A First Time (Well, Kinda) For Everything

Surprising? Unfair? Conspiratorial? These words all probably flashed through the minds of Tar Heel fans across the country when it was revealed on Sunday evening that the UNC had earned an 8-seed and a potential second-round matchup with Kansas in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Many felt that UNC had done enough in beating FSU and Maryland and playing Miami evenly for about 36 minutes in the ACC Tournament to warrant at least a 7 and possibly even a 6-seed. Based on RPI, strength of schedule, and record vs. the Top 100 in the RPI, Carolina was better than each of the teams placed one slot higher. Even in advanced per-possession metrics (kenpom.com), which are supposedly now utilized by the tournament selection committee, UNC is rated better than both Notre Dame and Illinois, who both received sevens. None of these statistics even consider the fact that UNC has been a much better team since moving PJ Hairston into the starting lineup. Fans of other schools are probably rolling their eyes at the complaints of Carolina’s supporters given that UNC has traditionally been a powerhouse. Nevertheless, some Heels fans think it a strange coincidence that the Tar Heels are seemingly under-seeded and slated to meet Roy Williams’ former team in Kansas City should they beat Villanova…a realllllly coincidental coincidence that would make for excellent television.

But maybe the selection committee was simply down on the ACC this year. Neither Duke nor Miami received a 1-seed in spite of seemingly-deserving profiles, especially since no team has ever been denied a spot on the top line after sweeping the ACC regular season and tournament titles. Maybe the committee realized that the Heels have beaten only two NCAA tournament teams this season, NC State (8-seed) and UNLV (5-seed), and both games were at home. Maybe the committee looked at UNC and saw a team that recently got smacked by Duke on its own court…a team that couldn’t defend Miami’s scorers when it needed to get stops to win the ACC Championship…a team that wasn’t ranked for most of the year because it just wasn’t one of the twenty-five best teams in the country. Or maybe the committee is made up of a bunch of idiots. It’s hard to say right now.

Regardless, this has been a crazy year in college basketball. None of the teams at the top of the polls have been truly dominant; heck, a team from the WCC (that’s the West Coast Conference, for those of you that haven’t heard of it) ended the regular season with the #1 ranking. The beauty of March Madness lies in the upset, the electricity that grabs hold of the audience as an underdog is matching the favorite shot for shot, the thrill of seeing the unexpected happen, the success of those that were written off early on or never given a chance to begin with. With the favorites less than a sure thing this year, the tournament seems ripe for excitement and magic.

This year, Carolina has its lowest seed in history (tied with 1990 and 2000) and is taking on the mantle of underdog/Cinderella for one of the first times ever. But for this team, this year, the slipper might just fit. Statistical analysis by Jordan Brenner and Peter Keating at ESPN has shown that the teams most likely to stage major upsets (difference of five or more in seeding) have high variability in performance; the wider the range of possible performances, the more likely it is that a team puts together the type of special performance required to beat a giant. Some of the key characteristics that they’ve identified for “Giant Killers” include making a lot of three pointers and forcing turnovers. Jacking up long distance shots and gambling for steals are the kinds of high-risk, high-reward strategies employed by the most dangerous low seeds, and the Heels are starting to get pretty good at doing those things, based on their performance over the past few weeks. Obviously, if the shots aren’t falling, the result can be really ugly (just watch the highlights from the Duke game in March if you can stand to), but if Hairston and Reggie Bullock can continue their torrid shooting from outside, the Heels have a shot against anyone.

The odds are seemingly stacked against Carolina to do something special in this year’s tournament, but each of the previous two times they were an 8-seed, the Heels took down a top seed and advanced to at least the Sweet Sixteen. Maybe there’s a little magic left in store for this team. We’ll find out starting on Friday.

All Photos in Hoop It Up are 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 


School of Rock


“Big-time basketball” made another stop in Chapel Hill Saturday, and though it isn’t always this way the shaking Smith Center gave nothing up to crazy Cameron, maniacal Maryland and the Wild West venues of the Big 12 that Roy Williams occasionally pines for.

From the moment you saw far more fetching fingers in the air than tickets for sale in the afternoon mist outside, you knew this was going to be some scene inside. If only the game would live up to the hype between these old foes that seem to have a hoops rivalry again after years of domination by UNC, which came      in with a 9-0 home record against N.C. State in the Williams era and won 13 of the last 14, 19 of the last 21 and 36 of the last 45 games against the  revived   Wolfpack.

