My Wife, My City
Finally, Wednesday morning, Jan cried. Before then, she was caught somewhere between five minutes from the finish line at the Boston Marathon and the tragedy that occurred a mile or so up the road.
She and her sister, both UNC graduates from Winston-Salem, were running Boston for the first time, the oldest footrace in America and the centerpiece of perhaps the most unique day in this country. Patriots Day is a holiday only to Boston and Massachusetts, no school, commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War. Various first battle reenactments are staged in small towns all over the state. The Red Sox always play a home game that begins at 11 so the crowd can filter from Fenway Park down to Copley Square to watch the last few hours of the Boston Marathon, this year the 117th running.
Jan and (sister) Teresa had decided to run by joining charity teams that make up the great majority of the 26,000-person field. Teresa raised money for the Doug Flutie Autism team because she is a Doctor of Psychology with expertise in the field, having authored two books on Asperger’s Syndrome.
Jan Bolick, as many of you know, is a master of psychology helping so many of her business colleagues and friends with their daily challenges. Their mother, Frances “Flash” Flynt Bolick, had died 20 years ago from cancer first found in her liver. So Jan joined the American Liver Foundation team, which has raised more than $16 million over the last 25 years. At a moving breakfast Sunday morning, we found out that Jan’s part-time fund-raising gig that basically reached out to her own personal network finished in the top 20 among this year’s volunteers.
The sisters had trained together – mostly virtually because Teresa lives up there and Jan lives here. So they broke down the regimen of 450 total miles by sticking to their schedules and trying to run from 3 to 20 miles on the same day at the same time. Jan went to Boston in February for a practice “fun run” with her team that was dressing out as super heroes. Jan’s costume also honored her mother, “Flash Flynt” who got her nickname as a sports reporter for her high school newspaper.
Finally, the last week of training warm-down arrived and we headed to New England for the weekend. Constantly checking the weather, we saw a beautiful, crisp forecast, one that Bostonians pray for in the early weeks of the baseball season and Patriots Day. Temperatures were supposed to be in the low 50s with intermittent sun. In New England, that’s akin to an April Acapulco.
We made a weekend of it, as we usually do, spending this particular Saturday driving out to the starting line in the town of Hopkinton and talking to everyone from policemen who would be there to the two friends who run the Snappy Dogs stand on the town commons. We walked over to touch the Hoyt statute that honors three generations of Hoyts who have “run” in the wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon. Then the sisters toed the starting line and ran the first three miles of the race before we picked them up and drove the remaining 23 or so right into downtown Boston.
On the way, we passed through Wellesley, where the brainy college coeds turn silly every Patriots Day, cheering the runners with signs about wanting to be kissed. The boys at Boston College on Comm. Ave. in Chestnut Hill are a little rowdier, some offering open beers to runners as they pass by. Over the race course through eight towns and into the city, it’s a day of celebration, jubilation and just plain fun. It’s not about the Elite Runners, who start at 9 and blow through in a near sprint in two and half hours.
On race day, after the sisters met their teams at 6:30 am for the bus ride to Hopkinton, I paid special attention to UNC All-American Shalane Flanagan, the NCAA champion distance runner who grew up in Marblehead on the North Shore and always dreamed of running and winning “Boston.” She trained long and hard with fellow American and BFF Kara Goucher, but in the end two bigger, stronger and leggier Kenyans held them off. Shalane finished fourth, Goucher seventh. Honestly, I cannot tell you who won among the Elite men.
My brother-in-law and I worked our way into Boston and planned to be on the Boylston Street finish line around 2 pm. Receiving hourly text updates, we knew Jan and Teresa would run the race in about 4 1/2 hours from their 10:40 starting time. So around 3:10 or so, they would come down Boylston on adrenalin, with the crowd of 20,000 or so cheering on total strangers as they ran the last half mile in waves ten abreast the four lanes. All ages, all sizes, all styles, they were taking it home, just as they had either envisioned or remembered as having done it before.
