fans.

Both programs have been great all the way back to the Phog Allen and Frank McGuire eras, each having blip periods that caused them to change coaches. But the last 10 years have been basically even-steven, certainly close enough to disavow any notion that one guy has out-coached the other.

Kansas and Self have won more games and have a better record (300-58 for 84%) than Carolina and Williams (282-79 for 78%), but that is largely due to several factors over that 10-year span.

One, Self took over a Kansas team that Williams left in sounder shape than the one Roy inherited from Matt Doherty. Two, the Tar Heels had one dreadful season in the last 10 years, the 20-17 debacle that followed losing four starters off the 2009 national champions. And, three, Carolina’s overall pipeline to the pros has been better than Self’s at Kansas, which ironically has made it worse for UNC.

Thirteen players have been drafted in the first round during the Williams era, 11 of them who left a total of 17 seasons on the Tar Heel table. Compare that to Kansas under Self, which has produced nine first-round picks,   one who left after one year, two who left after two and another two who left after three seasons. If you add Mario Chalmers, the MOP of the 20008 Final Four who was drafted in the second round, the Jayhawks have lost 10   seasons of eligibility in the last 10 years.

As for the NCAA Tournament, Self and Kansas have been there all 10 years but with less results than Carolina and Williams in nine trips. KU has one national championship (’08) and reached another Final Four (2012) and could still improve on those numbers this season. The Jayhawks have gone out in three regional finals, one Sweet Sixteen (and counting), one second round ouster and two embarrassing first-round upsets (Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and ’06).

Carolina under Williams has those 2005 and ’09 NCAA titles, one other Final Four and three Elite Eight game goners. Sunday’s loss to KU was the third second-round ouster for UNC and Williams, who holds the record of 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with at least one victory. Both Self and Williams have won three national Coach of the Year honors at their current schools.

Their conference records are pretty close, with Self winning a few more regular-season and tournament titles in the Big 12 than Williams in the ACC. But, over that 10 years, the ACC has been the better league top to bottom and won three national championships to KU’s one for the Big 12.

So don’t give me that hoo-ha that Kansas has a better program than Carolina. They are both great. What skews the pooch are those three losses to KU in the three NCAA match-ups, and each one has a story to itself.

At the 2008 Final Four at San Antonio, the Tar Heels were a slight favorite over Kansas after winning both the ACC regular season and tournament and losing only two games all season. But this was the first time Williams faced Kansas, the still-angry KU crowd and all the storylines took away from the game itself.

The Heels played horribly, fell behind by 40-12 in the first half and made a late push that fell short in the 84-68 crusher. Williams (wearing the infamous KU sticker) stayed to watch the Jayhawks win the national championship two nights later, only after Memphis did not foul Kansas with a three-point lead and Chalmers’ dramatic bomb sent the game into overtime.

When the 2012 NCAA brackets came out, Carolina was on another collision course with Kansas in the Midwest Regional, hoping to have John Henson back at full strength from the wrist he sprained in the ACC Tournament. Of course, it got worse after Kendall Marshall went down in the second-round win over Creighton. With back-up point guard Dexter Strickland already sidelined by a knee injury, the Tar Heels were left with freshman reserve Stilman White, who played admirably in the 13-point loss to the Jayhawks in St. Louis.

The committee did it again this season, when it was an even worse scenario for Carolina, which lost two sophomores, one junior and one senior from its 2012 starting lineup that when whole was the only serious threat to Kentucky’s national championship. And the suits sent the Tar Heels to Kansas City (which is like playing Carolina in Greensboro).

By then, UNC had made the NCAA Tournament only due to perhaps Williams’ best coaching job of his 25-year career. Reluctantly, in early February, he scrapped his two low-post offense for a small lineup of four guards and little presence in the paint. The Heels launched and made enough three-pointers to turn their season around and get another NCAA bid, but they went to the Dance living by the long bomb, which was enough to give Williams the hives.

And, yes, they died that way, shooting barely 30 percent for the game and giving in to Kansas’ best half of the tournament thus far. So Carolina under Williams is 0-3 against KU and Self. And, since they will never play in the regular season by mutual consent, it will stay that way until the next time they meet in the NCAA tournament.

With at least five guys 6-9 or bigger next season, Williams will go back to the way he likes to play and, sooner or later, he’ll see his old school again. The NCAA committee seems to like that kind of theater for TV.

Even though, as of this moment, we hate it.


All photography in Hoop It Up is provided by Todd Melet.


The World Keeps Turning

So this is heartbreak. Not quite a full 24 hours later and that very distinct emptiness that follows any loss at the hands of the Blue Devils still lingers. Maybe I’m being a tad melodramatic, but then again… no, no I’m not. More than simply another tally in the right-hand column, last night’s game represented a shot at redemption for a hungry team and fanbase: a deliverance from evil that just never materialized.

