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/
The UNC basketball team fell to Wisconsin in this year’s Sweet 16 – but Duke is still alive, set to face Michigan State on Saturday night in Indianapolis.
It’s the Blue Devils’ sixteenth trip to the Final Four (and Mike Krzyzewski’s twelfth, tying John Wooden’s record). How has the game changed since Duke’s first trip back in 1963? What are the players likely thinking as they get ready for their first appearance on college basketball’s biggest stage? And what are Duke’s chances this year, against high-profile programs like MSU, Wisconsin and Kentucky?
Steve Vacendak is a Duke legend: playing under Vic Bubas in the 1960s, Vacendak led the Blue Devils to two Final Fours and won ACC Player of the Year honors in 1966. He went on to play in the ABA before returning to the college ranks to serve as Duke’s associate athletic director and head coach at Winthrop.
Vacendak spoke Friday with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.
Duke and Michigan State tip off at 6:09 Saturday. Kentucky and Wisconsin follow, with tip-off set for approximately 8:49; the winners meet on Monday in the national title game.
(Aaron, who grew up in Spartan country, will be rooting for State and Wisconsin while superstitiously avoiding any and all TV screens.)http://chapelboro.com/sports/collegiate/duke-legend-talks-final-four/
The North Carolina men’s basketball team couldn’t progress past the Sweet Sixteen in an up-and-down season that ultimately ended short of its hopeful final destination – Indianapolis for the Final Four. But with nearly every key player likely to return for next season, optimism reigns here in Chapel Hill.
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It’s both the tragedy and the thrill of March Madness. The single elimination format leaves no room for error. The realization that accompanies the finality of the end of a journey and with it, the pursuit of a national championship, can be hard to come to grips with – even for Roy Williams.
“The most difficult time as a coach is what to say to the kids after the last game when you lose. I feel so inadequate because there’s nothing I can say that will erase what just happened. There’s nothing I can say to make it go away. It’s not like golf – you don’t get a mulligan or anything like that,” Coach Williams says.
There’s an ultra-fine line between winning and losing – the Tar Heels know that all too well.
For the majority of their postseason contest with Notre Dame in the ACC championship game and their Sweet Sixteen showdown with Wisconsin, the Tar Heels seemingly were in control. But the rug was pulled out from under them with ruthless intention in the waning moments.
“The last three weeks, we played pretty good basketball. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to play by any means, but we played pretty good basketball. In the Notre Dame game, you take away three minutes, we win the ACC Tournament. In the Wisconsin game, you take away three minutes, we win that game,” Coach Williams says.
The sting of defeat can motivate. Coach Williams says he hopes Carolina can parlay the disappointment into a determined effort in summer workouts.
“I hope it hurts our guys as much as it does me. If it does that, we’ll work our butts off this summer, I can tell you that,” Coach Williams says.
The 2014-2015 Tar Heels finished their campaign with a 26-12 record that included an 8-3 mark on neutral courts.
But for UNC’s lofty standards, that’s nothing special. But that hasn’t dulled Coach Williams’ close-knit relationship with his players.
“I did enjoy this team. We didn’t have any knuckleheads. There was always one being a knucklehead, but it wasn’t a team full of knuckleheads. I enjoyed being with them. They’re really good kids. I have two grandsons. Everybody on my team I could say, ‘Watch these two little boys; I’ll be back in two hours.’ I would feel really comfortable,” Coach Williams says.
Coach Williams will begin his end-of-year one-on-one meetings with his players Wednesday. He’s crossing his fingers for no surprises.
For the first time ever under Coach Williams, the coaching staff reviewed the game film with the entire team, of an NCAA Tournament loss.
That film session had a distinct purpose.
“I’m going to try to use that as fuel and make them hungrier to work even harder this summer – to show them one play here or a second play here, and we could be going to Indianapolis,” Coach Williams says.
