We’re at the ultimate destination of the college hoops season. The Final Four. With all its mystique, tradition, unforgettable moments and hype, it rarely disappoints.
I don’t think we need to worry about a letdown in 2015 either. Out of the vast array of possible permutations and calculations, the bracketology gods have delivered us a shining gem.
You say it’s the stars on these rosters – Jahlil Okafor at Duke. The freshman sensation plays a brand of offense rarely seen in the history of the sport. He gets two feet in the paint and it’s lights out – basket. It’s as automatic as the rising sun.
Not to mention, we’ve got the National Player of the Year frontrunner – Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. The guy plays with a versatility that has opposing coaches scratching their heads. In Kaminsky, you have a physical seven-footer who can even pop threes. Not to mention, he’s as tough as nails and cool under pressure. The higher the stakes, the better he plays. Now that’s the total package.
Oh yeah, but we haven’t even mentioned the brightest star of all. The Kentucky Wildcats, collectively, have eight of the best players in all of college basketball on one roster. The platoon system hasn’t got as much play as we thought at the beginning of the year, but man, the Wildcats could make a run to the Final Four with two separate teams. No joke. It’s an embarrassment of riches led by Willie Cauley-Stein. Length, athleticism, poise, speed. Yikes!
And we’re not even scratching the surface to the immeasurable talent that will be on display at the Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday.
But whoa! Hold your horses. Who’s holding the reigns to these thoroughbred athletes? You got it.
Good coaches get good players and in turn, coach those good players to big wins. This game’s not a mystery, folks.
And so, it should come as no huge surprise we’ve got four coaching legends ready to wage battle this weekend in Indianapolis on the game’s grandest stage.
It’s what has me most intrigued about this Final Four – the coaching matchups. The common thread is success at the highest level. But there’s no one set prototype for the man it takes to achieve that success. You need look no further than this year’s quartet to validate that claim. It’s “Breakfast Club: Pt. II”:
Bo Ryan (WISC) AKA ‘The Teacher’ – This isn’t Bo’s first rodeo. The guy’s been around the block. But frankly, I’ve always thought he’s never got the credit he deserved. He’s been racking up significant victories since 2001 at Wisconsin. But back-to-back Final Fours last year and now this season have him in the national spotlight. But Bo isn’t in this business for the spotlight like some of his peers. Bo’s more of a throwback. He merely likes to coach, or should I say ‘teach’, his kids. The basketball court becomes a classroom for Bo. And wow, his students are ALWAYS prepared for their exams. He’s always had air-tight, disciplined teams who A) don’t turn the ball over and B) take intelligent, high-percentage shots. That’s a good combo. And now that he’s secured the offensive firepower to go along with his trademark teachings, the sky’s the limit for Bo’s Badgers.
John Calipari (UK) AKA ‘The Recruiter’ – We all know about this guy. Love him or hate him, get used to him. Now that he’s at Kentucky – the nation’s premier job – he’s not going anywhere? And why should he? Even before he got the name brand to go along with it, Calipari has always stockpiled talent like he’s preparing for the apocalypse. He took Memphis to the Final Four for crying out loud. Anybody heard of Memphis lately? Calipari has single-handedly transformed the landscape of college basketball. It’s like an arms race now, except UK is the USA – that’s trouble for everybody else. Each year, Calipari promises young high school kids an irresistible deal – come to one of the best college basketball programs in the land, play for the best fan base in the country, win a national championship and then ink your multi-million dollar deal in the NBA. Who would be dumb enough to turn that down? Not to mention, Coach Cal is a charismatic closer who connects with kids in this business – he knows what makes them tick…pop culture, fame, winning and money.
Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) AKA ‘The General’ – Coach K needs no introduction. He’s built a program into national prominence, so much so, that Duke basketball has become synonymous with college hoops excellence. They are the standard. Year in. Year out. Coach K is the reason why. Schooled by Bob Knight in his time at Army, Coach K learned how to run a tight ship. He’s demanding. He controls Cameron Indoor – his players, his staff, his fans and some would say, even the officials, with a strategic whip. Each game, he enters the arena with a brisk, methodical march that indicates he’s ready for battle. But in the process, he has earned the respect of his peers and players. He accepts only one thing – winning. Losing is not an option. You do as he says. His players have no problem following his orders. Why? They want to win too. They know K prepares his troops for battle better than anybody. Yes, K has changed a bit – he’s started to adopt Coach Cal’s ‘one-and-done’ model. He’s even been using a lot more zone defense. I know these things must have pained him. But if the rules change to the game, you have to adapt to win. K loves to win.