Far from the half-empty upper decks that drive Williams nuts for lesser games, this resembled Duke’s annual visit in that the seats were filled to the top rows of the biggest on-campus basketball arena in the country. With every tough ticket being had, this crowd was ready to go long before the 4 p.m. tip.

And, as well as the atmosphere, the game between more bitter enemies than respectful foes did not disappoint. For more than two hours on a second straight bad-weather Saturday on the Hill, Carolina was the School of Rock. Even more  so than last week’s great win over Virginia, the old girl with the Teflon top that   is  now 27 years young     never shut up.

Sure, it helped  that the opponent wore the red-trimmed black unies of a State College that has continually inserted itself into the recent troubles at UNC by hacking into websites, making the message boards buzz with obnoxious opinions and absurd accusations and playing freelance researchers for the local newspaper.

So the early video of Gio Bernard’s touché touchdown return that stunned State last October did not seem like just another football promo to launch 2013 ticket sales. It was far more an up-yours reminder, much like Duke kept showing the Austin Rivers’ dagger for weeks after it cut out Carolina’s heart last season.

The Smith Center itself is having a welcome metamorphosis. Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham found $800,000 to install the electronic ribbon board all the way around the upper deck fascia, where the graphics are pretty cool if not the most creative. And PA announcer Tony Gilliam has finally given UNC that deep, dramatic voice of intonation during introductions and scoring calls that has long been needed and really revs the crowd.

There is no question that, with one lineup change, Williams has made this a much more lovable Tar Heel team. It’s no coincidence that catalyst P.J. Hairston gets the loudest roar during starting lineups, and the fans are both hyped and hopeful that the four-guard alignment so contradictory to Carolina basketball will still produce the expected result come March.

After all, here is a double-post program that did not shoot a free throw for the first 30 minutes and four seconds of the game but had opportunities, albeit missed, to blow State out in both halves of what turned out to be a taught, tense, back-and-forth game. Williams has disdained trying to pound the ball inside to big guys who cannot score from the blocks consistently in favor of a West Coast style of offense that spreads the field, er, the floor.

Alignments aside, ol’ Roy’s young pups are definitely getting better and with three straight victories  find themselves one  from the magical 20 mark and  i     n third place (9-5) of the ACC race. This so-called quality win, 76-65, will go a long way toward assuring another NCAA tournament berth for the Tar Heels. Running the table would leave them 13-5 and with a possible top four seed.

They are still not beyond silly mistakes that stop runs and send Williams into sideline gyrations. But the plays they do make are both gutty and great-looking. Like tipping out missed free throws, a lost art with most teams invented by Dean Smith that provide precious extra possessions. And the sneaky overplaying defense that resulted in consecutive steals and snowbirds that opened up a seven-point lead in the first half.

When Carolina widened a six-point advantage to 10 with the first four points of the second half — but missed a chance to make it 16 by blowing two chippies and throwing it away with numbers on the break — Williams unnerved the crowd by using it as a teaching moment. Though he is essentially down to a six-man rotation, he answered the careless stretch by a bizarre bench-clearing with so little firepower that State astutely went to a zone and dared Carolina to shoot.

Marcus Paige, the only starter left on the court who had a stellar day with 8 assists and no turnovers after playing like a true freshman in the first game  in Raleigh,   answered with one of his two three-pointers. But before Williams could get the regulars back in the game the lead had become a four-point deficit to the extremely talented Wolfpack. The main men had gotten the message, though.

They  regained  the lead for good on Paige’s second three-pointer  and  took control of the  game with the help of their first trips to the foul line and more  big baskets by  Paige and Reggie Bullock, who continues his vastly underrated season and looks more like a potential pro every game. The 6-7 Bullock’s 13 rebounds and 3 assists to go with his 5 three’s and 22 points made him the player of this game.

Sir Reginald had eight points in the 18-4 run that settled it, a stretch during which State and particularly C.J. or Calvin or Fester Lester (6 points, 4 rebounds in 30 minutes, for which Hairston’s defense has to get much of the credit) played like a true pack of dogs. Their  real  star, senior center Richard Howell, and freshman T.J. Warren combined for 23 points and 27 rebounds, and sharpshooter Scott Wood  had  drained both wide-open and contested treys, but  State basically threw in the towel by not pressuring or fouling when the outcome was still in doubt.

By now, the home crowd was roaring its approval for the team with more heart than height and an alternative style of play that would make a retired coach and mathematician proud.

It was also time for the way-cool video that begins with former UNC stars ticking off the number of ACC titles, Final Fours, national championships, etc., and ends with them repeating “THIS. . . , THIS . . ., THIS . . .” and Smith himself completing the phrase:

“THIS is Carolina Basketball.”