Steven (Teresa’s husband) and I gently pushed our way through the crowd of eight deep to get on the restraining barrier by 2:30. Having grown up in Boston and followed the Marathon as a casual fan, this was my first time seeing the unmitigated joy and happiness thousands of random runners bring to hundreds of thousands screaming spectators. Some found the runners they knew, but most were just cheering everyone. Then, within a flash of 15 seconds, the Boston Marathon changed forever.
I’ve since told friends that in all my years of sports watching, I never had a better or worse 50-yard line seat. To our right about one football field away, a gigantic explosion ripped through the opposite sidewalk near the finish line. A large cloud of burning smoke was just subsiding when, to our left, a similar explosion went off across the street. Two such blasts had to be intentional, and that’s when the stunned crowd knocked down the barricades and headed for the middle of the race course, fearing another bomb would go off on our side of the street.
First-responders were already tending to people who had been literally blown into the street and others who were staggering across. Within minutes, hundreds of Boston police were there, trying to evacuate the block, ordering everyone to walk up side streets across from where the bombs had gone off. It was two hours before we found our wives, since cell service in the immediate area had been shut down due to concern that the detonations were being set off remotely by mobile phones.
Thankfully, we found Teresa and Jan, who had been separated when the police stopped the race less than two miles from the finish line. One sister had made her way toward the home of friends where we had planned to meet and celebrate. Jan was shivering at a first-aid tent and then warmed by the hospitality of a synagogue that opened its doors to distressed runners. It was one of the many kind gestures offered by citizens and business owners and the various police and medical personnel who rushed to the scene. When Jan was eventually bussed to a staging area at the Boston Commons, a stranger walked up and gave her a sweatshirt, her size and everything.
Finally reunited, we watched the endless TV replays from the hundreds of media cameras set up at the finish line. If these sickos or terrorists wanted publicity, they picked the right place to blow up their homemade bombs. The death total rose to three and the injured to more than 170 before we left Boston and headed back to Teresa’s home. Tuesday, the Bolick girls recovered the bags they had left in Hopkinton. The Boston Athletic Association, which runs the Marathon, had set up another staging area for runners who wanted to and needed to find some closure. Upon their arrival, Jan and Teresa had the medals they were to receive at the finish line placed around their necks.
Boston is a tough, proud city with a storied history in so many ways. There WILL be a 118th Marathon, with tighter security in what is an impossible event to totally lock down. But besides the tragic loss of life and some limbs and more of the innocence we once enjoyed in America, Boston also lost some of its soul since so many people who had counted on another great Patriots Day were driven away in shock and tears.
Jan had trained envisioning how she would stride across the finish line, arms raised, big smile on her face. That carried her through four months and was to carry her through the final meters. But she never got there, along with thousands of others who planned to end the race in their own special way.
Concerned with those who lost more than a chance to complete their vision, Jan kept saying it was okay. It was okay. It was okay. But, finally, Wednesday morning, she cried.
No. 1 Tar Heels Split Two With Clemson
CHAPEL HILL – The No. 1 UNC baseball team split a doubleheader with Clemson on Monday, losing 5-4 in 11 innings in the nightcap after clinching the three-game series with a 6-2 afternoon win.
It was a busy Easter Monday for the Tar Heels and Tigers, who played for nearly seven straight hours to wrap up the series after rain washed out play on Sunday night.
The teams picked up where they left off when the rain hit on Sunday, in the third inning with the Tar Heels leading 2-0. Clemson cut the lead to 2-1 in the fifth inning before Carolina broke it open: Michael Russell stole home in the sixth to give the Heels a 3-1 lead, then first baseman Cody Stubbs sealed the deal in the seventh with a two-out, two-run single.
Trent Thornton got the win in relief to move to 6-0 on the year.
The nightcap was a different story, though. Carolina jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning on a two-out, two-run homer by third baseman Colin Moran, then Stubbs drove in another run on a two-out hit in the fifth to give the Heels a 3-1 lead. But the Tigers stormed back in the top of the sixth: center fielder Thomas Brittle drove in a pair with a single to tie the game, then shortstop Tyler Krieger scored on a wild pitch to put Clemson on top, 4-3.