The stage was set but the Heels never showed up (which is ironic, since just about everyone else did).

Yes, the stars were out in full force Saturday. From our limited vantage point in the back row of the risers my friends and I took part in a rousing game of “name that celebrity” to pass the hours before tip-off. Former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker and her husband, tennis pro Andy Roddick, sat courtside and enjoyed a halftime chat with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder and his better half, ESPN sideline reporter Samantha Steele (or Ponder now I suppose).  Also spotted were country music star Eric Church (who head football coach Larry Fedora seemed to take a real shine to), former Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards, and former NFL running back/current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge.

But enough of the lifestyles of the rich and famous (and in Decker’s case, the incredibly good looking). Though millions of eyes were on Chapel Hill Saturday, what’s really important is what was seen by a select few. I’m speaking, of course, about recruiting.

Saturday marked what, to the best of my knowledge, was the biggest night of recruiting in the school’s history. Over 30 big-name basketball and football recruits were in attendance; Da’Shawn Hand (a defensive end from Virginia widely regarded as the #1 overall football recruit in the class of 2014), Rashad Vaughn (shooting guard from Minnesota ranked as ESPN’s #9 overall player in the 2014 class), and Andrew Wiggins (small forward and #1 ranked recruit in the class of 2013) being among the top targets.

Though for many months the campaign for Wiggins was viewed as a two-horse race between Florida State and Kentucky, many are now speculating that the Canadian-born “Maple Jordan” may be giving serious consideration to calling Chapel Hill home. With Wiggins regarded as the best talent to come out of high school in years, it was imperative for the Tar Heels to capitalize on his visit.

They attempted to do just that through a series of not-so-subtle “This Is Carolina Basketball” video clips, featuring famous players of the recent past discussing their favorite aspects of campus life and being a part of the UNC basketball family. It’s a good thing Wiggins saw Carolina basketball on the jumbotrons, because it was nowhere to be found on the court.

There really couldn’t have been a worse time for the Heels’ hot hands to go cold, as their six-game win streak came to a grinding halt on senior night. While it was far from the storybook ending they’d hoped for, seniors Dexter Strickland and Frank Tanner took the court after the game to an earnest standing ovation from an otherwise dazed crowd. As they headed back to the locker room, the enormity of the moment sank in for those of us in the stands. After all, Dex and Frank weren’t the only seniors in the building. For many, this would be the last game witnessed in the Dean Dome as a student. For many, this would be the last trip to the risers. This was the culmination of years of student-fandom; of countless hours waiting in lines; of shouting oneself hoarse game in and game out. For many, this would be the last opportunity to Jump Around.

I consider myself blessed to have one more year to watch games from a place where I can lose my mind and not be judged. For those of you students moving on to the real world: I salute you and wish you the absolute best. I only ask one thing, and that is that you take a little bit of the risers with you. When you find yourself back in town for a game (and I know that you will; Chapel Hill finds a way of drawing people back), don’t be afraid to shout a little bit louder and jump a little bit higher than those around you. Don’t forget where you came from, because Carolina basketball never stops.

All Chapelboro.com Hoop It Up photos provided by Todd Melet.


Duke, And The War for Wiggins


Some sobering        thoughts on Car olina’s bad — really bad — loss to Duke Saturday night:

  • The Tar Heels lost the battle but they may have won the War for Wiggins. More on that later.
  • Larry Fedora has a new goal to hit Duke with a two touchdown lead (14 points) next fall before the Blue Devils know what happened.
  • The UNC students didn’t have to sleep in tents for two months to watch that.
  • Carolina got so many bad shots out of its system that the Tar Heels might actually think about trying to score from some kind of half-court offense. It was an utterly composure-less performance.
  • If they need a lesson, they can watch the tape of Mike Krzyzewski and his staff having Carolina’s small lineup scouted so well that they saw the immediate mismatches and called out plays as the Devils crossed half court.
  • Carolina discovered a weakness in the Blue Devils – in case the teams should meet again (like next Saturday in the ACC Tournament). They can’t throw the lob to Mason Plumlee from half-court. The one time they tried the ball went into the stands. Anywhere inside that, it’s a slam dunk.
  • The fans that stayed to the end avoided the traffic that poured out of the Smith Center throughout the second half.
  • And the Tar Heels didn’t have to suffer a long, somber flight home to think about this one.
  • The UNC women can gain a measure of revenge against Duke in the ACC Tournament championship game Sunday (just kidding, expect a blow-out there, too).
  • And, indeed, the crushed and demoralized men can have another crack at Duke by winning their first ACC tournament game next Friday (definitely not kidding).