On a beautiful, if not sunny, Beat-State Saturday, it certainly was.

image by todd melet


Breakdown: Reggie Bullock

Reggie Bullock has been Mr. Dependable all season long. He’s been the model of consistency, and his steadying influence is the major reason why the Tar Heels are still in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid. Bullock was instrumental in keeping the team afloat while waiting on Roy Williams to put P.J. Hairston in the lineup. Now that Hairston has been “discovered,” Reggie can fall back to the supporting role he should have been playing all along.

Reggie does whatever the team needs, whether it’s scoring, rebounding, or distributing to his teammates. He’s also capable of locking down his opponent, something he did extremely well against Duke’s Seth Curry. He’s taken incredible care of the ball this season, and he’s been the leader while waiting for Hairston to get the minutes to assume that role.

Bullock has shot the ball extremely well this season, especially from three-point range. If he has a bad scoring game, he usually makes up for it in other areas. Reggie hasn’t been the same since tearing his meniscus in 2011, but he’s adapted his game to compensate for the loss of explosiveness.

Reggie is a great sidekick, and he’ll be even more effective playing alongside Hairston. His numbers might take a hit, but the Tar Heels will be a much better all-around team. Carolina should be a factor this postseason, but Bullock should have a realistic chance of going out on top with a national title in his senior season next year.

You can follow Josh on Twitter @HoopVisions

image via 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 Eye Of The Hurricane

This is far more about what Miami did than Carolina did not Saturday afternoon in Coral Gables.

But, don’t kid yourself, what the Tar Heels couldn’t do contributed heavily to their 87-61 blowout to the ACC-unbeaten Hurricanes who, frankly, keep playing like their nickname bearing down on the Final Four in Atlanta. If there is a better college team in the country than Miami, I haven’t seen it. And probably won’t.

Still, it would have helped if Carolina had made more than one of its first eight shots while the ‘Canes were going 5-for-6 out of the blocks. And getting back on defense would have been nice, especially when 6-11, 242-pound Kenny Kadji beat all of the half-hearted Heels down the court for a snowbird.

Fighting through screens instead of giving into them, and getting out on the shooters, might have held Miami to under 58 percent shooting from the arc  (15 of 26). And, after proving he’s still not big enough and strong enough to play with true college post men, maybe James Michael McAdoo ought to try a two-handed dunk since his flying one-handers get blocked by real men.

Carolina has a freshman point guard who’s learning the college game. Miami has a sophomore point guard who went to spring training as a kid until Shane Larkin told Barry Larkin he liked basketball more than baseball. The kid has his dad’s athletic DNA and has become the motor that makes Miami a devastating transition team.

The Heels were completely outclassed, the same way the ‘Canes drubbed Duke back in January, and it now looks like the March 2 trip to Durham is the only thing separating Miami from going undefeated in the ACC’s first 18-game regular season. The team that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2008 and only once in the last 10 years will       be one tough out in the Big Dance.

Bronx-born Jim Larranaga, who took George Mason on that magical run to the Final Four in 2006 (beating UNC on the way), has the coaching chops to get his new team back there. The 63-year-old sideline journeyman may have taken one look at the upper class-laden Miami roster and deduced that taking his talents to South Beach was good way to end his coaching career.

The veteran ‘Canes can ’em from outside, bank ’em from the elbow and dunk ’em from down low. And they made it hard for the Heels to get any good looks inside of 20 feet, where Carolina avoided complete obliteration by hitting 5-of-11 three-pointers (three from P.J. Hairston) in the first half. But Miami scored 12 points on Tar Heel turnovers, and once the lead was in double digits, there was no comeback coming. We knew it. Carolina knew it and Miami would not allow it.

The U moved to 10-0 in the ACC by shooting 55 percent and holding Carolina to 39, limiting the Tar Heels to a season-low six trips to the foul line by keeping them out of the bonus in both halves of a fast and physical game. As discussed ad nauseam, Carolina has no low post play and cannot create the usual number of free throw attempts.

With Lebron James and D-Wade watching from the stands, suiting up the Heat stars could not have made it any more one sided.

It was a close to a perfect game as you will see in basketball, great shooting and defense that kept Carolina from executing most anything. Reggie Bullock remained the most consistent Tar Heel with 14 points and seven rebounds, but Bullock wouldn’t start and might not get many minutes for Miami. That’s how suddenly disparate the talent is between the two teams.