Colin Moran drove in his third run to tie the score in the seventh—and there it remained until the eleventh inning, when Tigers catcher Garrett Boulware drove in the game-winner with a bases-loaded groundout.
The Tar Heels used eight pitchers in the game; Chris O’Brien took the loss.
The loss snaps a 9-game winning streak for the Tar Heels and drops them to 25-2 on the year, 9-2 in ACC play. Clemson moves to 17-11.
Carolina is back in action on Wednesday at UNC-Wilmington; game time is 6:00 p.m. The Heels will be back in Boshamer Stadium this weekend for a three-game series against Maryland.
Coach K's Great, But . . .
Now that the ACC has failed to reach the Final Four for three straight years for the first time since 1961, let’s set the record straight about Duke and Coach K.
Krzyzewski is a terrific coach, called “the John Wooden of this era” by Sunday’s vanquisher, Louisville’s Rick Pitino. Certainly with four national championships, 11 Final Fours and two Gold Medals with the U.S. Olympic team (which Wooden never coached), you can make a case for the man with the most major college victories in basketball history as the best sitting head coach.
But compared to the perception that Duke is in the Final Four every year, the Blue Devils have hardly lived up to that reputation. There are so many cable sports center shows (ESPN alone has too many to count), young announcers seem given to hyperbole. For example, one late Sunday said this before going to a clip from Coach K’s post-game press conference.
“So the Final Four will go off without the man who is there year after year.”
Let’s get real, people. Duke has been to exactly TWO Final Fours since 2004 — hardly “year after year.” Yes, Krzyzewski has been amazingly consistent in accumulating those 957 career victories. But his NCAA record over the last 10 years is less than sterling. It doesn’t even compare to Roy Williams, who beat K and Duke in the 2003 Sweet Sixteen in his last season at Kansas (and second straight Final Four year for the Jayhawks). Here are the numbers since Roy’s return to UNC:
Duke’s Last 10 Stops Carolina’s Last 9 Stops
1 NCAA title (6-0) 2 NCAA titles (12-0)
1 Final Four (4-1) 1 Final Four (4-1)
1 Elite 8 (3-1) 3 Elite 8s (9-3)
4 Sweet 16s (8-4) 0 Sweet 16s (0-0)
1 Round of 32 (1-1) 3 Round of 32 (3-3)
2 Round of 64 (0-2) 0 Round of 64* (0-0)
NCAA record: 22-9 NCAA record: 28-7
While playing in more NCAA games (35) than Duke (31), Carolina under Williams has a better post-season record. And (*) never losing in the round of 64 in his 25 years as a head coach, Williams holds the active NCAA mark of 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with at least one victory.
The Tar Heels did miss the NCAA Tournament in 2010, following the loss of four starters and stars off their 2009 national championship team. As written here before, UNC has had 13 NBA first-round draft choices over the last nine years, 11 of whom went out early to cost Carolina a total of 17 seasons of eligibility.
Duke, by contrast, has eight first-rounders during that same period, with early departures costing the Blue Devils 10 seasons of eligibility. This June, they will likely have three more seniors drafted in the first round – Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly.
But, based on Sunday’s one-sided loss to Louisville, none of those players is a sure-shot pro, compared to Cardinals Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, who have the hops and speed to have made Duke look slow and cumbersome. In the second half, when Louisville began setting high ball screens a little farther out, Siva and Smith blew by the Blue Devils still trying to get out to help on the screens.
The game, of course, was halted late in the first half by the tragic injury to Louisville sophomore Kevin Ware, who landed awkwardly on his right leg and snapped the bone in two places. The scene was so gruesome, driving Cardinal players, coaches and fans to tears, CBS did not to show a replay of the incident over and over. The cameras concentrated on the emotion of the moment.
It was difficult to say how the injury would affect both teams, and Louisville appeared unglued until a late 10-4 run that provided a 35-32 lead at halftime. And when ahead at the break this season, the Cardinals are now 29-0. Much of that can be attributed to Pitino’s halftime adjustments and his teams amazing speed and skill and its depth to cover for sixth-man Ware’s loss.
