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.

http://chapelboro.com/ford-corners/kansas-kansas-kansas-ugh/

Matchups

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

http://chapelboro.com/game-recap/matchups/

Part of 'A Unique Family'

Chapelboro.com 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.

http://chapelboro.com/return-to-the-top/part-of-a-unique-family/

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 FoxSportsCarolinas.com 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.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/heels-hoping-nova-doesnt-go/

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 FoxSportsCarolinas.com 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.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/heels-hoping-nova-doesnt-go-2/

Heels-'Nova Have History

Carolina and Villanova have played 14 times in men’s basketball, with the Tar Heels holding a 10-4 record, 4-1 in the NCAA Tournament. But almost all of the games have been significant. To wit:
 
Their first meeting was in 1956, when Frank McGuire’s eventual (1957) national championship team was playing together for the first season. The Tar Heels, who finished 18-5 that year, defeated Villanova in their Dixie Classic opener in December. Carolina won by 23.
 
Their next meeting was in the final Dixie Classic in December of 1960, before UNC President Bill Friday shut down the eight-team holiday tournament due to the point-shaving scandal that emerged after the season. Carolina beat the Wildcats in the second round by 20 this time.
 
The teams met again in what had become the most famous Christmas tournament, the Holiday Festival in Madison Square Garden. Dean Smith succeeded McGuire and by December of 1968 had built the second-best program in the country behind UCLA. The Tar Heels and four-time national champion Bruins were in the Festival field, along with Villanova, St. John’s and Princeton. Carolina defeated Villanova in the opening game, 69-61, in a rough-and-tumble affair that included near fisticuffs between UNC’s Charlie Scott and Villanova’s Howard Porter. The Heels missed their chance to face-off with Lew Alcindor and UCLA when they were upset in the semifinals by hometown St. John’s before a roaring capacity crowd at the Garden.
 
The Carolina-Villanova rivalry really got interesting when the schools next met 12 years later. The top-ranked Tar Heels with freshman Michael Jordan, sophomore Sam Perkins and junior James Worthy, played  Rollie Massimino’s Wildcats in the Elite Eight game of the NCAA Tournament in Reynolds Coliseum. In a regional where all five UNC starters scored in double figures in both games, Carolina held off freshman star Ed Pin   ckney and ‘Nova, 70-60, and moved on to New Orleans where they defeated Houston and Georgetown for Smith’s first national championship.
 
The following year, the teams played a regular-season game at Carmichael Auditorium. No. 12 Villanova stunned No. 1 UNC, which had won 18 in a row   going in. The 56-53 shocker turned the season around for the Tar Heels, who lost three straight and dropped to No. 11 in the rankings. Carolina went 7-5 over its last 12 games, including two upsets to Cinderella N.C. State and a loss to Georgia in the Elite Eight of the 1983 NCAA Tournament, which denied them another shot at the Cardiac Pack in the Final Four. And you know what happened there in Albuquerque.
 
The most historic loss to Villanova came in the South Regional final in Birmingham two years later. The Tar Heels, who had rallied through the 1985 NCAA Tournament without injured guard Steve Hale, actually led the Wildcats by eight and were holding the ball for the last shot of the first half. Kenny Smith got tied up for a jump ball, Villanova took possession and Harold  Jensen made an old-fashioned three-point play at the buzzer. Unranked ‘Nova outscored Carolina by 17 in the second half, moved on to the Final Four in Lexington and pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA history by shooting 79 percent for the game (22 of 28) and beating “unbeatable” defending champion Georgetown and Patrick Ewing for the school’s only national title.
 
Carolina defeated Villanova in the 1989 Maui Classic and at home during the 1992 season. In between, the Tar Heels beat the Wildcats in the 1991 East Regional on the way to the Final Four. The top-ranked Heels won the next meeting at the Smith Center in 1995, but then dropped TWO games to  Villanova the following season, one in Maui and the other in Philly.
 
Who can forget the East Regional sweet Sixteen at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse in 2005? Certainly not ‘Nova fans. With Carolina clinging to a three-point lead late, Villanova’s Allan Ray drove, scored and appeared to be fouled by Melvin Scott. But Tom O’Neill’s whistle was not to signal the “and one” that could have tied the game. It was for travelling on Ray, which when looking at the clip  does not appear to have occurred.