Now for Andrew Wiggins, the best high school player in the country who is a senior and still hasn’t committed to any college. The 6-7 son of former NBA star Mitchell Wiggins is likely a one-and-done, but UNC wants him badly to regain national prominence next season. Wiggins, who is also considering Florida State (where his father went to school), Kansas and Kentucky, was at the game, sitting on the baseline in front of the student riser section.

And, just coincidentally, there were some  different  wrinkles to UNC’s senior night besides sending Dexter Strickland, walk-on Frank Tanner and three managers off with a rose and a rise from the crowd in a pretty over-cooked pre-game ceremony.

A whole new set of video features seemed tailored to what Wiggins is reportedly thinking about besides playing 25 games on national TV for a team with a chance  to win the NCAA championship   .

There were Sean May, Tyler Hansbrough, Marvin Williams and Harrison Barnes – all NBA lottery picks – talking about how much they loved Carolina. Barnes, especially, had his own highlight reel of high-flying dunks.

And there was this weird video of the Carolina players dressed up in costumes and horsing around in the locker room. Could it be that Wiggins loves the Harlem Shake (which I’ve since learned what that was supposed to be).

For sure, Williams didn’t have to tell Wiggins after the game how much the Tar Heels need him. Wiggins got a bird’s eye view of that from where he was sitting

A few more words about a game to forget.

P.J. Hairston, who made the only three-pointer on UNC’s 1-for-15 night, launched a shot from halfway to Durham on the Tar Heels’ first possession. He fired four more scud missiles before finally making one with 5:00 left in the game, cutting the deficit to 63-49. If only they hadn’t spotted Duke those 14 points.

Williams said he actually thought Carolina might still win at that point, but then Duke got two offensive rebounds and hit the last of its five treys to kill even ol’ Roy’s hopes (this game was basically over five minutes in).

You will likely never again see Reggie Bullock go scoreless in the first half on 0-for-4 shooting against Duke’s Tyler Thornton, starting in Coach K’s three-guard lineup to try to shut down Bullock and Hairston, who eventually combined for 22 points (17 in the second half when they were truly  moot points).

Ryan Kelly, who torched Miami and Virginia Tech for 54 points in his return from a re-broken foot, was largely used as  a  post-up decoy, so Carolina could not double team Mason Plumlee, who was the star of the second half and finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds to rekindle his ACC Player of the Year  candidacy.  

Seth Curry was the star of the first half, when Duke made its first six shots (Curry three of them) and bolted to the 14-0 lead that caused Williams to call maybe the earliest timeout of his coaching career. Curry had 18 in the first half and did not miss a shot until 8  minutes remained on the clock.

Duke shot 70 percent in the first half, while Carolina misfired at 27 percent. The Blue Devils went 5-for-9 from the arc; the Tar Heels went 0-for-8 (ouch!) and shot so poorly for the game (34 percent) that they wound up with seven more offensive rebounds than Duke.

The Blue Devils went back to Durham as the likely No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and the odds-on favorite to win their 11th ACC title in the last 15 years in Greensboro next weekend.

To do that, they will probably have to beat Carolina again. This time Williams might  try his really big lineup and see what happens. The results could not be much worse. Hopefully, Wiggins liked what he didn’t see.

All Chapelboro.com Game Photos By Todd Melet 


Seeing Red

This Saturday morning found me as most have in recent weeks: huddled with my friends in a line outside of the Dean E. Smith center. Congregated under my roommate’s oversized golf umbrella, the half-dozen of us waited beneath a gray Chapel Hill sky and watched as puddles encroached. It was cold and my bed was much too far away for my liking. But everyone present knew that foregone sleep in a dry bed was simply the going rate for a much sought after commodity: revenge.

The Heels had an ax to grind on Saturday and certainly played like it, finally bringing a level of intensity worthy of the name on the front of their jerseys. Though it was far from a perfect performance, the boys in blue made further strides along what has been a steady learning curve as of late.

Freshman Marcus Paige continued to show improvement at the point, notching 8 assists against 0 turnovers and putting up 14 points. Paige looked comfortable running the show in the game’s closing minutes and once again proved himself to be a valuable asset at the charity stripe, knocking down 4 late free-throws to keep the wolfpack out of striking distance.

Of course, Paige’s progression seems to have been expedited by Roy Williams’ decision to go with a smaller lineup. With fewer big men crowding the paint, both Paige and Dexter Strickland have excelled in finding open driving lanes to the basket. Also of note is the sudden reappearance of the fast break. In the 4 games since P.J. Hairston was inserted into the starting lineup, the Heels have fought their way to a 77 to 38 advantage in points off turnovers, indicating that Coach Roy’s four guard experiment has not only paid dividends in the half-court, but in the transition game as well.

