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 Chapelboro.com Hoop It Up photos provided by Todd Melet.


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.


A First Time (Well, Kinda) For Everything

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

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

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

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

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

All Photos in Hoop It Up are provided by Todd Melet.


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


Duke, And The War for Wiggins


Some sobering        thoughts on Car olina’s bad — really bad — loss to Duke Saturday night:

  • The Tar Heels lost the battle but they may have won the War for Wiggins. More on that later.
  • Larry Fedora has a new goal to hit Duke with a two touchdown lead (14 points) next fall before the Blue Devils know what happened.
  • The UNC students didn’t have to sleep in tents for two months to watch that.
  • Carolina got so many bad shots out of its system that the Tar Heels might actually think about trying to score from some kind of half-court offense. It was an utterly composure-less performance.
  • If they need a lesson, they can watch the tape of Mike Krzyzewski and his staff having Carolina’s small lineup scouted so well that they saw the immediate mismatches and called out plays as the Devils crossed half court.
  • Carolina discovered a weakness in the Blue Devils – in case the teams should meet again (like next Saturday in the ACC Tournament). They can’t throw the lob to Mason Plumlee from half-court. The one time they tried the ball went into the stands. Anywhere inside that, it’s a slam dunk.
  • The fans that stayed to the end avoided the traffic that poured out of the Smith Center throughout the second half.
  • And the Tar Heels didn’t have to suffer a long, somber flight home to think about this one.
  • The UNC women can gain a measure of revenge against Duke in the ACC Tournament championship game Sunday (just kidding, expect a blow-out there, too).
  • And, indeed, the crushed and demoralized men can have another crack at Duke by winning their first ACC tournament game next Friday (definitely not kidding).

Now for Andrew Wiggins, the best high school player in the country who is a senior and still hasn’t committed to any college. The 6-7 son of former NBA star Mitchell Wiggins is likely a one-and-done, but UNC wants him badly to regain national prominence next season. Wiggins, who is also considering Florida State (where his father went to school), Kansas and Kentucky, was at the game, sitting on the baseline in front of the student riser section.

And, just coincidentally, there were some  different  wrinkles to UNC’s senior night besides sending Dexter Strickland, walk-on Frank Tanner and three managers off with a rose and a rise from the crowd in a pretty over-cooked pre-game ceremony.

A whole new set of video features seemed tailored to what Wiggins is reportedly thinking about besides playing 25 games on national TV for a team with a chance  to win the NCAA championship   .

There were Sean May, Tyler Hansbrough, Marvin Williams and Harrison Barnes – all NBA lottery picks – talking about how much they loved Carolina. Barnes, especially, had his own highlight reel of high-flying dunks.

And there was this weird video of the Carolina players dressed up in costumes and horsing around in the locker room. Could it be that Wiggins loves the Harlem Shake (which I’ve since learned what that was supposed to be).

For sure, Williams didn’t have to tell Wiggins after the game how much the Tar Heels need him. Wiggins got a bird’s eye view of that from where he was sitting

A few more words about a game to forget.

P.J. Hairston, who made the only three-pointer on UNC’s 1-for-15 night, launched a shot from halfway to Durham on the Tar Heels’ first possession. He fired four more scud missiles before finally making one with 5:00 left in the game, cutting the deficit to 63-49. If only they hadn’t spotted Duke those 14 points.

Williams said he actually thought Carolina might still win at that point, but then Duke got two offensive rebounds and hit the last of its five treys to kill even ol’ Roy’s hopes (this game was basically over five minutes in).

You will likely never again see Reggie Bullock go scoreless in the first half on 0-for-4 shooting against Duke’s Tyler Thornton, starting in Coach K’s three-guard lineup to try to shut down Bullock and Hairston, who eventually combined for 22 points (17 in the second half when they were truly  moot points).

Ryan Kelly, who torched Miami and Virginia Tech for 54 points in his return from a re-broken foot, was largely used as  a  post-up decoy, so Carolina could not double team Mason Plumlee, who was the star of the second half and finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds to rekindle his ACC Player of the Year  candidacy.  