 
Anyway, Carolina won the game, went on to win the national championship and, four years later, beat Villanova easily in the Final Four at Detroit on the way to Roy Williams’ second NCAA title. The rich, and controversial, series between the two schools resumes Friday night in Kansas City. My guess is that O’Neill, who was voted 2012 national official of the year, will not be calling the game.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/sports-notebook/heels-nova-have-history/

Too Little Too Late

Carolina’s improbable run from mediocrity ended literally two minutes too early, as the Tar Heels lost their third consecutive ACC tournament championship game and this time face a much stiffer penalty than merely  the heartbreak of defeat the last two years.

 
After a third loss to “old” and talented Miami this season, the crime of beating only two teams that likewise reached the NCAA Tournament probably fits the penalty of receiving an eighth seed and the prospect of having to beat Kansas in Kansas City to make the Sweet Sixteen.
 
Had Carolina been able to finish what, for much of the Sunday afternoon in Greensboro, looked like a major upset in the making, the Heels likely would have moved up a line or two in the seeding and if so avoided playing Kansas for a third time since Roy Williams returned from coaching at KU 10 years ago. And, if you bear to remember, the first two were losses in the 2008 Final Four and last year’s Elite Eight game of the Midwest Regional.
 
Nevertheless, the Tar Heels rebounded from a disjointed poor start of the season (10-5) to win 14 of their last 19 games and get off the NCAA tourney bubble. Their only two so-called “quality wins” over UNLV and N.C. State rendered advancing to the ACC championship game almost useless unless they could have cut down the nets for the first time since 2008. After a sensational first half by both teams, Carolina led Miami with 6:38  remaining and was still only three points behind at the 2:40 mark. The 87-77 final was un-indicative of this battle royal.
 
Losing to the Hurricanes, who drew a No. 2 NCAA seed, was certainly no insult. Being banished to Kansas City as a No. 8 seed and a date with top-seed Kansas if the Tar Heels can defeat Villanova in their first game was also no just reward.
 
The transformation from an unlikeable basketball team to a lovable one began with the emergence of sophomore P.J. Hairston, who remained the central figure right through toughing out a pretty gruesome injury after scoring 21 points in the quarterfinal win over Florida State. Playing with a heavily taped hand from a stitched-up laceration, Hairston teetered on legendary status by making his first two 3’s against Maryland and then encoring with 28 against Miami, including six three-pointers from vast locations on the Greensboro  C  oliseum court.
 
Indeed, Hairston and his teammates will have to at least match their performance next weekend for any chance to reach the Sweet Sixteen in Arlington  , Texas. But for what was clearly a rebuilding venture after losing four starters to the NBA draft, they have at the very least created excitement and momentum going into the NCAA tourney and, more importantly, looking ahead to next season.
 
It’s a bit odd that UNC, which along with Duke has dominated the ACC tournament over the last 60 years, played a part in making two schools from the Sunshine State one-and-done wonders in the event. With defensive player of the year John Henson injured last season, the Tar Heels lost to Florida State’s first ACC title team. The 18-15 Seminoles were pretty horrible for most of this season and basically quit midway through the second half of their loss to UNC Friday night.
 
Miami, which has five seniors averaging 23 years old and the best player in the league in sophomore guard Shane Larkin, could in fact win the national championship in three weeks. But next season, the ‘Canes will have an entirely new starting lineup and likely revert to their middling status in the ACC after winning their first conference title.
 
But, oh what a game Sunday! The teams combined to make 15 three-pointers in a spectacular first half, trading long-range howitzers from well beyond the arc. Hairston had four of Carolina’s eight, while Larkin and unsung Trey McKinney-Jones had three each for Miami. The pace was frenetic but the play so splendid that only eight turnovers were committed.
 
The second half started the same way, with Carolina turning a three-point deficit into a five-point lead nine minutes in. The light blue-clad capacity crowd that gobbled up all the available tickets for the final was roaring like it was Duke in the Dean Dome. But both teams, which won rugged semifinal games Saturday, slowed it down over the last 10 minutes and you knew whoever kept knocking them in from outside was going to wear the crown.
 
That, unfortunately, was Miami, which made the last four treys of the game to regain the lead and protect it by hitting eight free throws down the stretch, six by Larkin who will be an NBA lottery pick this coming June. The son of baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, the 6-2 point guard has an uncanny command of the game from knowing when to shoot, pass or drive and executing almost flawlessly.
 