The most noticeable transformation on Saturday, however, took place off the court rather than on. Carolina played in front of an absolutely electric crowd that was hungry for payback. For the first time this season the risers behind the basket were filled to the brim, each step stacked two people deep. Student turnout was so high that the cheerleaders (who were somewhat surreptitiously implemented in the front row of the risers during Winter break games and who have, much to the chagrin of the students who wait in line hours before each game’s tipoff, remained there throughout the conference schedule) resumed their original post along the sideline to make room for the horde of blue-painted and, in many cases, rain-soaked undergrads.

The capacity crowd was voracious, exploding with each Tar Heel bucket and making its presence known during each crucial defensive stand. When James Michael McAdoo picked off a lazy pass by Lorenzo Brown at the top of the key and took it the length of the floor for a reverse jam late in the first half, the Dean Dome shook at its foundations. It was the loudest I’d heard the Smith Center since witnessing Harrison Barnes throw down a filthy put back dunk against Kentucky two years ago.

And the noise wasn’t limited to the regular die-hards found along the home baseline. In fact, one of the game’s loudest moments occurred midway through the second half when a “Let’s go Tar Heels!” chant erupted from the student general seating behind the home end-zone and was echoed by just about every Carolina fan in the building.

Stay focused, but stay angry. I like us when we’re angry.

image by todd melet


A Hot, Snowy Day On The Hill


Maybe it has to be freezing outside for the Tar Heels to get hot inside. That was certainly the case on a cold and snowy Saturday, when Carolina played perhaps its best game of the season and, at long last, shot the lights out in the second half of a 93-81 win over Virginia.

Great entertainment before an appreciative full house that braved the bad weather to make the high noon tip at the Smith Center. Not quite the journey made by Roy Williams, who flew to Minnesota Friday night to offer a scholarship to  6-5 recruit  Rashad Vaughn  and got back at 2:30 in the morning.

A second straight start for P.J. Hairston could not avoid another slow start for the Heels, who fell behind by 10 with some very casual defense before Williams read them the riot act during the first two TV timeouts.

But while the clamp-down “D” produced eight points off turnovers and a 5-0 dominance on the offensive board put Carolina ahead, Virginia finished its own torrid first-half with a 35-foot heave to tie the game at the horn. Get this: it was Jontel Evans’ second three-point attempt of the season and it may very well be his last. That’s how hot were the Wahoos.

The showcase event had already introduced UNC’s national championship indoor women’s tennis team, and at halftime Tyler Zeller received the 2012 Patterson Medal, the university’s highest student-athlete honor and then had his No. 44 jersey retired to the rafters as ACC Player of the Year, All-American and 2009 national championship team member. Clearly, a 7-foot thrill for the Cleveland Cavaliers rookie, who made his own late-night flight from Houston where he had played in the NBA Rising Stars game Friday.

Zeller’s parents also flew from Indiana to watch him be feted, missing their youngest son Cody’s game (IU against Purdue). On NBA all-star weekend, rookie cohorts Kendall Marshall and John Henson along with Tyler Hansbrough were     in the house, with the original Tyler and UNC legend of lore Lennie Rosenbluth receiving honors of their own for being, well, themselves.

Whatever, it was a great day – as they say – to be a Tar Heel.

In the second half, after the Tar Heels opened with an 8-0 run, it was basically Carolina by committee versus Virginia’s splendid Joe Harris, who came across the country from a town of 400 with his coach to play in the ACC. Harris scored 13 of his team’s first 17 points.

Hairston chaired the committee to finish with 29 points, a personal college high and the most any Tar Heel has scored this season. But he was only one of the group that countered Harris’ best college game (27 points on 10-for-13 shooting). While Harris scored 20  in the second half, he was answered by Hairston, Reggie Bullock, Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland each time. As the temperature  dropped  outside, the Heels got hotter, hitting 7-of-11 three-pointers that helped them climb to just under 50 percent for the game.

Defense- and tempo-minded Virginia gave up the second most points since coach Tony Bennett left his heart almost a     thousand miles north of San Francisco (Pullman, Washington, actually) and 24 more points than his Cavs have allowed in any other game this season.

In fact, the Tar Heels scored one more point in the second half (53) than they did in the entire 61-52 loss in Charlottesville last January. The 53   were  also more points than Virginia allowed in 10 other complete games this season.

The Cavaliers came to town No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense, but finished hanging their heads in discouragement as Carolina kept pouring it on, leading at one point by 18 on Hairston’s last of six three balls, another college career high. In two straight starts, the 6-6 sophomore from Greensboro has totaled 52 points and 15 rebounds.