Seth Curry was the star of the first half, when Duke made its first six shots (Curry three of them) and bolted to the 14-0 lead that caused Williams to call maybe the earliest timeout of his coaching career. Curry had 18 in the first half and did not miss a shot until 8  minutes remained on the clock.

Duke shot 70 percent in the first half, while Carolina misfired at 27 percent. The Blue Devils went 5-for-9 from the arc; the Tar Heels went 0-for-8 (ouch!) and shot so poorly for the game (34 percent) that they wound up with seven more offensive rebounds than Duke.

The Blue Devils went back to Durham as the likely No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and the odds-on favorite to win their 11th ACC title in the last 15 years in Greensboro next weekend.

To do that, they will probably have to beat Carolina again. This time Williams might  try his really big lineup and see what happens. The results could not be much worse. Hopefully, Wiggins liked what he didn’t see.

All Chapelboro.com Game Photos By Todd Melet 


The Amazing Eight

It may not rival the famed 8-points-in-17-seconds comeback against Duke in 1974, but Carolina’s 31 points in the last eight minutes of the first half against Florida State Sunday constitutes one of the hottest scoring streaks you will ever see.
The Tar Heels scored the first seven points of the game but then fell into a funk for the next 10 minutes or so. They actually trailed the Seminoles 16-15 with just over 8 minutes left, and after a second TV timeout tongue-lashing from Roy Williams they got hotter than a Jersey City sidewalk in August.
They outscored dear old FSU 31-11 the rest of the way, with James Michael McAdoo hitting four face-ups, three dunks and a free throw while Reggie, P.J. and Marcus all made three-pointers. Carolina looked like the offensive juggernauts that won national championships without having to play much defense because they knew they could go get whatever was needed on the other end.
So the sellout crowd that paid 50 bucks to see 40 minutes of basketball had to settle for the amazing eight. The rest of the game, including a get-me-to-the-parking-lot second half, was a real yawner. During the hot stretch, Williams loved a hustle play the best, when Jackson Simmons dove headlong for a loose ball and called a timeout that his coach was never going to use anyway with a double-digit lead by that point.
So the Tar Heels staying small keeps on working, now with five straight wins since ol’ RW put young P.J. in the starting lineup. Defensively, they are much quicker when they really get after it, and their aggressiveness on the glass can make up for the lack of inches. Carolina lost the offensive board battle, but there weren’t that many bounds to get on its end, shooting 55 percent for the game and 60 from the three-point line.
After outrebounding Florida State 41-19 in the first match at Tallahassee, this time they totaled one more than the Seminoles with two seven-footers, the son of former Kentucky star Mel Turpin and a 7-3 gangling Russian named Boris Bojanovsky. Still, the 6-7 Bullock outrebounded the 14-plus feet of them by two while posting a 20-10 double-double.
Speaking of Bullock, it’s probably too late but he’s now playing like one of the five best ballers in the ACC. He’ll likely get the sixth or seventh most votes and make second team all-conference,  as Bullock has really taken the small lineup to heart, averaging more than eight rebounds over the last six games. From the perimeter against FSU, he and Hairston hit 8 of 14, looking like Donald Williams in the 1993 Final Four.
So now Carolina goes to Maryland before hosting Duke on Dexter Strickland’s Senior Night Saturday. If the Heels can finish the job and wind up 13-5, Williams deserves to be second behind Miami’s Jim Larranaga for ACC Coach of the Year. After losing at Texas and starting the conference slate at 0-2, who would have believed Williams’ 10th Tar Heel edition was going anywhere but the outhouse. Right now, they look like a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the Dance, getting used to a no-post offense that begins a lot of sets with everyone outside the three-point arc.
The last week of the regular season and the ACC tournament are only for NCAA seeding, but the possibilities of who plays who and when in Greensboro are slightly mind-numbing. While the last seven teams are locked in,  two-to-five are a bit like throwing a pepperoni pizza against the wall and seeing what sticks.
Let’s assume (safely) that Miami wins one of its two remaining home games against Georgia Tech and Clemson, giving the Hurricanes the outright regular-season championship. Look at the tangled web beneath them.
With two games to go for everyone, there is still the possibility of two-way tie for second between Duke and Carolina, a three-way tie for third between Carolina, Virginia and N.C. State, and a four-way tie only if Duke were to lose at home to Virginia Tech Tuesday night and at UNC Saturday.
Duke would win the two-way tie with Carolina by virtue of its victory over Miami, which beat the Tar Heels twice. That still puts Duke and Carolina in the same (2-3) bracket and sets up a rematch from one week earlier in the second ACC semifinal.
A three-way tie for third between Carolina, Virginia and State would be broken based on UVa’s 2-1 record against the other two teams. Carolina would get the fourth seed for going 2-2 vs. Virginia and State. The Wolfpack would be left in fifth place (1-2 vs. Virginia and UNC) and have to play a dreaded Thursday game, which all four teams are trying to avoid.
Interestingly, there is one scenario in which Duke would get the fifth seed, believe it or not.
The Blue Devils would have to somehow lose on Senior Night to the Hokies (maybe if Erick Green scored 60) and then lose in Chapel Hill, while UNC lost at Maryland and both State and Virginia won out for all four teams to finish 12-6. If that happened (probably a million-to-one shot in Vegas), Virginia would get the second seed with its 3-1 record against the other three teams, Carolina would get the third seed (3-3) and Duke and State (both 2-3 vs. the other three) would be tied for fourth. Since they split their regular-season games, the ACC would then flip a coin for who finished fourth and who played on Thursday.
The chances of the Blue Devils losing the last home game for Curry, Kelly and Plumlee? Slim and none. Ryan Kelly likely won’t play a lot after his scintillating comeback from the same foot he broke to end his 2012 season early, resting up for the Carolina game. If he hangs another 36 on the Heels Saturday night like he did against Miami, we won’t have to wait for this year’s Austin Rivers to nail one at the buzzer.