With that extra “fuel” and yes, barring any unforeseen departures a la James Michael McAdoo in 2014, the Tar Heels should be locked and loaded for a legitimate run at the ACC title and a trip to Houston for the Final Four in 2016.
End-of-season notes from Steve Kirschner, UNC Athletics
The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team, 26-11 overall, takes on top-seeded and 33-3 Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament West Regional Semifinal Thursday night at 7:47 p.m. in the Los Angeles STAPLES Center.
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For the veteran Badgers, the Sweet Sixteen has become customary. They’ve made it to this stage of the Big Dance in four of the past five years.
But this year, Wisconsin is the heavy favorite to progress even further. Armed with the first No.1 seeding designation in the school’s history, head coach Bo Ryan says he’s honored to represent the Big Ten in a big way.
“We’re just very pleased to represent the Big Ten and our University in the Sweet Sixteen. These guys definitely have had the kind of season that they’ve earned every inch of this. Hopefully we can go out to L.A. and get something done,” Coach Ryan says.
Less is more for Wisconsin. The fewer the number of possessions, the more of a premium will be placed on ball control, and frankly, up to this point, the Badgers have been far less turnover-prone than the Tar Heels.
UNC junior guard Marcus Paige says having played Virginia a couple times this season has helped Carolina prepare for the Wisconsin challenge.
“Even if they’re not a team that traditionally plays slow, they’ll slow it down against us. They think that’s an advantage. We’ve played against that a lot this year. I think that will help us moving forward into this game. Wisconsin is one of the best teams in the country at doing that,” Paige says.
Although the Tar Heels would rather play an up-tempo style, UNC head coach Roy Williams says he’s not convinced his club will be able to establish a pace to their liking against the Badgers.
“Wisconsin is a one-seed for a reason. They’re able to get you to play their tempo more than you can get them to play the tempo you want. You guys have heard me say I’d much rather win in the 90’s, but if you want to be a really good team you’ve got to win in the 60’s or 50’s or whatever it is,” Coach Williams says.
In practice this week, UNC has attempted to simulate the methodical tenor of the Wisconsin offense, but Coach Williams is under no illusions. The Hall of Famer says at this level, it’s hard to replicate what the best players in the nation can do.
“You can’t really simulate what the dickens Wisconsin is going to do. We talk to them about it, show them the tape and the whole bit, but you can’t do it. If they’re really good, you can’t really speed it up, you just better be able to play at a different pace,” Coach Williams says.
One of the stars in L.A. this weekend will be Wisconsin’s National Player of the Year candidate, Frank Kaminsky. The consensus Big Ten Player of the Year can do it all and is averaging 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
But Wisconsin is by no means a one-man show. Kaminsky says having all the pieces to the puzzle in place feeds into his confidence.
“We’re going into games expecting to compete, play hard and come out on top. When you get to stage like this, we were able to do it last year. We know what it takes. We know what we need to do on and off on the court. When you have that recipe for success with people in front of you, you know what it takes and know what to do,” Kaminsky says.
So what’s the game plan for Carolina? Coach Williams says the Tar Heels will need to lock in defensively, limit turnovers and make high-percentage shots.
“All the time I’m saying, ‘Let’s give them one bad shot.’ Our first goal is always to steal the ball, but you don’t do that much any more. I’m going to think about cutting down their field goal percentage, us making a high percentage and not turning the dadgum basketball over,” Coach Williams says.
UNC leads the all-time series with Wisconsin, 2-0, and won the most recent encounter in 2011, 60-57.
The Tar Heel men’s basketball team defeated the fifth-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday night in Jacksonville to advance to the second week of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.
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The latter rounds of March Madness used to be a formality for the Tar Heels, but in recent years, nothing has been a guarantee. But here they are – back where Carolina belongs.
Yes, how sweet it is! Using an up-tempo pace more to Roy Williams’ liking, the Tar Heels fought past the Razorbacks, 87-78, to advance and keep their big dreams of national glory alive.