Check out the box score and you will find more impressive numbers besides four Tar Heels in double figures and James Michael McAdoo scoring 9 to go along with his 10 rebounds. Paige is officially no longer playing like a freshman and senior Strickland had six assists, one turnover and several coast-to-coast sprints to nifty lay-ins. With J.P. Tokoto down to three minutes and Desmond Hubert on the court for only one, Williams may have found his eight-man rotation, which includes Leslie McDonald, Brice Johnson and  Jackson of-all-trades Simmons.

All the analytics have shown the Tar Heels are better the longer Bullock and Hairston play together, so for now it looks like four guards and JMM, even though the hunky Hairston is far more than a guard. He goes to the glass like a power forward as well as firing his quick-trigger three. And his defense apparently has reached the level ol’ Roy wants it.

Before the game, Carolina was the “last one out” in the latest NCAA bracketology. But the win and Kentucky’s loss not only makes the Tar Heels an NCAA team (for the moment) but gives them an inside track on a top-four finish in the ACC, which means they would get Thursday off at the tournament in Greensboro. Still conjecture, of course, there is  much work to be done this week.

First comes a trip to Georgia Tech Tuesday night, where top-four teams should beat bottom-feeders, and then the anticipated rematch with the Wolfpack on more friendly footing. Warmer weather is forecast Monday-Friday, but maybe it will start snowing again by 4 o’clock Saturday. The Heels will have to be just as hot as they were a week before – and not  so generous on defense — to send State home howling in agony.

“You can’t let a team shoot 58 percent against you and win very often,” Williams said in a serious understatement. It was the highest percentage allowed by the Tar Heels in  victory since he’s been back in Chapel Hill. 

Photo by Todd Melet



The hashtags started flying like PJ Hairston’s jump shots in Chestnut Hill on Tuesday night.


Hairston was finally blossoming into the player Roy Williams called “the best shooter he has ever recruited” in the first half against Boston College, and seemingly every UNC student with a Twitter was taking notice. Igniting the team with fourteen points in just twelve minutes of action, Hairston was making a strong case to replace Dexter Strickland in the starting lineup at shooting guard as an offensive catalyst. Then, disaster struck.

It was an incredibly odd scene to watch unfold. At UNC, we consider the basketball players to be demigods. They are stronger, faster, and more athletic than is seemingly imaginable. To steal a line from Austin Powers, women want to be with them, and men want to be them. Seeing one of these superheroes hurt so badly, unable to walk without support, was jarring. If you aren’t reminded every once in awhile, you can sometimes forget that basketball players are human, too. That reality, that athletes are also vulnerable, was all too apparent on Tuesday.

Tasteless jokes that Strickland hit PJ on purpose to save his job aside, the outpouring of support for Hairston was tremendous. Everyone quickly grasped the severity of the injury and the implications for the team. Without Hairston, our bench is reduced to Leslie McDonald (coming off injury and suspension), freshman forwards, and Blue Steel. For this team to finish strong and make a run in the NCAA Tournament, Hairston’s return will be key. Without him, Carolina will struggle, as they demonstrated with a lackluster effort in the second half against a weak Boston College team. Even with McDonald returning against Virginia Tech, the UNC bench managed just thirteen points, one fewer than Hairston alone had in his limited action at BC. That it took the best performances to date by James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige to beat the middling Hokies (at home, in overtime, no less) is both troubling and promising. While McAdoo and Paige are unlikely to play at such a high level on a consistent basis for the remainder of the season, the knowledge that they might is what UNC fans can hold onto until Hairston is back.

As someone who suffered a mild concussion earlier this year (intramural soccer is a dangerous business), the after-effects can linger for a long time after the injury. Physical ability may not be hindered after the first few minutes, but mental thought processes are often slower and reaction time to new information can suffer markedly. While everyone responds differently to brain injuries, the trauma that Hairston suffered is very serious. He probably doesn’t have the most beautiful countenance on the team to begin with, but his vacant stares from the bench are indicative of a player that won’t be fully recovered for some period of time. Even if he does recover quickly, there is an increased risk for a more severe concussion if he is hit again.

The trainers at campus health recommended that I not resume physical activity for at least three weeks following my concussion, though I get the feeling that PJ may be pressured to play sooner. The mysterious and somewhat subjective nature of brain injuries makes it possible that Hairston’s own evaluation of his injury and his desire to play will partially dictate when he returns to action, a potentially dangerous proposition.

For everyone’s sake, I just hope that #PJBeHealing.

image by todd melet


Seeing Red in a Sea of Red

By not competing, Carolina committed the cardinal sin of UNC basketball Saturday night at N.C. State.

Whether underdog, undermanned or under intense pressure from a crazed crowd, the Tar Heels have rarely not been ready to fight from the opening tip.

They weren’t this time, perhaps thinking their sky blue uniforms would settle a red storm and be good enough against an opponent they had defeated 13 straight times and pretty much dominated for the last 20 years.

