Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Live from Chapel Hill, It's the Heels!


Patrick Kendall

One of the great ironies of life is what gets taken for granted. Take college basketball games for instance. Now I had not been on a college campus to watch a basketball game (the ’05 ACC tourney at the Verizon Center doesn’t count) in fifteen years. Well, Saturday my buddy and I made a road trip to Chapel Hill to see Carolina beat up on Georgia Tech. I’m hoping he’ll post some pics because no matter what you think about UNC you can’t help but be impressed by the sight of an ENTIRE coliseum full of people dressed in Carolina Blue. I had never been to the Dean Dome so for me it was a lot like entering one of the world’s great churches (the House that Dean Built is very apropos).

Another thing that struck me as we watched the game – not a particularly pretty one but I’ll get back to that in a minute – was how tough Mansbrough is in the paint. I have never seen a college ball player as targeted down low as this kid. I thought people were applauding him each time he went up for a shot but it turned out it was Georgia Tech hacking him with all twelve players and a couple assistants off the bench.

And to look around the crowd and see people from four different generations enjoying the same event was amazing; for good or ill, there just aren’t many things that grandparents, parents and children can all enjoy equally. No offense to Disney on Ice but regardless of what the commercials say, it’s just not an equal distribution of enjoyment. I was stunned by the number of people my parents’ age or older that were dressed to the nines and making an evening of it. Of course that number was offset by a greater number of badly dressed college students.

Now back to the game for a moment. I think what worries me most about Carolina is that they have the firepower to win big in spite of playing a fairly ugly game. Even Reyshawn Terry, who had a great game overall, made some boneheaded decisions offensively in terms of shot selection that in a different ballgame would have been the difference between winning and losing. Of course that’s being awfully picky so I won’t stick on that point. All I’m saying is that UNC can still rout a team in spite of itself.

Still, I was NOT blown away by Ty Lawson. He IS fast though. Funny thing is that I can think clearly about Terry’s game, which was very good; Wright’s game, which was pretty average for him; and Mansbrough’s game, which was exceptional considering his foul-shooting percentage based on the number of times he went to the line. I remember clearly that Wes Miller came in and gave “energy” minutes and even drained a nice three pointer and I did remark that Ellington continues to struggle with his shot but is very smooth on the break, but for the life of me, I can’t remember thinking one thing about Lawson other than, “Wow, he is fast.”

I looked at his box score and saw that he had seven points, four assists, and four turnovers. A one-to-one assists/turnovers ratio is unacceptable for the floor leader of the second highest scoring team in the nation. I hate to say it (but I must); but Duke scored more points than Carolina did this weekend, which, given the difference in overall talent between the two, is more of an indictment against UNC’s offense than it is praise for Duke’s.

All that aside, UNC is still the power in this year’s ACC because they are the only team in the conference (one of the few in the country) that can beat you with more than three different weapons and so they remain the toughest team to prepare for given their firepower. Oh, and they don’t get tired either. That helps too.

My final complaint is that I am not sure that they know how to play with real “fire.” The gauge that I use is that damn Florida team. Much as I hate watching that snarling, string bean with a ponytail, there is no denying that he is THE catalyst for firing up that team and I worry that that trait is a difference maker in a big game (see their domination of Ohio State for evidence). I don’t see anyone on UNC with that level of passion on the court and I think they are going to need that if they plan on taking the Championship from that big, lanky goofball of a Gator.

My final compliment is to the Dean Dome itself. I have watched Carolina basketball since James Worthy was a sophomore so I have seen my fair share of Carolina “greats” go through in that time. Stepping into the House that Dean Built was a religious experience, the equivalent of arriving at Mecca for an ACC basketball fan. The Dean Dome is one of THE great venues for college basketball and if you have never been and get the chance to go, I highly recommend taking the opportunity because the atmosphere alone is more than worth the price of admission (which in my case was face value of the ticket, so it was all the sweeter).

On my list of basketball “things to do” before I die it ranks second just ahead of going to a Final Four (which I will also scratch off this year when I arrive in Atlanta).

But seeing a game inside Cameron still ranks number one for me.

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