Marcus Paige and McAdoo, who have played so well of late, went 4-for-21 and both of them were as much out of their element as Miami usually is against the Tar Heels. Paige missed all five of his treys and McAdoo could not contend with Kadji, Reggie Johnson or Julian Gamble, the ‘Canes massive front line.

The game marked the beginning of the second half of the ACC season for the Tar Heels, who have to go to Duke Wednesday on Mike Krzyzewski’s 66th birthday and still have to visit Clemson, Georgia Tech and Maryland. They also have Virginia, State, Florida State and Duke at home, none of which will be easy.

So if they awake Thursday with a 6-5 ACC record, how hard will it be to get the 10 conference wins and 20 overall needed to insure a bid to the NCAA Tournament? After all, this is a season of mediocrity in what is usually the best basketball league in America. Only two teams are ranked and have proven themselves true contenders for the ACC and national championships.

Carolina is neither of them, but plays both of them within a span of four days. From the eye of the Hurricane to the chaos of the Crazies.

image by todd melet


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


Confessions of a UNC Student

I have a confession to make.

I wasn’t standing in the risers for the most recent basketball game against Maryland

Shocking, I know. Because I recently started doing statistical work for the JV basketball team, I have been unable to stand in line outside the Dean Dome for hours prior to games in order to secure a spot in the front of the student section. The JV statistical crew is basically the underground foundation of the totem pole in terms of the basketball hierarchy at UNC, but fortunately, the program is still kind enough to provide me with tickets behind the scorer’s table.

Cheering outside the student section for the past couple of games has provided me with a number of new experiences and allows me to share what I feel is a unique perspective on the entire Dean Dome crowd, including the student section. With the big win over Maryland this Saturday, it seemed pertinent and reasonable to examine the Smith Center through the lens of that game, which I will do below.

The atmosphere at tip-off was, save contests against Duke, the loudest I have ever heard the Dean Dome. Reggie Bullock’s torrid start got everyone fired up immediately. The diehards and the students, knowing this game was a must-win to stay competitive in the ACC and to build on the great victory against Florida State, quickly recognized the significance of the early lead. At first, the loudness of the arena was focused in the defensive half (which features the risers), as a few enterprising individuals with white boards and dry-erase markers at the front of the crowd were coordinating students. Eventually, their energy spread throughout the building and infected even casual fans. For the first time since moving out of the student section, I didn’t have to worry about blocking anyone’s view when I stood up to cheer because everyone behind me was standing, too.

ESPN identified the most important aspects in creating a home-court advantage in college basketball in a recent article, with the biggest factor being the proximity of student seating to the court. The signs, chants, and overall volume of fans play a big role in intimidating an opponent, and it is generally understood that students are more apt to get loud and create a daunting atmosphere. UNC has traditionally struggled with what former Florida State guard Sam Cassell called “a wine and cheese crowd,” as the wealthy alumni that can afford the seats near the court do not usually cheer very loudly. It was truly a different story on Saturday, as many of the alumni that typically remain seated and casually watch the game imbibed some of the intensity of the students and contributed to the raucous environment. The “Taaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrr…Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelllllllllls” chants were louder; the distracting noises on defense were more persistent; celebrations after big buckets were more emphatic.

Can the fans really have an impact on the game, though? It sure seemed that way. Roy’s boys were the most aggressive I’ve seen this year on the defensive end, attacking Maryland with physical play that forced fifteen turnovers in the first half, including five straight at the outset of the game. Perhaps the Heels have finally figured out how to play defense, or maybe the main rotation players were worried that the hustle of Jackson Simmons was going to cut into their playing time if they didn’t pick things up. Personally, I’d like to think that the fans inspired everyone to work a little bit harder. Whatever the motivation, Carolina was doing all the little things they hadn’t in the losses they suffered earlier this year: Boxing out to prevent second chance opportunities, sprinting back on defense to limit easy transition baskets, pressuring ballhandlers to force turnovers, closing out on three-point shooters. Even if it didn’t necessarily help UNC, the volume in the building certainly hurt the Terrapins. From my vantage point near the Maryland bench, I could see Mark Turgeon struggling to communicate with his players; at one point, he and all of his assistants were shouting at Alex Len to attack the hoop, but Len, all the way on the other end of the floor, couldn’t hear and settled for a jumper. The poor communication definitely played a role in the Tar Heels’ hot start and ultimately could have been the difference in the game. The importance of the fans in the way the game played out should not be underestimated.