Duke, meanwhile, appeared slow and slow to adjust to Louisville’s isolating Siva and Smith at the top of the key. Once either of those speeding bullets got into the lane, the Blue Devil big men could not contend. When Duke lost control of the game, it lacked the speed on defense and firepower on offense to get back in.
Louisville represents how the college game is trending, and those teams that cannot compete in recruiting and style will be left behind. The Cardinals apply relentless pressure on both ends of the court, trying to wear opponents down with their speed on offense as well as defense. They usually press in the backcourt and then fall back into changing man-to-man or zone defense, which Duke was slow to recognize and attack. The second half was no contest.
Pitino got a measure of revenge from his Kentucky team’s last-second loss to Duke in the 1992 Regional Final in Philadelphia, the famous game in which Christian Laettner did not miss a free throw or field goal, including the buzzer beater from 18 feet as time expired. Pitino, now at UK’s arch rival, continues to carve out his own Hall of Fame career, matching Roy Williams’ seventh Final Four.
Where college basketball, particularly in the revamped ACC, goes from here is unknown. More conference realignment may be coming, but for now Louisville, Pitt and Final Four-bound Syracuse are headed for the ACC. And even with Duke’s over-hyped post-season performance, it looks like all the movement meant to help football will give slumping ACC basketball a much-needed boost.
Rain Delays UNC Baseball Match-Up Against Clemson
CHAPEL HILL – It was a short night for the No. 1 Diamond Heels Sunday against Clemson at Boshamer Stadium.
Rains rolled through just before 8 p.m. in the second game between the Tigers and the Heels. Play is scheduled to resume 2:45 p.m. on Monday.
The Tar Heels held a 2-0 lead over the Tigers with two outs in the top of the third inning.
UNC registered its two runs in the second inning. Matt Roberts set-up a safety squeeze bunt to score Brian Holberton. And two batters later, Landon Lassiter sent a double inside third base to left field, scoring Mike Zolk from second base.
Sophomore Benton Moss was having an excellent night on the mound, striking out six batters through 2.2 innings.
The Heels took the first match-up on Saturday, beating Clemson 10-3. With that win UNC improved to 24-1 overall, and 8-1 in the ACC.
The third game of the series is also slated for Monday night at 6 p.m.
You hate to end the season the way it did for our team, but when you think about it, only one team is happy when the season is over.
Everyone knows we were caught short in some areas with the guys leaving early last year, and what you want your team to do every season is improve as it goes along. I think we did that and I’ve said before this may have been Coach Williams’ and his staff’s best coaching job.
We caught Kansas when they were tight in the first half and if a few more of our shots went down we could have been ahead by much more than nine points. If so, that would have made it hard for Kansas to win, no matter how well they played in the second half. But it wasn’t to be, and now with one and a half “bad games” behind them Kansas could be dangerous for the rest of the tournament.
Winning 25 games was pretty amazing, when you consider how unsure we looked in December and January. When we went small, the game was in the hands of the shooters and we won a lot of contests by shooting the ball really well. But, as they say, if you live by it you may die by it someday.
It gives us great momentum going into next season, especially if everyone comes back. I agree with Coach Williams, that Reggie, James Michael and P.J. will all be in the NBA someday, but we don’t know exactly when. If the guaranteed money is there, it becomes a tough choice, but as a Carolina fan I hope they all come back for one more season and help us have a great year, which in turn will help their draft status.
We’ll have more size coming in next season and with the big guys returning I think we’ve probably seen the end of small ball except in certain match-up situations. Coach Smith used to say the biggest improvement comes between your freshman and sophomore years, after having one season to learn what playing college basketball is all about. So I look for Brice and Joel and J.P. to improve over the summer, and Marcus to keep getting better as he did all season. He’s going to be one great point guard for Carolina, I’m sure of that.
Now, I guess we can just sit back and enjoy the tournament. There are some great teams left, like Louisville and Indiana and, of course, Duke and Miami. How about Florida Gulf Coast? That’s a great story about Andy Enfield getting into coaching in an unusual way. He had always been involved in basketball, but before taking his first coaching job he had already sold his company for a hundred million dollars.