All Chapelboro.com Game Photos By Todd Melet


A Hot, Snowy Day On The Hill


Maybe it has to be freezing outside for the Tar Heels to get hot inside. That was certainly the case on a cold and snowy Saturday, when Carolina played perhaps its best game of the season and, at long last, shot the lights out in the second half of a 93-81 win over Virginia.

Great entertainment before an appreciative full house that braved the bad weather to make the high noon tip at the Smith Center. Not quite the journey made by Roy Williams, who flew to Minnesota Friday night to offer a scholarship to  6-5 recruit  Rashad Vaughn  and got back at 2:30 in the morning.

A second straight start for P.J. Hairston could not avoid another slow start for the Heels, who fell behind by 10 with some very casual defense before Williams read them the riot act during the first two TV timeouts.

But while the clamp-down “D” produced eight points off turnovers and a 5-0 dominance on the offensive board put Carolina ahead, Virginia finished its own torrid first-half with a 35-foot heave to tie the game at the horn. Get this: it was Jontel Evans’ second three-point attempt of the season and it may very well be his last. That’s how hot were the Wahoos.

The showcase event had already introduced UNC’s national championship indoor women’s tennis team, and at halftime Tyler Zeller received the 2012 Patterson Medal, the university’s highest student-athlete honor and then had his No. 44 jersey retired to the rafters as ACC Player of the Year, All-American and 2009 national championship team member. Clearly, a 7-foot thrill for the Cleveland Cavaliers rookie, who made his own late-night flight from Houston where he had played in the NBA Rising Stars game Friday.

Zeller’s parents also flew from Indiana to watch him be feted, missing their youngest son Cody’s game (IU against Purdue). On NBA all-star weekend, rookie cohorts Kendall Marshall and John Henson along with Tyler Hansbrough were     in the house, with the original Tyler and UNC legend of lore Lennie Rosenbluth receiving honors of their own for being, well, themselves.

Whatever, it was a great day – as they say – to be a Tar Heel.

In the second half, after the Tar Heels opened with an 8-0 run, it was basically Carolina by committee versus Virginia’s splendid Joe Harris, who came across the country from a town of 400 with his coach to play in the ACC. Harris scored 13 of his team’s first 17 points.