Tom Izzo (MSU) AKA ‘The Boxer’ – Izzo’s like Rocky. Everybody seems to love the guy for his big heart and his relentless fighting spirit. He doesn’t have the talent like most of his competitors, but yet he finds a way to squeeze the most out of what he’s got. That’s admirable. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always pulled for Izzo. The true underdog that really shouldn’t ever be an underdog in the first place. Izzo sports a remarkable 13-9 record in the NCAA Tournament with the lower seeded team – that’s a record. It’s hard to quantify the intangibles. Izzo’s teams always have plenty of that – heart, pride and toughness in spades. Sometimes, I feel like Izzo could coach anybody, and I mean anybody to the Final Four. He makes young men believe. Truly believe. That’s half the battle right there. I had a coach who told me competition is 80% mental and just 20% talent. Izzo no doubt prescribes to that doctrine. Backed into the corner with his kids? No problem. That’s where they like it. Izzo and company will come out swinging, and you can bet they’ll get their money’s worth this weekend.
So this year, the Final Four has gone to the coaches starring in a stirring sequel to “The Breakfast Club”. I’m not complaining. I can hear the iconic ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ running through my head now. Enjoy it. In an age of college basketball dominated by ‘one-and-dones’ and NBA talk, it’s refreshing to see it’s the coaches – a teacher, a recruiter, a boxer and a general – who’ll take center stage again.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattdoakeshttp://chapelboro.com/columns/oakes-outlook-final-four-breakfast-club
It was quarterfinal Thursday. All the big boys (top 4 seeds) were in action with a spot in the primetime semifinals Friday night on the line. Would any of the top dogs be knocked off their pedestal? Plenty of intrigue always awaits. We’re heating up at the ACC Tourney! Who survived the pressure cooker?
TEAM OF THE DAY: Duke. Complete and utter dominance. The Blue Devils took the Wolfpack to the woodshed and are clearly the team to beat. Enough said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Look over your shoulder the rest of the friggin’ night, okay. Let’s understand that. So if we shoot a poor percentage tomorrow your butt better not come in here.” – Roy Williams sounding off at a reporter’s attempt to jinx his team’s good shooting
QUARTERFINAL 1: No. 9 FSU vs. No. 1 UVA
The Cavaliers stamped their authority early, jumping out to a 7-0 lead and forcing Leonard Hamilton’s hand with a quick timeout. The Coliseum was more than speckled with a little orange – it was littered with Wahoo fans armed with rested lungs.
But the real story of this game was the anticipated return of Justin Anderson from injury. He didn’t start, but when he finally got into the game, he was met with a standing ovation from the Virginia faithful. Although I didn’t stand with them, boy, it’s nice to see Anderson back playing basketball.
We also quickly discovered why Tony Bennett was named ACC Coach of the Year. He figured out missing shots was no good. And therefore, his Cavaliers promptly knocked down their first six shots. The Seminoles weren’t on the same page, however, struggling to find the basket and what’s more, couldn’t buy and offensive rebound. That hurts.
At the half, FSU was doubled up by UVA, 34-17.
Virginia’s Darion Atkins went down with some sort of leg injury early in the second half. It was a scare for sure, but after a quick respite in the locker room, Atkins was back on the UVA bench.
Meanwhile, the pace of play was grinding to a near standstill. So many timeouts. So many stoppages of play. But on a positive note, some good music was pumping through the Coliseum sound system.
FSU parted the waters so bad on a Cavalier drive to the basket that I almost lost my lunch. Thankfully, I didn’t. But it was a close call. That kind of Ole! defense isn’t in Virginia’s DNA though.
The referees grew some moans of disapproval from the UVA fans. I must say, a couple no-calls on Seminole players seemed to be questionable at best. And I’m not sure official Jamie Luckie knows a travel is not an offensive foul. But nevertheless, FSU cut the deficit down to five points at 39-34 with 9:455 to play. It was a new ballgame, folks!
And nobody knew that better than Leonard Hamilton. So much for his trademark composure. He came out of his shell down the stretch, barking out orders and giving an earful to officials and players alike.
Back and forth down the stretch they came. Both squads were suddenly coming up with enormous shots, trading blows. And would you believe it? With just under six minutes to play, Leonard Hamilton took it too far. The pinstripes got back at him with a technical foul. Can you say game changer?
But ultimately, with the help of a couple clutch makes by Malcolm Brogdon and steady free throw shooting to boot, the Cavaliers put away the Seminoles and booked their spot in Friday’s semifinals.
QUARTERFINAL 2: No. 5 UNC vs. No. 4 Louisville
The offenses wasted no time getting going. Just five minutes in, it was a 9-all tie. Marcus Paige opened proceedings with a three-pointer. Montrezl Harrell was doing his thing inside. JP Tokoto was out of control, settling for jumpers. Not his game.
WAY more toughness was being displayed by the Cardinals. Getting second, third and fourth chance opportunities helps out.
The Louisville dance team threw the gauntlet down as well. They went ALL OUT. No joke. They left the Greensboro Coliseum stunned and may have just created a blossoming rivalry in the ACC – the FSU Golden Girls vs. the Louisville Dance Team. Stay tuned.
As for UNC, they went stone cold. A six-minute long drought. Ouch. But a Joel Berry three certainly helped make things feel a little better – for the crowd, too, who was mostly wearing Carolina blue.
But it wasn’t enough for Roy. The jacket was off at the 7:34 mark with his Tar Heels down six.