I heard that he told the school he wanted to make a nice donation, and they asked what they could do for him in return.
And he said, “I’d like to coach your basketball team!”
Phil Ford was a three-time All-American at UNC, 1978 ACC Player of the Year, NBA Rookie of the Year, an NBA all-star, and was recently inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
And so the curtain draws to a close. As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Kansas City and good ol’ Roy was forced once again to give a congratulatory shake of the hand to his KU replacement, the hardwood Heels took their final bows. But what should we, the audience, make of this year’s production of Tar Heel basketball? For once, it’s hard to tell.
In a season as unpredictable as any in recent memory, one thing was certain: if the Heels weren’t knocking down shots, they weren’t winning games. Sunday was no different, as Carolina’s fate was sealed by a horrid 30% shooting mark. And yet, hope burned bright at halftime as the feisty Heels maintained a solid 9-point lead over their more athletic but incredibly sloppy counterparts from Kansas. In what was initially a pleasant surprise, the opposing team didn’t score at a blistering pace. Having witnessed in-person Duke’s torching of the nets in the Heels’ season finale and Miami’s shooting clinic in the ACC tournament final, it was refreshing to see an opponent struggle.
But Carolina didn’t capitalize on the Jayhawks sluggish start, failing to jump out to any substantial lead and shooting an appalling 11 for 42 in the first half. When Kansas started to knock down outside shots early in the second half, it spelled doom for the offensively-challenged Heels. With their small lineup unable to compete on the boards and their shots not falling, Carolina was dead in the water.
Thus ended what was an atypical year, to say the least. Having lost the likes of Barnes, Henson, Zeller, and Marshall, the new look Heels met varied expectations when they hit the court in November. The young squad experienced an up and down start that saw landslide victories (granted, against the likes of Florida Atlantic and Chaminade, among others) and blowout losses. At times the Heels simply looked lost (the Indiana and Texas games come to mind), leading the Carolina faithful to worry about the possibility of another NIT-bound season.
But then, of course, the Heels found new life. Despite starting conference play with two losses, they rallied to finish third in ACC standings and rode Coach Williams’ 4-guard experiment all the way to their third ACC tournament title game in as many years. Though the finish line came sooner than fans had hoped, there is certainly no shame in a 25-win season.
In glaring contrast to his teams of the past, this year’s crew lived and died by the three-point shot. With great shooters like Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston at your disposal and few experienced big men to be found, why not fire away from downtown? When Reggie and P.J. were lighting it up from outside, it was relatively easy to mask other deficiencies in, say, rebounding and interior defense. But when the rims are unkind? Well then you have Sunday. What happened Sunday night was simply the drawback of Roy Williams’ calculated decision to sacrifice size for firepower. Without a traditional lineup anchored by a stout frontline, the Heels lacked the consistency of recent years. With names like Zeller, Barnes, and Henson in the post, the woes of streaky shooting were more often than not erased by domination of the boards, physical inside play, and easy buckets. With these names now gracing pro rosters, there was very little that came easy to the 2013 Heels.
So where do we go from here? Will Roy stick with his guard-heavy lineup? All signs should point to no. Though Carolina doesn’t boast a fantastic batch of talent in its incoming class, it should have a freshman of relatively immediate impact in 6’ 8’’ power forward Isaiah Hicks (who finished his high school career with a 34 point, 30 rebound performance in the NC 3A state title game). Depending on whether or not James Michael McAdoo bolts early for the NBA, the Heels could have a solid pool of big men to choose from in Hicks, McAdoo, Joel James, Brice Johnson, and Desmond Hubert (though as much as I hate to say it, I don’t know if Hubert will ever develop his offensive touch to the point where he’ll be anything more than a solid post defender).
In reality it’s hard to know what next year has in store, if for no other reason than that no one has any idea who will be coming and going in Chapel Hill. While McAdoo is most likely to make the jump to the pros there is certainly the possibility that Bullock and Hairston could join him as late first round picks. And of course, the jury is still out on the Andrew Wiggins decision. Should Wiggins decide to call the Dean Dome home, the Tar Heels would roll into next year with quite a bit of momentum. The coming weeks should answer many questions for the boys in blue.