Hairston chaired the committee to finish with 29 points, a personal college high and the most any Tar Heel has scored this season. But he was only one of the group that countered Harris’ best college game (27 points on 10-for-13 shooting). While Harris scored 20  in the second half, he was answered by Hairston, Reggie Bullock, Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland each time. As the temperature  dropped  outside, the Heels got hotter, hitting 7-of-11 three-pointers that helped them climb to just under 50 percent for the game.

Defense- and tempo-minded Virginia gave up the second most points since coach Tony Bennett left his heart almost a     thousand miles north of San Francisco (Pullman, Washington, actually) and 24 more points than his Cavs have allowed in any other game this season.

In fact, the Tar Heels scored one more point in the second half (53) than they did in the entire 61-52 loss in Charlottesville last January. The 53   were  also more points than Virginia allowed in 10 other complete games this season.

The Cavaliers came to town No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense, but finished hanging their heads in discouragement as Carolina kept pouring it on, leading at one point by 18 on Hairston’s last of six three balls, another college career high. In two straight starts, the 6-6 sophomore from Greensboro has totaled 52 points and 15 rebounds.

Check out the box score and you will find more impressive numbers besides four Tar Heels in double figures and James Michael McAdoo scoring 9 to go along with his 10 rebounds. Paige is officially no longer playing like a freshman and senior Strickland had six assists, one turnover and several coast-to-coast sprints to nifty lay-ins. With J.P. Tokoto down to three minutes and Desmond Hubert on the court for only one, Williams may have found his eight-man rotation, which includes Leslie McDonald, Brice Johnson and  Jackson of-all-trades Simmons.

All the analytics have shown the Tar Heels are better the longer Bullock and Hairston play together, so for now it looks like four guards and JMM, even though the hunky Hairston is far more than a guard. He goes to the glass like a power forward as well as firing his quick-trigger three. And his defense apparently has reached the level ol’ Roy wants it.

Before the game, Carolina was the “last one out” in the latest NCAA bracketology. But the win and Kentucky’s loss not only makes the Tar Heels an NCAA team (for the moment) but gives them an inside track on a top-four finish in the ACC, which means they would get Thursday off at the tournament in Greensboro. Still conjecture, of course, there is  much work to be done this week.

First comes a trip to Georgia Tech Tuesday night, where top-four teams should beat bottom-feeders, and then the anticipated rematch with the Wolfpack on more friendly footing. Warmer weather is forecast Monday-Friday, but maybe it will start snowing again by 4 o’clock Saturday. The Heels will have to be just as hot as they were a week before – and not  so generous on defense — to send State home howling in agony.

“You can’t let a team shoot 58 percent against you and win very often,” Williams said in a serious understatement. It was the highest percentage allowed by the Tar Heels in  victory since he’s been back in Chapel Hill. 

Photo by Todd Melet



I had my first chance to make it back to Chapel Hill this weekend to see our Heels host the Hokies. I always forget how much fun it is to walk into the Dean Dome and feel the excitement brewing from the fans on game day.

I was looking forward to getting a close up view of the team in action while at the same time, getting a feel for the fans at the game. We have seen some exciting games this year, as well as some incredibly frustrating letdowns. I feel like you always get a better pulse on a fan base when you can judge their subtle reactions to real-time events of a game. I enjoy hearing people mutter their frustrations to each other after turnovers or bad plays. But the other reason I was excited to be at the game was because of a conversation I had the night before…

On Friday night my wife and I went out to dinner in Durham with some friends, and a conversation I had at dinner really stuck with me. My buddy asked something along the lines of “So… do you think its Roy’s fault we aren’t playing well, or do you think it’s the players’ fault, because I haven’t decided what I think yet?”

Having been a team player all my life I have a hard time placing blame in this type of situation. Lots of folks want to point a finger at Coach Williams, while others blame it on the players. Other things being called into question are effort, intensity, decision making, offensive prowess (or lack thereof), cohesiveness, etc… to be quite honest, I think the biggest challenge for our team is a lack of “experience.”

Nowadays, players are coming out of high school with raw talent. I feel like a lot of top recruits (no one specifically on our team) can simply “play,” while most aren’t polished on the basic fundamentals of basketball. When kids are playing pickup at the gym no one is screaming and yelling about setting a solid screen, or someone running “shoulder to hip” off the screen. You won’t hear someone yell “WHOAAA- did you see his shooting form?” “What a great post move!” “He is playing great defense.” “Did you see him fight over the ball screen?” For those of you who have played pickup, these comments are laughable. If you have ever been privileged enough to have a great basketball coach, you understand the importance of these fundamentals.