Carolina still might have won if McKinney-Jones hadn’t made three more bombs in the second half, the backbreaker from the deep corner after a UNC defensive lapse that gave Miami an eight-point lead with 98 seconds remaining. The Heels managed only eight points over the last 4½ minutes as the game slipped away.

 

Roy Williams had nothing but praise for his team’s gallantry and said he had never been prouder during the recovery process of season that once appeared to be going nowhere. Now, it’s going to Kansas City and another possible date with Kansas, which kept Carolina from the Final Four last season only because the banged-up, top-seeded  Tar Heels had lost their first two point guards to injury.

 
Maybe Hairston and Co. have an unused miracle or two.

All Chapelboro.com Game Photos By Todd Melet

http://chapelboro.com/ford-corners/too-little-too-late/

The Cocktail Party

A Cocktail Party. A warm-up. A waste of time.

None of these terms are new, and most fans have more than a few ideas why the ACC Tournament has lost much of its allure. Some blame the football-led expansion and watering down of the league since 2007. Some blame the watering down of college basketball in general in that same time. Others simply miss the days when it was almost always in Greensboro and Charlotte.

Either way, the question is still always out there: Does the tournament matter? Fans often comment that no one really remembers who wins the Tourney, and that teams who do will not be criticized any less if they lose early in the NCAAs a week later.

Those statements are 100% true. But to ask if the tournament matters is to ask if sport itself matters. If the ACC Tournament doesn’t matter, what does?

In the end, sports are about competing, and (hopefully) winning championships. The rules of the games are arbitrary — we know this. The point is to compete. Period. No matter what those rules may be.

Fans weren’t (and still aren’t) in awe of Michael Jordan because he satiated the rules of basketball. We dreamed to be MJ because he was better than everyone else at whatever game the greatest athletes on Earth happened to be playing.

OK. Philosophy aside: the league tournament matters. Carolina fans tend to forget this because they so frequently have fantastically talented and veteran teams that can turn it on and off whenever they please. The 1993, 2005 and 2009 teams could have played H-O-R-S-E all weekend in their ACC tournaments and still win a national title.

But that isn’t always the case. Ask Kemba Walker’s UCONN team that used its Big East tournament run to springboard to the 2011 National Title after a very, very mediocre regular season. Outside of the top three or four dominant teams every year, the tournament gives squads another chance to get in a rhythm, or in the case of many young teams, to just figure out who the hell they are.

Phil Ford wrote this week that early weeks of March are when teams need to be playing at their best, not pretending that some games don’t matter. They all matter at this point, if not just for the chance to get better. And the ultra-seriousness of modern day sports aside, it’s just another chance to play some great basketball and try to win another title.

Newsflash: NOT A SINGLE PLAYER on the 2013 Tar Heels has ever won a tournament at UNC. Not a national title. Not an ACC Title. They haven’t even won a preseason tournament. No one in baby blue should be happy about that. And Greensboro’s Cocktail Party presents yet another opportunity to end that streak.

UNC’s matchup with Florida State on Friday is interesting in a number of different contexts. FSU just happens to be the reigning ACC Champs. And, of course, FSU just happens to be the team that kept the Tar Heels from winning the 2012 title last March.

The ‘Noles are long, tough, and freakishly athletic—like every team Leonard Hamilton has rolled out in the last half-a-decade—and will really test the Heels’ ability to score. How Roy approaches it will tell everyone a lot about where the 2013 UNC team is headed this March.

Now that Coach Williams’ cat is out of the bag as it were in terms of his lineup, his coaching chops are going to have to be on full display in Greensboro this weekend. He can do a lot Friday night to quell the criticism that he can’t adapt to his personnel.

Does that matter? Maybe. But then again, maybe that doesn’t matter. And maybe that’s OK.

You can follow Jordan on Twitter @BlackFalcon_net

http://chapelboro.com/game-recap/the-cocktail-party/

In Chapel Hill, March Madness Is Big Business

CHAPEL HILL – March Madness is officially under way in Chapel Hill, with the Tar Heels set to begin ACC Tournament play Friday night—and across town, local restaurants and sports bars are preparing for a big weekend.

“We’re definitely looking for a crowd,” says Patrick Cowden, the executive chef at the new Tobacco Road Sports Café at East 54. “We’re adding a few extra seats, definitely having a nice full staff ready to take on anybody who wants to come and spend the day watching ACC basketball…

“We’ve got over 50 TVs, (so) any kind of tournament, any kind of game you want to see, we’ll definitely have it on.”