With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 26-11 overall while the Razorbacks finished their season with a 27-9 tally.
Coach Williams certainly had plenty to smile about after the game. The Hall of Famer tied his mentor, the late Dean Smith, with 65 NCAA Tournament wins – second-most all-time.
Things apparently got a little wild in the postgame locker room.
And you can’t blame Roy for celebrating; he says it’s been a tough year.
“Losing Coach Smith, losing Ted Seagroves – my big-time buddy, losing Stuart Scott, the stuff we’ve had going on, it’s been a hard year – it really has. I probably acted sillier in the locker room after this game than I have in quite a while. I’m going to try to enjoy the dickens out of this one for a while,” Coach Williams says.
UNC junior guard Marcus Paige went off in Jacksonville, scoring 20 of his eventual 22 points in the second half to lead the Carolina scoring charge.
Yes, ‘Second-Half’ Marcus is back, folks!
“I think it was more the media that pegged that name on me. My teammates went along with it after it got some notoriety. I don’t know what that’s all about. I just try to help my team win. In big moments, I feel like I get put into positions to succeed by my teammates. Sometimes, if you have a poor first half you want to do whatever you can to erase that and make up for it,” Paige says.
Paige’s renewed health was put on full display and with a zero turnover performance turned in by teammate J.P. Tokoto, the Tar Heels proved to be a formidable force.
Can Carolina keep it going? Thursday will be the next chance to watch the Heels strive to achieve ‘elite’ status, or rather, advance to the Elite Eight round of the Big Dance.
After surviving Harvard’s upset bid Thursday night, the fourth-seeded UNC men’s basketball team turns its attention to fifth-seeded Arkansas for a Round of 32 meeting Saturday night at 8:40 p.m. in Jacksonville.
***Listen to the story***
17 turnovers. That’s a stat that’s had Roy Williams scratching his head since the Harvard great escape.
But it’s not a new dilemma. The Tar Heels, sporting a 25-11 record overall; have struggled to take care of the basketball all season long.
Nevertheless, they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and after a narrow 67-65 victory in round two of the NCAA Tournament, Coach Williams is relieved.
“Right now I feel like I won the lottery. Tommy Amaker did a much better with his team than I did with mine. We were extremely lucky. It’s the luckiest I’ve ever felt after a basketball game in my entire life,” Coach Williams says.
UNC freshman Justin Jackson emerged as the hero against Harvard, scoring the game’s final four points when all the momentum was going the other way.
Jackson says he was mentally prepared to step up and take the final shot.
“If I was open, I was going to shoot it. If they come up on me, I wasn’t going to, but they backed off,” Jackson says.
Everybody’s a winner come tournament time. They all know how to win. That’s why any slips in concentration can prove especially fatal.
Jackson says the Tar Heels can’t afford to take the pedal off the metal at this point.
“There were times that we were all the way in it. Then there were lulls where I don’t know what it was, we just kind of relaxed. Harvard’s a great team and took advantage of that,” Jackson says.
Arkansas, 27-8 overall, slipped by Wofford, 56-53, in a back-and-forth game that featured 18 lead changes, 10 ties and neither team ahead by more than five points.
Razorback head coach Mike Anderson says he’s just fortunate to still be dancing.
“What a gutsy performance. It was a game that was played at their pace. We were fortunate to be on the winning side. They just ran out of time. Thank goodness they ran out of time. But we executed when we had to,” Coach Anderson says.
The Tar Heels will have to look out for SEC Player of the Year Michael Qualls. The junior guard scored 20 points Thursday night and can morph into a one-man highlight reel at times. The guy’s been a regular on the SportsCenter Top 10 plays segment.
Can the Tar Heels contain him Saturday? It will be an intriguing proposition for junior forward J.P. Tokoto and company.
But Jackson is more concerned with the play of his own team. In particular, he says the lapses in concentration that have plagued Carolina for the majority of the season have got to be wiped out.