Though it’s fun to watch someone drive down the lane and dunk all over the opposition (i.e. Danny Green on Greg Paulus), it’s not necessarily what you need to win games. Basic fundamentals at all levels will set you on the right course to win games. Our secondary break, when run correctly, should be unstoppable. When we run our set plays, we should still be getting open looks. If guys are going 100%, setting solid screens, moving effectively and playing together, it shouldn’t matter how well someone scouts us, we should still be executing. I know we are practicing at full speed in practice and focusing on the fundamentals and our progress is really starting to show!

As this season has gone on, our team has continued to grow and progress and we are making fewer “freshman mistakes.” We are executing better on offense and we are playing with much more intensity on the defensive end. If we can mimic our performance in overtime against VT and our overall performance (minus a few mental blunders) against Wake, we will finish this year incredibly strong!

image by Todd Melet


The Nature Of The Game

Whenever Blue Steel is set to enter a ball game — especially in ACC play — it’s safe to assume things have been going well for the Heels. Roy’s jump shooters caught fire midway through the first half and ran away with a game that was never really a contest to begin with.

Now much of that has to do with the fact that Wake Forest looks like a JV squad as soon as they leave the Winston-Salem city limits. And by the second half Tuesday night they were as disinterested as a team could possibly be. But Tim Duncan himself could have suited up for the Deacons and it wouldn’t have mattered. UNC shot over 50% from the field on the game, 60% from behind the arc, and scored almost 90 points. You’re simply not going to beat a team that’s shooting like that.

But the interesting bit here is that the Heels didn’t even play that well, and they still hammered a team that recently beat NC State and was a play or two away (or a call or two away…) from a win against the top-five ranked Blue Devils.

Great shooting can do that for you.

Once again UNC looked shaky on the fast break, sloppy in the half-court, and the anemic Demon Deacons were able to get to the rim whenever they wanted at times.

But a few swished threes later and, voilà, you have a twenty-five point blowout win. All sins are erased. 

In what other sport is this possible? You can play a near perfect basketball game and get crushed because an opponent catches fire from long distance. And vice versa, you can play like “crap” (I’m unfamiliar with this term, but Roy seems to use it quite often in this context) and beat the hell out of your opponent anyway because the rim felt like the size of the ocean for some unexplained reason.

Try to seriously imagine Tom Brady whiffing on ten straight passes, or Serena Williams faulting ten straight serves. It’s tough. But if Kobe Bryant missed (or made) ten straight shots you would hardly see a blurb on SportsCenter that night.

Can anyone explain why the Tar Heels missed almost twenty straight shots at the end of their Elite Eight match-up with Georgetown in 2007? Did the Hoyas just crank up the D? No. It’s just the nature of the game. It just happens. It’s what makes basketball so exciting, and just as easily so frustrating.

The ball sometimes just doesn’t bounce your way in every sport, but only in basketball does it seem like a sizable portion of the games are decided by whichever team has the most players that happen to be “on” that night; like a roll of the dice.

You could even argue this is a good thing for the 2013 Tar Heels. After all, they have three fantastic jump shooters in Leslie, Bullock and Hairston, and James McAdoo and Brice Johnson are no strangers to the face-up jumper themselves. In that sense, the Heels can beat anyone.

It’s a fact that the Tar Heels are a fraction of a percent away from having three 40% 3-point shooters. The last time that was the case in Chapel Hill? 2009. That season turned out alright.

But here’s the difference: for the 2009 team, three-pointers and jump shots were just gravy. Hansbrough’s squad beat teams by getting easy buckets inside, holding onto the basketball, and protecting the rim when it counted (coincidently, the antithesis of UNC on Tuesday night). Three-pointers were just the icing on the cake, turning five and ten-point wins into fifteen and twenty-point wins. In fact, in a weird way you could argue the 2009 team shot so well from behind the arc because, well, they never had to shoot from behind the arc.