The Tar Heels had clouded vision of offense. Doubt. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were operating with 20/20 vision – drive to the basket. Confidence.
A nasty ‘shake and bake’ cooked up by Louisville’s Terry Rozier helped earn the Cardinals the 37-32 halftime lead.
Out of the locker room. UNC three. Carolina steal. Brice Johnson dunk. Roar. Rick Pitino timeout. Game tied at 37-all.
The highlight came when Harrell nearly jumped out of the gym to jam one home. Man, that dude can elevate. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels continued to plug away. Paige hit a nasty three right in front of me.
Nothing was separating these two teams for the third game this season. Brice Johnson was putting together a productive half of basketball for UNC, keeping his team in touch with the anticipation and intensity building in the Coliseum.
Harrell continued to fly, and I mean FLY, around the floor down the stretch. He’s a freak of nature. He makes the Cards go. Emotional intensity and physical prowess. Deadly combo.
QUARTERFINAL 3: No. 8 NC State vs. No. 2 Duke
Something big was coming. There was a buzz in the air. Like a prize fight. The build-up is half the fun. There was no doubt Duke vs. N.C. State was the main event Thursday in the Coliseum.
But sometimes, the show doesn’t live up to the hype. This one was a prime example. It was a dud. A stinker. A good memory if you’re a Duke fan. An awful nightmare if you’re a State fan.
Duke shot out of the gates in a hurry, using smart defense and overwhelmingly sharp offense to claim a 26-11 lead with 9:48 to play in the opening half.
Jahlil Okafor was able to rest comfortably on the bench for long stretches. That was scary. Justice Winslow joined him as well. Their services weren’t necessary as Grayson Allen, Quinn Cook and company were doing the deed themselves.
The ‘amoeba zone’ of Duke was frustrating the Wolfpack. In particular, it seemed Cat Barber was completely befuddled. Coach K had not forgotten the loss put on the Devils by NC State earlier in January. I don’t think he forgot about the butt slap either. This was war.
Heck, we even witnessed the ‘Plumlee Air Show’. It was a surprising addition to the night’s events, but it was that kind of night for the men in dark blue.
Mercifully, the halftime buzzer did finally come. The damage, and it was catastrophic, was done. In a dominating performance that took your breath away at times, Duke amassed a 49-22 lead.
I won’t bore you with the second half details. I’ll be honest. I zoned out. Game over. Duke moves on and oh by the way, looks like a legitimate national title contender.
Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3http://chapelboro.com/unc-mens-basketball/oakes-outlook-heating-up-in-greensboro
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No. 19 North Carolina will remember well its 92-90 overtime loss at Cameron Indoor a few weeks ago. Up by double digits in the closing minutes of regulation, some sloppy mistakes in a rowdy environment cost the Tar Heels dearly.
Saturday offers a chance at redemption. That chance at revenge certainly isn’t lost on UNC head coach Roy Williams. Roy’s all fired up.
“If we have a letdown this time, we don’t have a freaking heart. Come on. We’re playing Duke, they beat us last time, and it’s the greatest rivalry in all of college basketball. If we get beat, it won’t be because of a letdown. If we have a letdown Saturday, I mean, what have we done? We’re not even in the top four,” Coach Williams says.
Roy pointed out another interesting subplot to Saturday evening’s festivities.
Louisville and UNC are competing for the No. 4 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament. The Cardinals face the back-to-back ACC regular season champion Virginia Cavaliers in game one of ESPN’s doubleheader. A loss there would open the door for the Tar Heels to secure the precious double bye in Greensboro next week.
As for Duke, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has no such worries. His Blue Devils locked up the No. 2 seed next week with their senior night thrashing of Wake Forest Wednesday night.
Coach K is concerned, however, with a couple bum ankles.
“Our trainer said it didn’t seem bad. We’ll see. I don’t think long-lasting. I hope everybody is ready for Saturday. We only have the eight guys. That’s not a good thing. We’re concerned,” Coach K says.
The Tar Heels come into the rivalry matchup with some momentum. Coming off two road victories at Miami and Georgia Tech, Carolina appears to be in fine form.
“We tried to do a better job on the big guys in the second half [vs. GT]. We sort of meandered around there a little bit. We got enough breaks, enough layups and enough shots to go in the basket. But I do believe the whole thing is we just had more bodies than they did,” Coach Williams says.
A healthy Pinson adds even more depth to an already deep UNC lineup. Duke, on the other hand, doesn’t have that luxury. Getting into foul trouble is not an option for the shorthanded Blue Devils.
That’s why Coach K is emphasizing getting healthy.
“We secured the second spot for the ACC Tournament, which is great. Big game on Saturday. Let’s get healthy and go for it,” Coach K says.
Freshman Tar Heel Joel Berry tallied a career-high 15 points against Georgia Tech, including a trio of three-pointers.
If Berry’s knocking down outside shots, look out.
“You just got to put in the extra work if you want to see things happen in the game. I just try to after practice, get up extra shots. Once I get out on the court, game-time situation, that will help a lot,” Berry says.
Practice is in fact making perfect for Berry. The returning Pinson is hoping for the same.