“It’s not ‘is what it is’. It’s the first round game and Harvard is a great team. We just got to go back and change it. Next game, we can’t have that because the next game will be even harder. We’ve talked about it all season, but it’s the NCAA Tournament, so we’ve got to change it,” Jackson says.
If the Tar Heels can cut out the sloppy stretches of basketball and avoid turnovers, they’ve demonstrated a strong proclivity to scoring on offense and should be in good shape. But if the erratic play continues, Saturday could very well be the final destination in UNC’s postseason journey.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-hoping-to-clean-up-act-against-arkansas/
UNC junior forward J.P. Tokoto knocked down a silky smooth three-pointer to open proceedings Thursday evening inside the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Carolina. The waters got rocky.
The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team built a hefty 16-point lead in the second half and from there, held on for dear life down the stretch to scrape past a pesky Harvard team, 67-65. With the victory, the Tar Heels survived to fight another day in the NCAA Tournament and improved to 25-11 on the season.
***Listen to the story***
With the loss, the Crimson finish with a 22-8 overall record and 11-3 mark in Ivy League play.
17 turnovers almost sent the Tar Heels to the exit doors early, but thanks to freshman forward Justin Jackson, Carolina found the escape hatch in the nick of time.
Jackson, who finished with a team-leading 14 points, saved the day for UNC, finishing with a flourish. Jackson scored the game’s final four points to avoid the upset bug on a day that was already full of them.
“I feel like I won the lottery. Tommy Amaker did a much better job with his team than I did with mine,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.
***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***
Carolina’s length and athleticism troubled Harvard for the majority of the contest and allowed UNC to amass a 36-26 rebounding advantage and an edge in points in the paint. But Harvard capitalized on those 17 Carolina turnovers to the tune of 29 points to get to the doorstep of victory.
“You can’t say enough about the effort our kids put forth. We battled to get back in it. I thought we played with great poise. Wesley Saunders […] carried us to put us into position to have a chance. I’m very proud of our team,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker says.
Harvard senior guard Wesley Saunders did all he could for his team, totaling a game-high 26 points on 8-14 shooting. Routinely, Saunders left the Tar Heels in the dust on his way to the basket – beating them off the dribble.
“He was a load. We knew that. Last year, he was player of the year in their league. We tried to focus on him with our team. J.P. [Tokoto] really did a pretty doggone job, but he was really hard to guard,” Coach Williams says.
And yes, there was only one reason Harvard was hanging around in the early going…that was Saunders, who scored his team’s first ten points. Meanwhile, Carolina was getting contributions from a cast of characters ranging from big man Joel James to streaky sophomore Isaiah Hicks to points leader Marcus Paige.
An 11-0 UNC run spearheaded by a suffocating defense set the tenor of the contest. When Kennedy Meeks is beating opponents down the floor for a quick score, it’s not a good sign for the opposing team. That happened Thursday night.
However, some sloppy turnovers and an over four-minute scoring drought from Carolina in the waning moments of the first half kept Harvard alive, but by halftime, the Tar Heels had stretched out their scoreboard lead to a 36-25 margin thanks to 56-percent shooting from the floor.
The second half opened with a Justin Jackson three-point snipe that got the Heels off and running again, building up what seemed like a commanding 16-point lead. Carolina was having its way on the glass using every last mismatch inside to its advantage.
But there was no quit in the Crimson. Things got mighty interesting. Harvard took the lead at 65-63 on a three-pointer and a foul from who else but Saunders with under two minutes to play. Scrappy, opportunistic offense coupled with a methodical tempo powered the determined Crimson attack.
Meanwhile, Carolina couldn’t do much right in the closing stretch with turnover after turnover leading to a lot of concerned looks on the Tar Heels’ faces.
But in the end, the rally fell short. The Heels somehow remained cool under pressure in the crucible of the inspired late-game surge by their opponents. When Saunders’ final three-point shot – an open look – missed its mark, Roy Williams and the rest of Tar Heel Nation could breathe a huge sigh of relief.