Tuesday night’s win was against one of the weaker teams in the league, but the lesson is the same. The Heels can beat anyone, anytime, anywhere. And as Roy prepares his team for their toughest two game stretch of the season (in Coral Gables and Cameron Indoor), he no doubt knows that. But the issue is whether or not the Heels can find a way to win like really good teams do: playing hard, smart, sound basketball. Not with jump shots.

Could the Heels get hot again and beat the best two teams in the ACC next week? Of course they can. That’s the nature of the game of basketball.

But do they want to roll that dice? 

You can follow Jordan on Twitter @BlackFalcon_net

image by Todd Melet


Putting In The Effort

“We were not pleased at all, not satisfied, not happy about the way we played Saturday night, and yet you have to congratulate North Carolina State. They kicked our tails every which way it can be kicked. They were better in every phase of the game, more attentive, greater sense of urgency, and everything…” (Coach Williams’ opening quotes from his Monday ACC Teleconference)

I can’t say I disagree with Coach’s statements following the performance in Raleigh. The most frustrating part about this loss, outside of my obnoxious NC State friends, was the apparent lack of urgency. One thing Coach Williams’ teams are known for is transition offense. Typically we are the ones running at light speed up and down the court and beating our opponents to the opposite end of the floor. On Saturday, it felt like we were in slow motion. When we finally managed to slow State down and force a turnover, we seemed to simply cough it back up. When we forced them into a missed shot, they got the rebound. State had 12 offensive rebounds to our 23 defensive rebounds. Their starters out rebounded our team. They had 9 steals to our 6. They shot 49.2% from the floor to our 46.5%. They were 53.8% from three to our 36.4%. They MADE 20 free throws, we ATTEMPTED 10. The list seems to go on and on… what it boils down to is that we simply didn’t show up to play. It’s great that we had a late game comeback, but in reality, I would like to forget that blunder and just move on.

After this performance, Coach was asked about PJ’s Hairston’s minutes in the State game.

“P.J. Hairston has played well offensively the past couple of games, yet he’s only played 17 minutes in each of those. What do you think is holding him back from seeing more time?”

“Foul trouble, I think, in the game before. I think he and James Michael both had two fouls early in the first half. That was part of it. And then the other thing, if you go back the last two games, J.P. Tokoto has played probably his best two games. And so it’s not just P.J.’s right to be out there on the floor. Saturday I got so mad at him when he’s going after a loose ball and a North Carolina State player runs from behind him and dives for the loose ball when P.J.’s trying to pick it up. I just can’t stomach those kinds of things. I keep giving guys chances even when they do something like that, but there is no question that’s the reason he sat out for a long time on Saturday.”

This was posted on the Inside Carolina message board under the title “RoyW on P.J. Hairston’s Minutes (Updated)”, and the last time I checked, this post had been viewed 11,778 times and 479 people had replied with their interpretation of Coach Williams’ comments. I quickly remembered why I stopped reading the message boards. Ignore the comment about foul trouble and what was said about Tokoto… After perusing the first page of responses, it was clear that everyone interpreted this comment as “I took PJ out of the game because he turned the ball over.” My interpretation is, “that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

When there is a 50/50 ball rolling on the floor, it’s unacceptable to simply bend over and try to pick it up. In my experience, from as early as Junior Pro leagues in Lexington, KY when I was 8, you were taught to dive on the floor for a loose ball. I specifically remember my coach sitting us all down in the stairwell of the gym at halftime of a game and slamming a ball on the floor. He asked each of us individually to demonstrate how we would go after the ball. After several players stood up from the stairs and tried to grab the ball, Rod Napier dove from the first step and tackled the ball on the floor. Lesson learned. If you weren’t the one diving, you weren’t going to get it, and you’re the one most likely to get hurt when someone takes your legs out! When Carolina hits the floor with zero intensity and someone doesn’t make an aggressive play when the opportunity presents itself, I’ve got a secret for you… they’re coming out of the game. It didn’t have anything to do with a turnover.

Not that I’m biased or like to see our team go down big, but I was hoping to see the Blue Team hit the court in the first half at the PNC Arena!

image by Todd Melet