Though a Round of 32 loss to Kansas is not on my list of favorite ways to end a season, I’m proud of the resilience shown by our team in finishing out a tough year. Coming back to a place where expectations are always lofty, the Heels will return to meet a town with its arms wide open. Though they’re not champions, they will forever be our own. And no matter how far away it seems, early November will always find them back at work.
All Chapelboro.com Hoop It Up photos provided by Todd Melet.
Tar Heel Baseball Rallies In Ninth and Tenth For Win
CHAPEL HILL – Trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, the Tar Heel baseballteam rallied for the tying run in the ninth and the winning run in the tenth to defeat the VCU Rams 3-2.
1B Cody Stubbs’ walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the tenth drove in DH Landon Lassiterjust one inning after SS Michael Russell’s sacrifice fly drove in freshman RF Skye Bolt to tie the score.
Despite the low-scoring affair, Carolina got on base throughout the game while struggling with runners in scoring position. The Heels left the bases loaded in the 3rd, 4th and 7th inning.
UNC starter Hobbs Johnson had a solid outing, giving up two earned in five innings, but was in line for the loss before UNC’s late game heroics.
The bullpen also did its part in the effort, with Chris Munnelly, Tate Parrish, and Trevor Kelley combining to give up just one hit in their five innings of relief.
Chris McCue got the final five outs to earn the win.
With the win, the Tar Heels improve to 19-1, which is the programs’ second best start through 20 games.
No. 3 Heels WBB To Face No. 6 Delaware in NCAA 2nd Round
CHAPEL HILL – UNC takes on Delaware at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in Newark, a home game for the Fightin’ Blue Hens who are riding high on a 26-game winning streak.
And it’ll be a hostile environment in the Bob Carpenter Center. Delaware’s first round match up against West Virginia was a sell out.
Delaware (31-3) has only dropped three games this season, were perfect in conference play, and claimed the Colonial Athletic Association title.
UNC (29-6) barely escaped No. 14 seed Albany on Sunday. Carolina gave the Great Danes 18 points off turnovers, shot 34.5 percent from the field, and struggled from three-point range, making 4-17.
Senior Tierra Ruffin-Pratt carried the Heels to a 59-54 victory over Delaware, scoring more than half of UNC’s points. She posted a career-high 30 points, made two crucial free throws in the last 10 seconds of play, and scored 17 of the Tar Heels’ final 21 points.
Ruffin-Pratt is just the third player in UNC history to score 30 points in an NCAA tournament game.
The star watch is also on Delaware’s leading scorer, Elena Delle Donne, who put up 33 points in the victory against WVU. The 6 foot 5 senior center is going into the game knowing it will be her last appearance in her home gym.
By the numbers, it should be a fairly even-matched game. Carolina averages 69.1 points per game to the Blue Hens’ 66.8. The Blue Hens allow an average of 51.2 points per game to UNC’s 59.8.
On the season, Carolina is 9-0 in games decided by five points or less.
That’s good to know if the Heels take it down to the wire again.
Kansas, Kansas, Kansas (Ugh!)
It had to be Kansas. Kansas. Kansas.
Roy Williams may be over the heartbreak and heartache his leaving Lawrence caused in 2003, but it’s just getting worse with me. The tweets, emails and blog posts are already out there, claiming that Bill Self has built a better program at KU than ol’ Roy has at UNC over the last 10 years.
Statistics don’t show that (they’re pretty damn even, in fact), but the fact that Tar Heels have now gone home at the hands of the Jayhawks in three of the last six NCAA Tournaments makes it seem that way to a lot of basketball fans.
Both programs have been great all the way back to the Phog Allen and Frank McGuire eras, each having blip periods that caused them to change coaches. But the last 10 years have been basically even-steven, certainly close enough to disavow any notion that one guy has out-coached the other.
Kansas and Self have won more games and have a better record (300-58 for 84%) than Carolina and Williams (282-79 for 78%), but that is largely due to several factors over that 10-year span.