But that was then and this was now. And arrogant quotes in the preseason and silly dances in the runway before taking the court don’t automatically make them good enough against what is clearly a better team.

Carolina’s mantra under Roy Williams is transition basketball, but it was State that scored 20 fast break points in the first half compared to none for the visitors who were beaten badly at their own game.

It may have been the first time in the 100-year-old rivalry that the Wolfpack started better players at every position. Even the Tar Heels’ best hope foolishly fouled State’s C.J. Leslie  twice  in the first two minutes (although the second was probably a play-on that never should have been called).

Regardless, James Michael McAdoo did not return until 11 minutes remained in the first half and his team already down by 12 points. After his two free throws and a follow by Jackson Simmons finished an 8-0  spurt that whittled the deficit to four, State scored the next eight points and finished the first half on a 23-8 run that was wrought with dreadful defense and forced shots out of a chaotic Carolina offense with nothing coming easy against the determined Wolfpack.

Down 45-26 at the break, Williams actually thought his team could win the game – undoubtedly reasoning it could not play any worse. Before long the deficit was 28 points with such calamities as Dexter Strickland missing a wide open layup on a 5-on-4 break after State’s Rodney Purvis was lying on the floor with a sprained ankle.

“Carolina can’t get the shots to go down!” exclaimed Dick Vitale from the ESPN broadcast location. That’s because most of them were wild, horrible shots, babeeeee!

Freshman Marcus Paige was so undone from the pressure applied by State senior Lorenzo Brown that he missed his first eight tries badly and finally gave way to seldom-used transfer Luke Davis. Paige personified a basketball team that basically could not pass, catch, dribble or shoot – occupational hazards for the game it was attempting to play.

The eventual 91-83 defeat wasn’t the issue, since State figured to win anyway. When you lose four players to the first round of the NBA draft, you are automatically in a rebuilding mode since the only way to replace them would be with one-and-done high school stars who go to other schools.

But after almost 20 games, most teams have learned what they can and cannot do and try to stick with that. The late comeback upheld the Carolina tradition of never quitting no matter how badly they’re playing. But, truth is, State teams do let up when they have a big lead and, according to Coach Mark Gottfried, “got tired” in the second half.

So, with the outcome obviously decided, turnovers were easier to force and three-pointers began going down for the Tar Heels.
Suddenly, it was only a nine-point hole and State might have actually choked it away. But down 11,  Reggie Bullock’s wide-open trey from the top of the key hit back rim and Strickland fouled State sharpshooter Scott Wood after he drained his three-pointer falling into the Wolfpack bench. What could have been eight points with four minutes left was instead 15. Game over.

At the end, the only Nervous Nellies were those who bet on State to cover the 5 1/2-point spread. And P.J. Hairston, who got hot in the second half and finished with five three-pointers and 19 overall, could have ruined the night for those who thought they had a sure thing for 35 minutes. However, his last shot that would have made the final margin five points missed and even those wagerers went home happy if not fully satisfied by a blowout it looked to be earlier.

Williams snapped at the notion that his team might have learned something from the second half rally, acknowledging how things aren’t for real on both ends when the game is basically over. Back to .500 (3-3) in the ACC, the Tar Heels will face similarly insane venues at Miami on February 9, Duke on February 13 and Maryland on March 6, if not three other road trips beginning at Boston College Tuesday night. And there are also dates with State and Duke at home, which hasn’t exactly produced easy wins this season.

Ol’ Roy saw few redeeming qualities in the un-Carolina-like effort in Raleigh, saying it was a miserable night for everyone in a blue uniform and every coach in purple sneakers (the color he chose for the Coaches vs. Cancer footwear game for his buddy Ted Seagroves, who has pancreatic cancer).

The shoes are normally some variation of pink, but Williams was still seeing enough red when he boarded the bus back to Chapel Hill.


Image by Katie Bailey / DTH via DailyTarHeel.com


Finally, Some Answers

Well… I think I got my answer to my last question. If we are down by one with ten seconds left, Reggie Bullock is coming off three screens to get a look!

It’s great to see that Coach Williams and the staff have weathered the slow start and gotten the heels on track even with a few rocky patches against Maryland. Though Maryland won’t be our toughest opponent in the ACC, it was a great stepping stone to the next challenge. With NC State and Duke looming on the horizon, we still have our work cut out for us, but we are coming together and playing well as a team.