“I’ve been running and cutting on it all week. I was pretty comfortable with it. I was just ready to get the heck out there and play basketball,” Pinson says.
The final member of the Tar Heel freshman trio, Justin Jackson, has been rounding into form as well. Jackson says he’s taking a more aggressive mindset to the floor.
“For our team to win, we need everybody to step up, me included. These past couple games, I’ve tried to be more aggressive and make things happen. It’s worked out pretty well,” Jackson says.
Carolina leads the all-time series with Duke 133-106, but the Blue Devils have won the past two meetings.
Our pregame coverage on 97.9 FM, WCHL begins at 7 p.m. Saturday with a special one-hour edition of the UNC Healthcare Countdown to Tipoff presented by Stanley-Martin Homes hosted by Ron Stutts. Listeners can also tune in to our live stream right here on Chapelboro.com.
The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team,18-7 overall and 8-4 in the ACC, travels down Tobacco road Wednesday night to renew its rivalry with No. 4 Duke, 22-3 on the season with a 9-3 mark in the league. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils will square off in iconic Cameron Indoor Stadium at 9 p.m.
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“This is the best game, and it’s the best game because you have two of the top five programs to ever play college basketball going against one another. We’re only eight miles apart and both great schools. There’s a level of excellence, individual and collective, in an area that has loved basketball,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski says.
This 239th installment of Carolina-Duke is once again ushered in by a rare ice storm, but unlike last year’s Snowmageddon that forced the Smith Center rivalry meeting to be called off, this season’s edition should go off without a hitch in sweaty and cramped Cameron.
The Cameron Crazies will be raring to go and ready to seek refuge from their Kville tents, where they’ve been spending weeks hunkered down in the cold for a chance to witness their red hot Devils down the reeling Tar Heels.
Mid-February is not a good time for UNC head coach Roy Williams to be searching for answers. But that’s exactly where the Hall of Famer finds himself with his squad.
“We did some things and yet, it wasn’t good enough. I think that’s part of the learning process too. We’ve probably shown this team more clips from games than we have any from the last three or four years at least. I think it’s still a part of the learning process with this group,” Coach Williams says.
UNC junior forward Brice Johnson, who’s been coming off the bench lately, has been struggling to establish the consistency he envisioned for himself in 2015, but there’s no game he’d rather find his form than against Duke.
“I did watch it as a kid growing up. I was a Carolina fan growing up. I did watch quite a bit of the games. The one that really stuck out was the time Tyler [Hansbrough] got elbowed in the face here. That kind of set the tone that this game is really serious. I have to be ready for it. I can’t put it into words. It’s just an honor to be playing in this game,” Johnson says.
UNC junior guard Marcus Paige says a flood of memories comes rushing through his mind when he thinks of what the Carolina-Duke rivalry means to him.
“The one where Marvin Williams got the put back rings in my head. The thing I remember most is always the videos leading up to the game that show the tradition. They show Tyler Hansbrough getting elbowed in the face, [Eric] Montross with the bloody eye, Coach K screaming and the Duke players slapping the floor. Those stick with you,” Paige says.
Paige, though, has struggled to rekindle his fine form from the closing months of his sophomore campaign.
Humble and modest by nature, Paige will likely need to go against his instincts Wednesday night and become a bit selfish. Paige’s significant involvement in the UNC offense will need to be felt early and often for the Tar Heels to stay in the contest against an explosive Blue Devil squad averaging north of 80 points per outing.
Despite the intensity and passion present in the rivalry, Paige says there’s plenty of respect on both sides.
“I think that’s what makes this rivalry so special is the mutual respect. Obviously, I’m not a huge Duke fan. I don’t love them, but I really respect them. I think that’s the common theme in the rivalry. They respect us and we respect them. It’s good for the entire area,” Paige says.
And that level of respect could be in full display in this game. To honor Dean Smith’s passing, there are expected to be hundreds of Duke-colored T-shirts floating around Cameron with the word DEAN replacing the usual DUKE – the ultimate sign of respect from Coach Smith’s fiercest rivals.
“The students at Cameron are off the charts, but I’ve never had anything that they said or did that bothered me. They just cheer like crazy for their team. I’d like to see one of those shirts. I think that says two things – the respect Coach Smith had everywhere and the other thing is that this is a big-time rivalry, but it doesn’t have to be hatred,” Coach Williams says.
But make no mistake, there will be a winner and a loser determined with the eyes of the college basketball world fixed on Durham.
Coach Williams knows the daunting task awaiting Carolina. He’s full of praise for Coach K’s offense and especially, the favorite for the No. 1 NBA Draft pick, freshman sensation Jahlil Okafor.
“He’s a load, but he’s very gifted. He’s got great feet, great hands, turns to either shoulder and has touch when he turns. You have to make some allowances for him. Offensively, they have the best balance of any team in college basketball,” Coach Williams says.
Carolina leads the all-time series with Duke, 133-105, but dropped the last meeting, 93-81, on the road.
