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.

Bright Futures

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.

Swan Song

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 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 MunnellyTate 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

Part of 'A Unique Family' has been publishing excerpts from Return To The Top on the 20th Anniversary of Dean Smith’s 2nd NCAA title season in 1993. Check the “Hoop it Up” section for all the excerpts from this fantastic series. 

By George Lynch, UNC ‘93

In the end, the coaching staff had a lot to do with how all of our talents and personalities meshed together so well. Assistant Coaches Bill Guthridge, Phil Ford, Randy Weil and Dave Hanners all had that competitive spirit that means so much during the course of a long and tiring season.

Before or after every practice, Coach Ford would often challenge one of us to a game of H-O-R-S-E or something just to keep us sharp, to keep us humble and to remind us that he could still play. He liked to point out that he’s the one with the No. 12 hanging in the rafters!

Sometimes when we played H-O-R-S-E at the Smith Center, he would first tell me to go stand on the baseline, turn around and look up. Then he’d say, “Okay, whose name and number do you see up there?” That was his way of trying to psyche us out, but it was also something that the guys got a kick out of. We laughed about it, but we always knew that being remembered – especially at a school like Carolina – was one of the highest honors you could achieve. We knew that winning the NCAA Tournament would give us that opportunity, and that was our ultimate goal.

The next year, when they had our national championship banner hanging up there, I wanted to come back and play Coach Ford one more time. Before we played, I was going to make him walk over to our corner of the Smith Center, turn around and look up. Then it was going to be me asking, “What do you see?” That’s something we’ll always tease each other about.

But the truth is Coach Ford and the rest of the staff had an important part on this team, too – showing up for practice every day, enthusiastic and ready to work hard. That’s the way it is here and that’s the way it should be. Whether you’re the head coach, an assistant, a manager, a star player or the last guy on the bench, you know that you played an important role in our success.

As soon as you come into this program, you feel like you’re part of something important, something unique. You realize there’s a lot of history and pride on the line every time you put on a Carolina uniform. It’s like it’s your duty – and privilege at the same time – to try to carry on the tradition that was built here before you. During the season, many of the former players called just to encourage us. We talked to Kenny Smith, J.R. Reid, Steve Bucknall, Ranzino Smith and just about all of the guys who played here in the last few years. Everyone wanted to keep in touch just to see how you’re doing. Sometimes they’d call to give us a few pointers or to tell us what to expect at a certain point, but the main thing was just to wish us luck and say they were all pulling for us to have a great season.

It’s no joke when people talk about the unique atmosphere that surrounds the Carolina basketball program. The minute you sign a letter of intent to attend the University of North Carolina, you’re part of a big family. When you’re not going well, they’re all there for you and willing to help in any way they can. The other side of that is when you win, you win for yourself and your team – but you win for the rest of your family, too.

It was a great feeling at the end, watching Coach Smith cut down the nets in New Orleans. He’s the man who held this family together over all these years. Our team had been through some tough times with Coach. We played hard every year I was at Carolina, and we had nothing to be ashamed about, but it was definitely hard watching Duke win those back-to-back national championships. After that, I think Coach Smith and the players all felt it was time for North Carolina to win another one. Winning conference championships and regular-season titles were nice, but that’s pretty much common ground around here now. It was time for something different, something bigger, and we did it.

Ten years from now, when you look at the history of Carolina basketball or the history of the Final Four, we’ll be there. All of us – Scott, Matt, Henrik, Travis Stephenson – the whole crew. The great wins over Arkansas and Cincinnati, and then Kansas and Michigan; they’ll all be there forever. When we’re sitting back many years from now, watching Carolina teams in the future, we’ll be able to tell our kids and our grandchildren about the time we were there, about the time we won it all.

The original Senior Diaries were  b   y Travis Stephenson, Matt Wenstrom, Scott Cherry, Henrik Rodl and George Lynch, as told to contributing editor Lee Pace.

Heels Hoping Nova Doesn’t Go

KANSAS CITY – The NCAA Tournament begins for Carolina on Friday night, when the eighth-seeded Tar Heels take on ninth-seeded Villanova at 7:20 in Kansas City.

Many Carolina fans are already looking ahead to the round of 32—when the Heels would likely take on Kansas—but Andrew Jones of says the Wildcats present a major challenge of their own.

“Carolina’s won 24 games without notching a really good win,” he says. “If they win this game, (it) might be their best win of the year up to that point.”

Still, Carolina enters the tourney riding high: since switching to its smaller lineup in February, the Heels have lost only three games—all to Duke and Miami, both of which are ranked in the top 10.

That late-season run had many observers projecting UNC as a six- or seven-seed in the tournament. Receiving a no. 8 seed was something of a disappointment—especially with the prospect of a matchup with Kansas, Roy Williams’ former team, in Kansas City on Sunday.

Jones says the Heels deserved better.

“To be an 8 (seed), and then to put them in that situation (having to face the Jayhawks in Kansas), I think is just wrong,” he says. “I think UNC got screwed–I think all four ACC teams (in the tournament) got screwed.”

Nevertheless, Jones says he’s picking Carolina to win narrowly on Friday. The Tar Heels enter the game with three players scoring more than 14 points a game—James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston, and Reggie Bullock. Villanova’s leading scorer is sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston, with 13.1 points per game—and Villanova’s three leading scorers are all freshmen and sophomores, so Carolina may have a rare edge in experience as well.

And while Kansas still looms large as a possible opponent on Sunday, Jones says even that’s not a done deal: the Jayhawks have to get past sixteenth-seeded Western Kentucky first, and Jones says that’s a taller order than it may appear.

“If there ever was a 16 seed that’s going to beat a 1, this would be the kind of game where it could happen,” he says. “Kansas lost to TCU earlier, and I’d be willing to bet that Western Kentucky’s better than TCU.”

UNC tips off against Villanova Friday at 7:20 in Kansas City. Coverage on WCHL begins at 5:00 with Countdown to Tipoff, presented by Harrington Bank.

Roy Williams has never lost as a head coach in the round of 64—he’s 22-0 in more than two decades with Kansas and UNC—and if he can keep that streak going this year, it could bode well for Carolina’s long-term chances. UNC and Villanova have met five times in the NCAA tournament—and all five times, the victor has gone on to the Final Four, winning the national championship all but once.