“I’m thrilled we’re still here and still playing. These two guys – Marcus [Paige] made two big shots and Justin [Jackson] made two big shots. If we had played a little bit better, it may not have required that, but you have to give Harvard credit. It’s driving me wacko, but having said that, we’re still here playing,” Coach Williams says.
Despite the scare, Coach Williams kept his unblemished record intact. The Hall of Famer is now 25-0 in Round of 64 NCAA Tournament games as a head coach.
Next up for the Heels comes a Saturday Round of 32 meeting with fifth-seeded Arkansas, who downed No. 12 Wofford, 56-53.
The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team, 24-11 overall and 11-7 in ACC play, gets its 2015 NCAA Tournament campaign underway Thursday night at 7:20 p.m. in the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The opponent? The No. 13 seeds and Ivy League champions, the Harvard Crimson.
***Listen to the story***
Expectations are always high for the Tar Heels this time of year. But what’s the secret to NCAA Tournament success?
UNC head coach Roy Williams has been to seven Final Fours and says it’s a mixture of skill and mentality.
“First of all, talent. The one thing we understand is how significant and important it is. We try to be ready to play the first day. We’ve always tried to get our kids to understand the next game and not to be looking down the road. I think we really do focus on the first opponent and do that all the way through it,” Coach Williams says.
So does this year’s Carolina squad have the makings of a Final Four group? Coach Williams says recent developments have him optimistic.
“I think two things get me a little excited. One, I think we’re getting a little healthier, which always makes it easier. The other thing, I think we gained something from the ACC Tournament. I think at times, we played very well. We showed some toughness, played four games in four days and were fresh in the fourth game because we wanted to be fresh mentally,” Coach Williams says.
But there are a couple fallibilities that could keep the Tar Heels from their ultimate quest for Indianapolis.
“That’s been the story all year long. We’ve got to cut down on the turnovers, stop making the silly fouls and make sure we do a much better job on the backboards. Some of the games this year we’ve been great rebounding. Silly fouls and the turnovers are what we have to improve on all the time,” Coach Williams says.
Tommy Amaker’s Harvard Crimson program, 22-7 overall and 11-3 in league action, is getting well adjusted to life in March Madness. For the fourth straight season, Harvard will represent the Ivy League in the bracket.
Coach Amaker says his players are hoping to acquit themselves well against a program they have a great deal of respect for.
“We’re healthy, excited and are very hopeful for our kids to embrace the moment against a program and a team that’s historic and storied. We certainly have an amazing amount of respect and admiration for UNC and their historic program. What an opportunity for us and amazing moment for us to represent our school and our conference,” Coach Amaker says.
The feeling is mutual. Coach Williams says his relationship with Coach Amaker spans back a few decades.
“I really enjoy and like Tommy Amaker. I competed against him when he was at Duke. I was an assistant here [UNC]. I talk to Tommy on the road all the time. I think he’s a marvelous person and has done a really nice job there. Our team will be focused on Harvard. We won’t be looking past them,” Coach Williams says.
Interestingly, Harvard leads the all-time series with Carolina 2-0, but not much stock should be placed in that head-to-head. After all, the two schools haven’t met on the hardwood since 1926.
One of the X-factors for the Tar Heels is generally rangy, athletic junior forward J.P. Tokoto, who can lock in defensively and provide electrifying offensive fireworks.
Tokoto says attention to detail and focus will determine UNC’s tournament destiny.
“It’s win or go home. Our level of intensity and level we play at is going to be huge for us. It’s going to be a determining factor of whether we’re going to stay in the tournament and be able to play or be sent home early,” Tokoto says.