With emotions sure to be riding high, the team that can best channel those emotions and stay under control in the opening ten minutes of play is always something to watch out for.
In addition, Duke has always been a free-shooting team, possessing the ability to go on quick 9-0 runs, often times stunning its opponents into submission. If, well should we say when this happens Wednesday night, how will UNC respond?http://chapelboro.com/unc-mens-basketball/underdog-tar-heels-meet-offensively-balanced-blue-devils-cameron
January 10, 2015 – Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC–Trailing by one point with just 14 seconds to play in a crucial ACC home game against then fifth-ranked Louisville, North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige darts from the left wing to the top of the three-point line, where he receives a pass from Nate Britt. Center Kennedy Meeks sets a pick on Paige’s man, leaving a huge gap on the left side of the floor for the lefty to attack Cardinals 6’10” forward Chinanu Onuaku. Showing extreme confidence, UNC’s leader drives towards the hoop, cradles the ball, and lets go of a silky, smooth scoop shot high off the glass. It banks in perfectly, creating a deafening roar from the crowd. Louisville’s Terry Rozier takes one final chance at the buzzer, hoping to add to his 25 point tally, but falls short, giving the Tar Heels their signature win of the season to date, 72-71.
January 31, 2015 – John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA—Facing intense scrutiny after the first player dismissal (Rasheed Sulaimon) in Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 35 year tenure at Duke, the Blue Devils trail the second-ranked, undefeated Virginia Cavaliers by eight points on the road, with only a shade under five minutes on the clock. Things appear bleak for the boys from Durham, as they’ll surely pick up their second consecutive loss, but wait, not so fast! BANG, BANG, BANG! The Blue Devils nail a trio of three-pointers (and a layup from Justise Winslow that ties the affair), with the third long ball, coming from senior Quinn Cook, giving Duke a three point lead as time dwindles away. Holding that same lead with 17 seconds to play, but only nine on the shot clock (Virginia guaranteed a shot at a rebound, and the ball back), freshman point guard Tyus Jones, with ice in his veins, dribbles to the right wing, hesitates, and fires a three right in the face of Cavalier guard London Perrantes. Swish. Dagger. Blue Devils win 69-63 (and they haven’t lost since.)
THINGS YOU SHOULD (ALREADY) KNOW
The greatest rivalry in all of sports will resume on Wednesday night at (arguably) the greatest venue in all of sports (Cameron Indoor Stadium) as Duke and UNC will face-off for the 239th time.
Each school boasts a basketball program among the most prestigious and successful of all time, and a legendary coach with “larger than life” status (the late, great Dean Smith and his royal blue counterpart, Coach K.)
There’s also their combined 10 NCAA Championships, 33 Final Fours, and 19 National Players of the Year.
College legends like Christian Laettner and Tyler Hansbrough have patrolled the paint in this game. And throughout this week, plenty of hype will focus on the battle down low, with Duke’s likely top NBA draft pick, freshman center Jahlil Okafor (18 PPG, 9 RPG) squaring off with the Tar Heels’ formidable frontline of Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks (combined 25 PPG, 16 RPG).
KEY TO THE GAME
With all due respect to the great big men that will play in, and have played in this game, it’s the little guys, the point guards, who often define what happens on the court between these two great rivals. Somebody has to pass the ball to those big fellas right?
This year’s edition will feature the experienced preseason All-American, Paige, against the five-star freshman, Jones, who plays well beyond his years.
Both are big-time players that step up in big-time moments, as evidenced in recent performances against Louisville and Virginia.
Both can pass the ball and set up teammates just as well as they can shoot and score. Paige puts up 14 points and four assists per game, while shooting 38% from distance and 82% from the foul line. Jones pours in 11 points and dishes five assists a night, drilling 40% of his threes and making 87% at the charity stripe.
Both wear number five. You get the point.
In the past, it’s been matchups like Chris Duhon and Raymond Felton, back in 2004, that have determined the outcome. Duhon’s late reverse lay-up in overtime sealed a win for Duke at the Dean Dome, and his exceptional defense on Felton, then a sophomore and the ACC leader in assists, in both games led to a clean 2-0 sweep of the games that year for the Blue Devils.
On the flip-side, point guard mismatches such as Carolina’s bolt of lightning, Ty Lawson (one of the fastest players to ever set foot in Chapel Hill) asserting his will over Duke’s not very quick (to be nice) Greg Paulus from 2007-2009 without much resistance, have also drawn the line between winner and loser. Lawson consistently left his mark on those contests, and not surprisingly the Tar Heels won every game he played in against Duke. The only time a Paulus-led team beat Lawson’s Heels was in February of ’08 at UNC, when Lawson sat out with an ankle injury. Paulus drained six three-pointers that night.
Eventually, you find that the names of great floor generals who played in this game become too many to list them all.
Jason Williams. Phil Ford. Bobby Hurley. Ed Cota. Tommy Amaker. Kendall Marshall.
It goes on and on and on.
Wednesday night, Marcus Paige and Tyus Jones will not only continue the best rivalry in all of sports (and no, that’s not arguable), they will each add their own chapter to a rich history of point guards that goes back multiple generations.