Tobacco Road has other locations in the Triangle, but this is the first ACC tourney for its new home in Chapel Hill.

And while the staff at Tobacco Road gets ready for its first ACC tournament experience, longtime institutions like Top of the Hill on Franklin Street are gearing up as well.

“What’s interesting about the ACC tourney is, you don’t really know what’s going to happen,” says Top of the Hill proprietor Scott Maitland. “Because it’s spring break, it gets a little bit of a different crowd than we normally would for a game–but it’s something that we definitely have to stay flexible on and prepare for big crowds.”

The ACC tourney provides a sizable economic boost for local businesses like Topo and Tobacco Road, though the NCAA tournament tends to be an even bigger moneymaker. Still, it’s going to be an exciting weekend—especially with St. Patrick’s Day falling on Sunday.

“We’ll definitely have our Irish on for the weekend–plenty of corned beef and cabbage and reubens and Guinness in the house as well,” says Cowden. (So if you happen to have any Carolina green gear, now’s the time to pull it out.)

The Tar Heels begin their run through the ACC Friday night at 9:00 pm. It’s ACC quarterfinal day: WCHL will broadcast all four games from the Greensboro Coliseum, beginning with pregame coverage at 11:00 a.m. before Miami takes on Boston College at noon. At 5:00 Ron Stutts and Art Chansky will be live from Bailey’s Sports Grille for a special one-hour edition of Countdown to Tipoff, presented by Harrington Bank.

http://chapelboro.com/news/in-chapel-hill-march-madness-is-big-business/

FORD CORNERS: A Silver Lining

The Duke game was ugly, there’s no doubt about that if you are a Carolina fan.

But, with young kids, that can happen when the unexpected happens. We’re still trying to figure out our roles and we had been playing well. After the great win at Maryland, maybe coming home to the Smith Center made us thought it would be easier at home and we expected to win.

Duke came out on fire and got the big lead. When that happens, a young team can hit the panic button and try to get it back all at once. We definitely lost our poise instead of trying to stick with it, play better defense and chip away at the lead. But there was a silver lining.

I’m not sure we can play any worse or Duke any better. If we had played like we’d been playing the last six games and still got beat badly, there would be some concern. But, if we play again this weekend, I like our chances to give them a good game. When teams are hitting those 3’s, they are hard to beat. And Duke was unconscious that night. For us to be good, we need Reggie and/or P.J. to be unconscious from outside, and both had been shooting really well coming in.

The loss will also insure we’re ready to play Friday against the Florida State-Clemson winner. Both of those teams are dangerous. FSU is big and (Michael) Snair is one of the best all-around players in the ACC. Clemson lost a lot of close games this year and Devin Booker is really tough for his size. We can’t overlook either of those teams, thinking about getting another shot at Duke.

We won two ACC championships in the Greensboro Coliseum when I played, and the first one was really special because we had to beat N.C. State (the defending national champion) to make the NCAA Tournament. We were a fairly young team, with Brad Hoffman as our only senior starter. I was a freshman, Walter (Davis), Kue (John Kuester) and Tommy (LaGarde) were sophomores and Mitch Kupchak a junior. And State had David Thompson and Monte Towe back from its national championship team.

We hung in there, the game was close and the lead changed hands several times before we went ahead for good and Coach Smith called for the Four Corners. What a great thrill that was because we had some bad losses early in the season and really grew up at the end. That’s what I’m hoping for our team this season.

Our second ACC tournament title was in 1977, and that was one of the strangest games I’ve ever played in. Tommy was already out for the season with an injured knee and Walter broke his finger going for a rebound in the first-round win over State. They were draining blood from his finger in the locker room before we went out to play Virginia, and Walter was screaming so much from the training room that some of us were crying.

It was always a rough game against those Virginia teams, and at halftime there was a little scuffle between players and coaches as we left the court down the same narrow hallway. Our coaches were really fired up, and we took the lead in the second half. Virginia had upset us in the 1976 tournament and we really wanted this one. I fouled out and Kue actually had to run the Four Corners, and he was named Most Outstanding Player in the tournament.

That was a lot of fun after we won, but it was pretty intense during the game. With all our injuries, we went all the way to the Final Four in Atlanta before losing to Marquette. So this is the time of the season you want to be playing your best basketball.

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. 

http://chapelboro.com/ford-corners/ford-corners-a-silver-lining/