In my first article I mentioned that Bullock was one of the guys helping lead this team in the right direction. In the second article I gave a lot of praise to PJ Hairston… Though we have been improving, it’s still unclear who will individually deliver EVERY game. The good thing here is that someone has stepped up against FSU and Maryland. Many people are giving Bullock the majority of the credit for our last “W,” when in reality, it was quite the team effort. In the first half we were moving the ball like a cohesive team, and as a direct result we got good looks at the basket. One stat that doesn’t show up the box score is “good shots.” In the first half we took several good shots (at times, the second half was a different story). My friends always give me grief when I say in disgust “COME ON, THAT IS A TERRIBLE SHOT.” (Of course when watching a game in a crowd those shots always seem to go in…).

With a young team full of incredible talent it can be hard to help them understand what Coach Williams considers a “good shot.” When these guys were in high school, every shot they took was a good shot because they were almost always the best player on their respective teams. Now that they have played a few games in the ACC, they quickly realize that the competition (and their teammates) is as tall, fast, athletic and talented as they are. As a result, a contested three with 27 seconds on the shot clock isn’t the shot you want a guard taking at this level. When a big man gets doubled teamed in the post, he probably shouldn’t force up a shot. If you’re double teamed, someone’s open. It’s your job to find them. When a team is willing to make the extra pass and get a better look at the basket, it’s no surprise that more shots will fall!

(For reference, a “bad shot” could be as simple as: Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland are both open at the top of the key for three. If Dexter has the ball and takes the shot, it would be a bad shot. Not because he can’t make a three, but because Reggie is a better shooter and will make the shot more often)

Some of the younger guys on this team are still flying under the radar, along with Dexter Strickland and James Michael McAdoo. In my eyes, these two guys along with our slew of freshman still have a lot of potential to help lead/drive this team to bigger and better things. I’m happy that the boys have some confidence in themselves, now we have to buckle down and continue to build on our recent success.


image by Todd Melet


Art's Angle: A So-So Season Going Nowhere


Looks like it’s another Year of Living Dangerously. In other words, expending our energy rooting against Duke.

We’ve had these seasons before (i.e., 2010), although rarely. When our own basketball team is so young or weak (literally) or mediocre that it is not a safe use of our emotions to pull FOR the Tar Heels as it is to root AGAINST Duke. After losing their second straight ACC game to open 0-2, the Tar Heels obviously are not going very far in the unlucky ides of March ’13. So why not channel our frustration and anger where it can be better utilized: trying to keep the Blue Devils from winning another national championship.

Look at Thursday night’s home loss to Miami on paper, and I don’t mean the stats. The Hurricanes’ roster of 13 players has 10 seniors and juniors. And one of the seniors has been trolling South Beach for five years, another is on the six-year plan! So, as a shell-shocked Roy Williams said after the 68-59 defeat, a lively near-capacity crowd in Carolina blue at the Smith Center wasn’t going to make any waves with the well-seasoned ‘Canes. And their biggest and maybe best player, center Reggie Johnson, didn’t even suit up!

Meanwhile, if there was no such thing as the NBA, John Henson would be a senior, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall juniors. James Michael McAdoo wouldn’t be lost somewhere between post player and small forward and the rest of the Tar Heels wouldn’t be so upset  after only the second time in 16 years (including the completely forgettable 8-20 season) that the Tar Heels opened 0-for-2 in the ACC. History buffs have to go back to 1997, Dean Smith’s last season on the bench, to find an 0-3 ACC start. But that team had future pro names Carter and Cota and Antawn and Shammond and seven-footer Serge who wasn’t afraid to go under the basket and throw someone around. (By the way, that team righted itself by winning 16 straight games, cutting down the ACC Tournament nets and reaching the Final Four. Footnote, don’t make your travel plans for Atlanta this season).

That Tar Heel team also had a couple of guys who went out early (Vince and AJ) but not until the next year. When was the last time Miami lost someone prematurely to the NBA? Hell, the Hurricanes’ greatest player ever — Rick Barry — not only stayed four years, he married the coach’s daughter!

After the game, ol’ Roy continued his flimsy reasoning about his players not transferring what they do on the practice court to the game floor. Listen, if your first seven or eight aren’t up to Tar Heel standards, they are in jeopardy of building false confidence trying to get better against worse players. So, it’s like a cat chasing its tail. Whatever success McAdoo has against Joel James and Jackson Simmons in practice isn’t going to help much when Miami’s 6-11, 242-pound senior and future pro Kenny Kadji is shooting his herky-jerky jumper over them or steamrolling down the lane for a slam. Or keeping guards Deron Scott, Rion Brown and Shane Larkin (The U’s only sophomore) from making 6 of their team’s other 9 treys.

And when the pressure of a tight game over the first 30 minutes grabs them by the throat, their three best players — McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J Hairston — fire up enough bricks to start a small house and wind up missing 23 of their 37 shots that contributed to the fatal five-minute stretch in which the Tar Heels managed only three points and went from a tie game to watching the crowd head for the Chapel Hills early. This was such a bad ending that the team gets penalized with one practice before a quick trip to Tallahassee where the Seminoles smacked a much-better Carolina club by 33 just about a year ago.