And if, in that electric environment of Cameron Indoor Stadium, the score is tied, and the clock is ticking, there’s a good bet the ball will find the hands of number five.
One of the most storied and intense rivalries in all of sports will be renewed Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. We’re just two days away from the 239th installment of Carolina-Duke and this season, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are trending in different directions.
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“There was a lot different said in the Louisville game than there was in this game. It was a lot different in the Virginia game and Boston College game. It’s not necessarily one theme that keeps recurring, so I don’t know,” UNC junior guard Marcus Paige says.
Paige’s reeling Tar Heels are searching for answers. And that’s bad timing with a pretty big game looming large midweek.
Carolina has now lost three of its last four. But at least in the latest setback at Pittsburgh, some consolation could be found in the lights-out shooting, 65 percent to be exact, by the opponent.
“They were so much more aggressive than us early and more positive. I think we had it tied a couple times, and then they went on a tremendous run again. Early in the second half, I thought it was still any man’s ballgame, and they made their first seven shots,” Coach Williams says. “Am I disappointed and upset? In several ways, yes. But I think you have to also understand Pittsburgh had a lot to do with the outcome of the game,”
Duke and Carolina battled it out for the first time on Jan. 24, 1920. The two hated rivals have met at least twice a year since then.
Many of those encounters have gone on to decide the eventual ACC champion.
Since the ACC’s founding in 1953, Duke and Carolina have combined to win or share 48 ACC regular season titles, that’s 78.7 percent of the total, and 36 tournament titles, 59 percent of the total, including 14 of the last 18.
But this year, both schools are playing the role of chasers in the conference standings, looking up at one-loss Virginia. But for surging Duke, that gap is closing. Carolina, meanwhile, appears to be fading back into the pack.
A frustrated Coach Williams says his Tar Heels were simply overwhelmed by the super sharp Panthers Saturday afternoon.
As for his counterpart wearing a tie with a darker shade of blue, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was a lot happier following his team’s win at the sold-out Carrier Dome.
“Our free throw shooting down at the end was just about perfect. Guys made big plays. I’m really pleased with the win. We beat a really good team – great crowd, great environment. I feel very fortunate we won,” Coach Krzyzewski says.
With a 22-3 record and a top five national ranking, Coach K certainly has plenty to be happy about it, but it’s likely his freshman sensation, Jahlil Okafor, who puts the biggest smile on the Hall of Famer’s face.
Widely projected to be the No. 1 draft pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Okafor says he credits his teammates for setting him up in the paint, a place the sturdy freshman feels right at home.
“Throughout the whole second half my teammates kept finding me for easy buckets. They were giving me all the confidence in the world – a lot of credit to my teammates. They just kept finding me for easy baskets,” Okafor says.
Pitt, meanwhile, poured in buckets from everywhere over the weekend, but some of that had to do with UNC’s poor defense.
With Duke next on tap, always one of the best shooting teams in the nation, Coach Williams knows his players will need tighten up defensively and get more hands in the faces of long-range shooters.
“What you can do is guard them better. I really believe the better you guard them, the less likely they’ll shoot 65 percent for the game,” Coach Williams says.
Carolina enters this year’s Battle of the Blues as a clear underdog, but that might be an advantageous position for the Tar Heels. An old cliché often rings true – in rivalry games, you can throw out the rankings and the stat sheets.http://chapelboro.com/unc-mens-basketball/reeling-tar-heels-usher-duke-week-licking-wounds
For Roy Williams, the pain probably started not long after the buzzer sounded last Saturday afternoon. Marcus Paige had just nailed a gutsy left-handed scoop shot with eight seconds to play to knock off fourth– ranked Louisville when all of a sudden, in a phenomenon that occurs twice each year, his head coach felt a sharp, burning sensation in his gut. Roy said nothing after the game, keeping all complaints to himself, but I knew what was wrong.
For the four nights after the big win, I had a hunch that Coach Williams would not be able to eat.
He’s mentioned the condition before. In 2008, after Tyler Hansbrough and the Tar Heels crushed the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill, Roy told the media that he’d “rather not eat than lose to NC State,” and that he informed Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, and the rest of his team that “they weren’t eating postgame unless they beat NC State.”
In this year’s first meet-up between the long-time rivals Wednesday night, Marcus Paige gave coach Williams his 23rd victory in 25 tries since taking the job at North Carolina, with a masterful performance – scoring 23 points, dishing out nine assists and also failing to record a single turnover.
For Roy, it must have also felt like Paige fed him a win with an extra side of chili-cheese fries, because you know he was hungry for this one.
That’s why I feel safe saying that it was Roy Williams’ stomach that was actually the most relieved Tar Heel inside PNC Arena when State’s freshman forward Cody Martin missed long on his tip-in attempt that would have sent the game to overtime, giving the Heels an 81-79 victory in rival territory.