One, Self took over a Kansas team that Williams left in sounder shape than the one Roy inherited from Matt Doherty. Two, the Tar Heels had one dreadful season in the last 10 years, the 20-17 debacle that followed losing four starters off the 2009 national champions. And, three, Carolina’s overall pipeline to the pros has been better than Self’s at Kansas, which ironically has made it worse for UNC.
Thirteen players have been drafted in the first round during the Williams era, 11 of them who left a total of 17 seasons on the Tar Heel table. Compare that to Kansas under Self, which has produced nine first-round picks, one who left after one year, two who left after two and another two who left after three seasons. If you add Mario Chalmers, the MOP of the 20008 Final Four who was drafted in the second round, the Jayhawks have lost 10 seasons of eligibility in the last 10 years.
As for the NCAA Tournament, Self and Kansas have been there all 10 years but with less results than Carolina and Williams in nine trips. KU has one national championship (’08) and reached another Final Four (2012) and could still improve on those numbers this season. The Jayhawks have gone out in three regional finals, one Sweet Sixteen (and counting), one second round ouster and two embarrassing first-round upsets (Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and ’06).
Carolina under Williams has those 2005 and ’09 NCAA titles, one other Final Four and three Elite Eight game goners. Sunday’s loss to KU was the third second-round ouster for UNC and Williams, who holds the record of 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with at least one victory. Both Self and Williams have won three national Coach of the Year honors at their current schools.
Their conference records are pretty close, with Self winning a few more regular-season and tournament titles in the Big 12 than Williams in the ACC. But, over that 10 years, the ACC has been the better league top to bottom and won three national championships to KU’s one for the Big 12.
So don’t give me that hoo-ha that Kansas has a better program than Carolina. They are both great. What skews the pooch are those three losses to KU in the three NCAA match-ups, and each one has a story to itself.
At the 2008 Final Four at San Antonio, the Tar Heels were a slight favorite over Kansas after winning both the ACC regular season and tournament and losing only two games all season. But this was the first time Williams faced Kansas, the still-angry KU crowd and all the storylines took away from the game itself.
The Heels played horribly, fell behind by 40-12 in the first half and made a late push that fell short in the 84-68 crusher. Williams (wearing the infamous KU sticker) stayed to watch the Jayhawks win the national championship two nights later, only after Memphis did not foul Kansas with a three-point lead and Chalmers’ dramatic bomb sent the game into overtime.
When the 2012 NCAA brackets came out, Carolina was on another collision course with Kansas in the Midwest Regional, hoping to have John Henson back at full strength from the wrist he sprained in the ACC Tournament. Of course, it got worse after Kendall Marshall went down in the second-round win over Creighton. With back-up point guard Dexter Strickland already sidelined by a knee injury, the Tar Heels were left with freshman reserve Stilman White, who played admirably in the 13-point loss to the Jayhawks in St. Louis.
The committee did it again this season, when it was an even worse scenario for Carolina, which lost two sophomores, one junior and one senior from its 2012 starting lineup that when whole was the only serious threat to Kentucky’s national championship. And the suits sent the Tar Heels to Kansas City (which is like playing Carolina in Greensboro).
By then, UNC had made the NCAA Tournament only due to perhaps Williams’ best coaching job of his 25-year career. Reluctantly, in early February, he scrapped his two low-post offense for a small lineup of four guards and little presence in the paint. The Heels launched and made enough three-pointers to turn their season around and get another NCAA bid, but they went to the Dance living by the long bomb, which was enough to give Williams the hives.
And, yes, they died that way, shooting barely 30 percent for the game and giving in to Kansas’ best half of the tournament thus far. So Carolina under Williams is 0-3 against KU and Self. And, since they will never play in the regular season by mutual consent, it will stay that way until the next time they meet in the NCAA tournament.
With at least five guys 6-9 or bigger next season, Williams will go back to the way he likes to play and, sooner or later, he’ll see his old school again. The NCAA committee seems to like that kind of theater for TV.
Even though, as of this moment, we hate it.
All photography in Hoop It Up is provided by Todd Melet.