That’s the Big Dance – equal parts tragedy and ecstasy. It’s what makes it such compelling theatre. The Tar Heels hope to have an extended stay on the game’s grandest stage.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/win-or-go-home-uncs-tourney-journey-begins-with-harvard-obstacle/
Fresh off their gritty escape over Providence Friday night, the No. 6 seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team face a formidable challenge in the Iowa State Cyclones, the No. 3 seed, in the Round of 32 Sunday at 5:15 p.m. in San Antonio.
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The Tar Heels have new life. Somehow, they were able to withstand an NCAA Tournament performance for the ages by Providence’s Bryce Cotton to keep dancing.
Head Coach Roy Williams says he was proud of his team’s toughness and resiliency down the stretch Friday night.
“The kids kept fighting. I talked about how tough we have to be the last four minutes. I thought our guys were really tough. They made some big-time plays,” Coach Williams says.
But next up for the Tar Heels are the Iowa State Cyclones, one of the premier offensive units in the country. The Cyclones tore apart the NC Central Eagles in their opening contest, seemingly scoring at will from anywhere on the court.
Sophomore Brice Johnson says it was important for Carolina to reassert its dominance on the glass in their NCAA opener. That will certainly be another key Sunday against IowaState.
“In practice, Coach has been getting on us every day about getting to the glass and getting second chance points. That’s the big thing that he’s been emphasizing that last couple days in practice. That’s the one thing that we wanted to do,” Johnson says.
But the Tar Heels may have caught a lucky break. Cyclone center Georges Niang broke his foot in the NC Central game and has been ruled out for the remainder of the Tournament.
How vital is Niang to the Cyclone offense? He averaged 16.5 points per game and can just as easily pop three-pointers as conduct work around the basket.
Carolina will still need to be at its best Sunday as Iowa State has plenty of other offensive weaponry, including DeAndre Kane. Kane posted 14 points and seven rebounds in the opening game.
The Big 12 Tournament champions opened as a 1-point favorite over the Tar Heels.
Head Coach Roy Williams will be leaning on his star performers to get the Tar Heels to the Sweet Sixteen. He says the leadership of juniors James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige has made his job a lot easier this season.
“Marcus and James Michael are great leaders. They’re leaders by how well they play. They’re leaders by how intelligent they are. They’re leaders by how unselfish they are. But when they say something, the other kids listen to them as well,” Coach Williams says.
A win over Iowa State on Sunday would send Carolina to a 32nd appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, an NCAA record, and book the Tar Heels a trip up to Madison Square Garden next weekend.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-take-high-powered-cyclones-sweet-16-berth/
With the win, Carolina is now 24-9 on the season and improved to 110-42 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
Marcus Paige led the Tar Heels in scoring with 19 points, the 13th time this season he has led the Tar Heels in scoring.
Crucially, UNC bagged 21 offensive rebounds Friday night, its highest production on the offensive glass since grabbing 22 against NC State on Feb. 1.
Ironically for the Tar Heels, James Michael McAdoo, who has struggled mightily all year with free throws, was sent to the foul line in the waning seconds with the game hanging in the balance.
The junior made a pair of them to seal the victory for the Tar Heels and with it, preserve Head Coach Roy Williams’ unbeaten streak in NCAA Tournament opening games.
In addition, the win was Coach Williams’ 724th of his career, tying him with DePaul’s Ray Meyer for 19th place in NCAA history. Coach Williams is now 724-189 in 26 seasons, including 306-88 at North Carolina.
Coach Williams said he was proud of his team’s toughness and resiliency to come back after giving up the lead late.
***Listen to the postgame remarks***
Kennedy Meeks recorded 12 points and five rebounds to aid the Carolina cause. He was 6 for 8 from the floor. It was his first scoring game in double figures since he had 15 against Wake Forest six games ago on Feb. 22.
When leading at the half this season, Carolina is a perfect 18-0.
Next up for the Tar Heels is a Round of 32 matchup against hot-shooting Iowa State, winners over N.C. Central Friday night. The Tar Heels and Cyclones will square off Sunday in San Antonio with a spot in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen on the line.
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