For the majority of Carolina fans, Duke is seen as UNC’s most hated rival, and the games between the two schools are some of the most intense in all of sports (professional or college). State basketball is often dismissed and treated like the red-headed stepchild, with the main insult being that it’s not even a “true rivalry” anymore due to the Tar Heels’ 31-6 record against the Pack since Dean Smith retired.
Roy Williams isn’t the majority of fans. He has no problem showing that emotion-filled “H-word” for the team in Raleigh. That isn’t a mystery. The mystery is why? When that strong emotional energy could be put towards Coach K’s Durham Empire, what could possibly fuel all this hate for State?
I decided it was necessary to bring out my magnifying glass, and go searching for answers. During my quest, I was led to five possible reasons that Roy’s stomach churns at the sight of the color red.
Let’s take a look at the findings of the investigation, which we can call the “Roy-State Report.”
Although it can be easily argued that the “Roy-State Report” findings were somewhat inconclusive, they should at least help to answer why Wanda Williams, Roy’s wife, will most likely only need to cook dinner for one next month during the week of February 24th, when the Wolfpack return to Chapel Hill.
Those pains will be back, and again, it could be up to Marcus Paige to feed his coach.http://chapelboro.com/columns/five-reasons-behind-roys-hate-state
Photo courtesy of ESPN.com
LOS ANGELES – Sorry, Dookies. It looks like NBA legend Kobe Bryant is a Tar Heel after all.
It was widely believed that, had Bryant chosen to play college ball instead of leaping from high school straight into the NBA, that he would have made the trip down to Durham rather than Chapel Hill.
But in a pleasant surprise, Bryant said in a conversation with talk show host Jimmy Kimmel that he would have been donning Carolina Blue in his college years.
Although he says he has a close relationship with Duke Coach and US basketball head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, he admits that he was leaning towards playing for recently-named Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Dean Smith.
In fact, Bryant says he cherishes the recruitment letter he received from Carolina’s priceless gem, Smith, all those years ago, and he has it tucked away as a special memento.http://chapelboro.com/sports/national-sports/kobe-bryant-reveals-tar-heel-leanings
The “K” in Mike Krzyzewski‘s nickname could also stand for “King.”
The Duke basketball coach has climbed to the top of his own personal and professional mountain as the highest-paid employee at his university and, metaphorically, overseeing his empire on the top floor of the six-story tower that sits next to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Entering his 33rd season as coach of the Blue Devils, there are now calls for a higher calling for Coach King. Former Duke Coach Bucky Waters says he has accomplished all he needs to on the bench and should go to Washington to provide the kind of leadership he has demonstrated throughout most of his career.
If not Washington, then certainly to the NCAA, which does not have separate “commissioners” for football and basketball. If it did, Krzyzewski would be the perfect candidate to lead his sport – help rewrite the rules book, negotiate the age limits imposed by the NBA and generally bring order to a billion-dollar sport that has been rocked by recruiting chaos and off-court scandals.
It may look easy for Coach K these days, with private Duke, USA Basketball and his own corporation funding an entourage of assistants and staff members to meet every need of Krzyzewski and his extended family. Whatever shade of blue your blood runs and whatever you think of the man, he has overcome tough times to lead what appears to be a charmed life.
He began at Duke in 1980 as a no-name third banana to Dean Smith and the flamboyant Jim Valvano at N.C. State. Both men won national championships before Krzyzewski fashioned a winning season with the players he recruited. A group of prominent alumni calling itself the “Concerned Iron Dukes” lobbied for his dismissal, convinced he was the wrong choice to recapture Duke’s glory days of the 1960s.
He was not chased out of town by Carolina’s preeminence, like so many other coaches at Duke and State. In fact, Krzyzewski used his training as a West Point cadet and his service overseas to hunker down behind what he referred to as enemy lines. When his oldest daughter called from middle school to come get her because of teasing from other students and teachers, Coach K did go to the school – to bring her a Duke shirt and made her put it on. He went on to raise a family that’s every bit as tough as its leader.
Gutsy athletic Director Tom Butters, who hired Krzyzewski off a Bobby Knight recommendation, awarded a new contract to the head coach when the Iron Dukes wanted his head. Right on cue, Duke began winning and went on a dominating run of reaching seven Final Fours in a nine year span between 1986 and ’94, including back-to-back national championships in 1991 and ‘92.
The man who began at Duke earning $48,000 and buying cheap suits off the rack while living in a modest home in northern Durham was seemingly set for life, electing to stay at Duke after turning down the first of many NBA offers. But that life was to begin again over the next few years.
It started with a debilitating lower back injury, from which he came back too quickly after surgery, and missed most of the 1995 season when his Duke program crashed and burned deep in the ACC standings. He returned in 1996, but by then Dean Smith had regained his place as the king of coaches, taking four teams to the Final Four in the 1990s and winning his second national championship in 1993. Even after Smith retired in October of 1997, Duke had yet to regain its full measure of prominence.
Much of that was Krzyzewski still coaching in pain. You could see it on his face, as he grimaced through games, standing up, sitting down, squatting in front of his players and, occasionally, barking at a referee. After taking an undefeated 1999 ACC team back to the Final Four, Coach K was apparently so numbed by pain-killing medication on the bench that he could not keep his players from letting the game slip away to UConn.