Well, the NCAA selection committee got the matchup they wanted — not that they would ever admit it. The committee apparently spends as much time defending their picks as they do actually making them. Or, just enough to make Andy Katz laugh as they claim seedings are based on resume and not “matchups” like Carolina and Kansas.
Regardless, UNC vs. Kansas will happen on Sunday (5:15 PM, CBS), even if both teams did what they could to prevent it. The Tar Heels spurted out to a 20 point lead on Friday, only to give it all back fast. And the #1 seeded Jayhawks took a deficit into halftime against a 16th seed, which was one of only a handful of times that’s even happened.
But either way, here we are, and what is likely to be the game on Sunday will certainly have some history behind it — even if the committee didn’t plan it — and it doesn’t even have to rhyme with -oy -illiams to make storylines. The Tar Heels have won national titles (‘57 & ‘93) both times they managed to beat Kansas in the NCAAs, and of the five times total that the Jayhawks and Tar Heels have met: all five ended up with the winner in the national title game.
Though, maybe the committee really doesn’t go through much trouble to plan juicy matchups since they seem to be pretty common to UNC anyway. Before Friday night, the last two times UNC has beaten Villanova they went on to win national titles. And of the five times total? Three national titles (‘82, ‘05, ‘09) and one Final Four (‘91) after Tar Heel wins. The lone Villanova win? The Wildcats won the national title in 1985 after beating the Brad Daugherty-led Heels.
In other words, if the committee can somehow work UNC into the path of Kansas or Villanova, the tournament is (historically speaking) guaranteed a traditional power in the Final Four… Even if there’s nothing traditional about the tournament these days.
—or UNC for that matter. Even with their smaller lineup, when UNC is hitting threes they seem almost unbeatable. But when they aren’t, the size problems down low are massive (pun intended). Villanova, who only starts one player over 6’8, crushed the Tar Heels on the boards (35-23) and imposed their pace on the game for much of the second half. If UNC gives up 14 offensive rebounds to Kansas like they did on Friday, consider their season over — no matter how many threes they hit.
Though, with their three-point shooting the Heels can play with anyone. Anyone. #1 seed or not.
But when those threes dried up in the second half, Carolina’s season looked to be coming to an end as the pace slowed and Villanova’s size took over. The Wildcats didn’t shoot well from three, but scored at will in the paint and off rebounds. It took six of eight threes to go down in crunch-time for UNC to hold on, and there’s no way that kind of shooting lasts for five more games.
But it really is a thing of beauty to watch when shots are falling. Bullock and Hairston seem to almost feed off each other. Both native-Carolinians and well-known friends before coming to UNC, the two only made one three-pointer each last night that didn’t come within a minute of the other connecting from long distance. It’s almost as if they start dueling, “Oh you hit one? Now I’ve gotta hit one.” “Oh PJ is getting hot? I can’t let him get all the credit,” says the hypothetical Bullock.
And with Paige starting to get his shot going, this team can be scary-good offensively. The nontraditional (for UNC anyway) shoot-first freshman point guard is a big part of that. Living up to his recent nickname Marcus “Poised” the kid hit the big shots for the third straight ballgame, and is also yet to miss a free throw in crunch-time this March.
Obviously, there’s nothing traditional about this tournament, or this team. More double digit seeds won on Thurs/Fri than ever before, and the Tar Heels continue to resemble nothing like any of UNC’s Roy Williams squads. Though, since no Williams-led Carolina team has beaten Kansas in the tournament… maybe that’s not a bad thing.
The script is the same from here on out. UNC will have to make jump shots, and will have to prevent their opponents’ dominance on the boards — the juicy made-for-TV storyline with Kansas doesn’t change that. But what could change that is if UNC pulls out some magic that’s ripe for a matchup like UNC/Kansas. We’ll see. Roy has never beaten Kansas in the tournament, and UNC has never lost to a #1 seed when they’ve been a #8.
Something has to give, and as the 2013 NCAA Tournament suggests: there’s always a first time for everything.
You can follow Jordan on Twitter @BlackFalcon_net
The fantastic photography used in this piece is via TODD MELET