For as good as the Heels played in the first half, they were equally mediocre in the second, scoring just twenty points after the intermission. The fan intensity died down to some degree, understandable with the seemingly insurmountable lead that UNC had built prior to the break, but not ideal. Carolina did enough to win a key conference game at home, though, which is the important thing given the struggles and growing pains this team has faced early in the season. What happens during the rest of the year will depend on whether the Tar Heels play up to their potential as they did in the first half against Maryland, or if they revert back to the underachieving squad that showed up after halftime. The fans inside the Dean Dome will likely follow suit.


You can follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewdarvin

(image by Todd Melet)


Bye Bye, Big 10 Terps

Amidst the chaos that has become college athletics, Carolina defeated Maryland Saturday in truly a tale of two halves. The Tar Heels played perhaps their best 20 minutes of basketball to begin the game and ended with perhaps their worst.

Depending on when they officially bolt for the Big 10 and the 2014 basketball schedule, this could well have been the Terrapins’ last trip to the Dean Smith Center as a member of the ACC. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, a Kansas protégé of both Larry Brown and Roy Williams, took what he considered to be one of the best jobs in the country two years ago. When the Terps, along with Rutgers, join the Big 10, who knows what kind of a job it will be.

For sure, trips to Columbus, Ann Arbor and Iowa City will never match those January games in a warm climate on Tobacco Road. And the load of talent in the Metro Washington-Baltimore area will surely have second thoughts about playing in an unfamiliar conference as opposed to the rivalries they’ve been watching all their lives.

But it’s all about money these days, and Maryland’s athletic department had to stave off bankruptcy by dropping seven varsity sports before opting out for the Big 10, which has guaranteed the university at least $20 million more per year than the ACC in television revenues beginning in 2017. The Terps promptly reinstated four of those sports.

So when the near-capacity crowd at the Smith Center began cheering “ACC! ACC!” at the end of Carolina’s 62-52 victory, it was clear that Maryland is a lame duck. And Turgeon’s Terps were pretty lame in the first half, committing 15 turnovers that the Tar Heels converted into 14 points while Reggie Bullock was single-handedly outscoring them.

Bullock came out firing, hitting two “3s” and a regular field goal before Maryland could even hold onto the ball long enough to attempt a shot. Bullock had UNC’s first four field goals as his 21 points in the first half were more than Maryland’s team total (42-20) and had the fans amped for a blowout and perhaps a chance to get out into the spring weather a little early.

The Tar Heels also duplicated the aggressive defense they played three weeks before against UNLV, stealing the ball from the shell-shocked Terps nine times. Maryland made nine field goals, went 0-7 from the arc and, frankly, was lucky to be down just 22 at the half. The crowd got further aroused by an appearance from the 2012 UNC football team, which is calling itself the ACC Coastal Division champions after finishing in a three-way tie with Miami and Georgia Tech.

Having already printed up t-shirts boasting as much, it seemed a little defiant since NCAA sanctions kept the gridders out of the post-season. But there is so much unrest and speculation about the future of the ACC these days, reminding UNC that it wasn’t eligible to win anything last season seems like a waste of time and energy. Will there even be an ACC title to compete for in the next few years? If not, maybe Maryland made the right decision to get out while the getting was good. Aside from the money, the Terps can resume their once-heated football rivalry with Penn State, which has won 35 of the 37 games they used to play. Ouch.

The second half was a reversal of fortunes as Carolina made just one more three (from Bullock, his only points of the period) and missed 26 of its 34 shots. Maryland kept clawing around and turned it over only six times, allowing the Terps to make a moderate late run. In fact, if P.J. Hairston had not rebounded James Michael McAdoo’s missed free throw and fired it out to Marcus Paige for his sixth assist to JMM underneath, Maryland might have really made it interesting.

The Tar Heels are improving individually but as a team still look pretty lost on offense. When Bullock is getting his college high (24) and McAdoo is recording a double-double (19 and 11), they can be “pretty doggone good,” as Roy Williams said afterward, choosing to focus on the first half and not the second. But when the shots stop falling and the offense bogs down, the 35-second clock is their enemy and the lane starts to look like the subway at rush hour.

Freshman J.P. Tokoto hit his only shot and was the lone Tar Heel to make more than he missed. They continued their dogged defense, especially against Ukrainian seven-footer Alex Len, who was held to 10 points and five rebounds. The pivot committee of Desmond Hubert, Joel James and Brice Johnson managed to contain Len, who will be playing in the NBA some day.

The pro draft could bypass Carolina completely, which only bodes well for those regulars returning, those substitutes improving and those recruits coming. The Tar Heels are scrapping for their lives as they try to make scoring easier than hitting from outside. As the hot-cold Bullock proved, it’s still a game where the sum must be better than the parts.

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