The back eventually healed but not before two hip replacements corrected his gait that was affecting other parts of his now 50-year-old body. Fighting back to good health, he led Duke to a third national championship in 2001 and nearly won a fourth before that lead slipped away – again to UConn – in the 2004 semifinals. Krzyzewski and Duke watched Roy Williams and Carolina win two NCAA titles before Coach K got his fourth with an overachieving team that capitalized on a great draw and beat Cinderella Butler on the last play of the 2010 Dance.
By then, Krzyzewski was already an international figure, having taken over as America’s coach in 2006 and won our first Gold Medal since 2000 by convincing a bunch of NBA millionaires to play as a team in Beijing in 2008. USA Basketball had been in shambles, thanks to so many ladles in the soup when former UNC star and iconic coach Larry Brown had to replace nine players just before the 2004 Games in Athens and settled for the Bronze medal amid much embarrassment.
Asked by USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo to stay on through the 2012 Olympics in London, Krzyzewski did so and maneuvered a talented but undersized NBA all-star team through improving international competition to win yet another Gold.
Now, at 65, he’s back at Duke trying to build one more national champion that would move him into second place behind only the legendary John Wooden (10) of UCLA. The Blue Devils may not be good enough before Coach K retires or moves on to Washington or to lead NCAA basketball, but overcoming a tough start and a physical breakdown has made what seems like a charmed life more of a sustained, successful and satisfying journey for the new King of Coaches.
LOS ANGELES — Despite 3,000 miles between us and seemingly 3 million people swarming this city, there were signs of home everywhere.
Mitch Kupchak, the former UNC star (1976 ACC Player of the Year) and current general manager of the LA Lakers, is under fire for doing nothing about a franchise in turmoil and is rumored to be quitting or retiring after this season.
But what can he do?
The team that won back-to-back NBA championships in 2009 and 2010 under Phil Jackson has a new coach (LeBron’s old coach in Cleveland, Mike Brown) and is being run by owner Jerry Buss’ two sons and one daughter, and all together, they have attained the dreadful dysfunctional label.
Kobe is unhappy, and it goes far beyond his impending mega multi-million dollar divorce. Before the strike-shortened season began, he thought he had a new point guard, ex-Wake Forest star Chris Paul, who played his first four seasons in New Orleans. But NBA Commissioner David Stern nixed the trade for reasons still not fully explained. Apparently, the Lakers would have been too good with perennial NBA All-Star Paul at the point.
So what happened? Paul winds up being traded to LA’s stepchild franchise, the Clippers, who play in the same Staples Center before a common-man crowd, compared to the show-time stars and starlets who arrive late and leave early to be seen at Laker games.
I watched the Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night behind 36 points from Paul and 27 from high-flying center Blake Griffin.
(If you want to play the Kevin Bacon game, Griffin was the Oklahoma All-American who lost his last college game in the 2009 Elite Eight to the Tar Heels, who went on to win the NCAA Championship. That Oklahoma team was coached by Jeff Capel, the former Dukie, whose brother Jason played for UNC and now coaches Appalachian State. Jeff has since been fired at Oklahoma and is now back on the Duke Bench as one of the 7 or so suits who flank Mike Krzyzewski.)
The Nuggets are coached by Carolina favorite George Karl, who, at 60, has just finished his second gruesome battle with neck and throat cancer. He is looking comparatively svelte, coaching a no-name but talented team that runs, runs and runs (and lately loses) most of its games. UNC’s Ty Lawson, Karl’s bullet point guard, missed the Clippers loss with a sprained ankle.
“We’re playing well, but the losing is killing me,” Karl said before the Clippers game. Relatively speaking; when you’ve beaten the Big C twice, the W’s aren’t quite as important in the grand scheme.
Karl will be remembered by old-time Tar Heels as the pepperpot point guard who led Dean Smith’s star-studded 1972 team to the Final Four right here before losing to Florida State, which had yet to join the ACC.
The Clippers and Lakers are separated by one game in their NBA division and waging a “city series” not unlike close-proximity college or high-school rivals. They have become the biggest games in town, both teams selling out the Staples Center nearly every time they play.
Meanwhile, college basketball here has been moved to the back page or below the fold.
UCLA, which once dominated the collegiate game and Southern California sports, has struggled with a lineup that has Tar Heel defectors David and Travis Wear and Larry Drew II. The Bruins, who had a great run of Final Four appearances a few years ago, are in jeopardy of not making the NCAA tournament this season.
Ironically, their best chance is to win the Pac-12 tournament in early March that will be played in the Staples Center on one of the rare weekends when Kupchak, Kobe, the Lakers; Paul, Griffin, and the Clippers, will all be out of town.
(Editor’s Note: This column was dictated to Hollywood stuntman Alex Chansky, the author’s nephew, because the author broke his computer and does not know how to use one of these high-falutin’ Macs!)http://chapelboro.com/columns/sports-notebook/lala-land-opus