As ugly as the numbers were, they do show HOPE for the future, but probably not this season that will be fortunate to end with a low seed to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, I now have to agree with some Duke dufus who called a local talk show Thursday and said the Heels aren’t going dancing in March. Maybe he’s not such a dumb Duke dufus after all. While senior Dexter Strickland was struck with a zero line in 26 minutes (check the box score if you dare), skinny but skilled freshmen Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and J.P Tokoto put together their best collective game and helped the Heels stay alive until the dreaded drought down the stretch. Brice’s basket, Tokoto’s tap-in and Paige pretty three from the top of the key kept Carolina in it before it began to counter pressure-packed clangers with Miami’s wide-open 3’s born from defense that hopefully did not translate from practice. Surely they don’t work on staying with the double team so long that the pass recipient gets the ball, looks down at the three-point line to make sure his toes are clearly behind the stripe before draining one of five treys that buried the Heels in the second half.

No, they did not have the injured Lesley McDonald, which gave more minutes to Strickland, Bullock and Hairston, who were all either near tears in the locker room or non-communicado with the media. They all know they have a lot work to do before the flight to FSU and so little time to do it. Meanwhile, two hours prior to the Saturday 2 p.m. tip-off, No. 1 and undefeated Duke plays at No. 20 and offensively gifted N.C. State in Raleigh, a game pitting clearly the two best teams in an otherwise-average ACC this season.

The Blue Devils will be without starting senior forward Ryan Kelly (injured foot), so the Year of Living Dangerously could actually be fun since the Wolfpack should be favored in the game. And State might win, which wouldn’t be a bad way too start would could be another terrible afternoon in Tallahassee.

You can follow Art on Twitter @ArtChansky

Image by Todd Melet


Reason For Optimism

With the 2012-13 season well under way, it’s safe to say there’s a lot to discuss about Carolina Basketball! I look forward to the opportunity to share my perspective on our program, as well as offer a different point of view on other NCAA programs around the country. First of all, let’s start with a few observations about our Tar Heels.

This team is young with a LOT of potential: Joel James is a 6’10” Freshman with raw talent that will improve quickly alongside the coaching staff at UNC. Marcus Paige, a phenomenal player/scorer at the high school level, is adapting his playing style to Coach Williams’ system. It’s tough to compare him to a PG like Kendall Marshall because their styles are so different. Brice Johnson, a 6’9” Freshman out of SC, is incredibly athletic with room to “grow.” J.P. Tokoto is a high flyer that shows sparks of greatness in his limited minutes this year.

The stability on this team stems from Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland and a young James Michael McAdoo. Keep in mind that McAdoo came off the bench last year to relieve, arguably, the best frontcourt in college basketball from 2011! When opponents put together their scouting reports last year they were trying to stop Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes (4 of the top 17 draft picks in last year’s NBA Draft). No one was watching out for the crafty big man that could guard the top of the key for easy steals and break away dunks! Now that every team is gunning for McAdoo, he will have to adapt his game to continue to produce, both offensively and defensively.

Really, the point I’m trying to make is simple… calm down! We haven’t started off undefeated and we haven’t run anyone out of the gym this year, but it doesn’t mean we have a bad team. In casual conversations with friends and colleagues (..and reluctantly checking the message boards…) people are questioning whether it’s time for Coach Williams to step down. Quite frankly, that’s silly! College basketball, specifically recruiting, has changed so drastically in the last 20 years that it’s difficult to have the consistency you saw from teams and programs in the late 80’s and early 90’s. When Dean Smith, Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski were walking into kids’ homes, they were recruiting high school seniors to BACKUP players like George Lynch, Eric Montross, Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill. You didn’t see nearly as many freshman having an immediate impact on the court (yeah, I know Michael Jordan won a championship his freshman year so there are exceptions to the rule).

With Social Media, YouTube and all internet news sources nowadays, college fans know more about an incoming freshman than ever before. The expectations are set so high that it can be nearly impossible to live up to the hype. And in reality, most “5-Star” recruits ultimately want to end up in the NBA, and they use the NCAA as a stepping stone to reach their goals. Kids aren’t typically recruited to top programs these days and expected to stay for 4 years.

A perfect example is UK’s National Championship team from last year that started three freshman and two sophomores, all of which declared for the NBA Draft following the season (this season they are 9-4 and we are 10-4: Striking similarities)! Take a step back and realize that when you have 4 of the top 20 NBA prospects on your team and they leave, you most likely won’t follow that season with a National Championship. Coach Williams and his staff are still doing a great job, and the bar should still be set higher than any other program, but the reality of college basketball is – You can’t win it all every year!


image by Todd Melet