Monday, March 19, 2007

All Aboard the Carolina Express


Patrick Kendall

Ahhh, the sweet smell of sixteen...teams that is. The dust has settled from the first week of March Madness and as expected there were plenty of close games, some upsets and a lot of great basketball match ups between historically significant programs (Kansas v. Kentucky anyone?).

But before we dive into the deep end of this great time of year, let's take a moment to bow our heads at the supreme "averageness" that was the ACC this year. I can't remember a time where only one ACC team emerged from the field of 64 through the FIRST weekend and now I must face facts: the ACC was NOT the best conference in the country. In fact, they weren't close.

Let's consider: Virginia is picked to finish 8th in the conference pre-season yet winds up tied for first. Underrated? I don't necessarily think so. Great guards can put you in a position to win games but a solid big man is what wins games in March, and there UVA was woefully undermanned. Virginia Tech was a potent offensive team the could run with any of the team's in the conference...of course, they could also get run out of the gym by those same opponents – and of all the upper echelon ACC teams, they had the worst losses if measured by the points they got beat by. And where the hell was their offense in the tournament?

Maryland was probably the most experienced team coming out of the ACC but when faced with the prospect of playing against a team of smaller players (on average) with less talent who could shoot from the outside, the vaunted Terp 'D' that gave UNC and Duke fits this season just wasn't there. Consider this: Miami actually matched up better with Davidson and Butler for purposes of exploiting strengths and from that standpoint would have made for a better matchup if the focus was to push an ACC team into the Sweet Sixteen.

BC came up against the toughest of the opponents in the opening round and made a game of it until the end where it looked like they just ran out of gas. Georgetown is a team to watch in this tournament though so there was no shame in this loss at all. Georgia Tech made a game of things against a surging UNLV team that just made it into the Sweet Sixteen by taking out a 2 seed (Wisconsin). They look a lot like Georgia Tech, only they executed better down the stretch and so they got the win.

Now we get to Duke, who treated its fans to the most inexcusable loss of all the ACC teams. This was a team that early on beat Georgetown, Gonzaga, Indiana, and BC twice. All of these schools were tournament teams. Granted, the VCU squad was a scary fast, athletic group of kids that were fired UP to play Duke, but they were so small up front that McRoberts should have gone for fifty exploiting his height advantage. Of course, his game isn't built for that kind of output (but it cost them AGAIN!) so we'll take up the call of all the other programs that aren't Duke and as fans we can only collectively say "Wait till next year."

So finally we get to it.


The lone warrior left standing. And after a rousing win against a very well-coached Michigan State team people are back to being talked about in terms of possibly winning it all. What I like is that they are riding on the backs of their two best players of the last month (Mansbrough and Lawson) – after all, why break a system that isn't broken. So if the Heels can continue to dictate the pace and pound the ball into the post (remember, Brandon "Generally Does It" Wright is still set to have a big game at some point in the tourney – against Florida in the Championship would be okay with me) then you have to like them against anyone.

The matchup against USC should be interesting. The Trojans (tee hee) are by all accounts a veteran-led team that relies on all the components working together to be successful – plus I read that they are athletic to boot, so they should be a good test for the Heels. But, they said the same thing about Arizona in January and we all remember how that turned out. The most important thing for UNC to remember is play to their strengths. They have body after body after body to throw at the other teams. Now they need to all climb on Mansbrough's giant shoulders and let him carry them all the way to Atlanta.

Then, I'll finally get my chance to watch the girlie, baby-faced, goofy, long-haired, doofus of a big man with the Gator uniform who runs on eternal energy get steam rolled by a horse of a kid from Missouri who runs on nothing but will power and determination. Given those variables, I'll take my chances with the corn fed farm boy every time.

Go Heels!

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Monday, March 5, 2007

The End of the Duke/Carolina Debate


Patrick Kendall


Now we know. Even Coach K said it.

Carolina is the better team. All the excitement, all the hype, all the taunting and all the conjecture can no longer hide that fact.

Duke vs. Carolina ’07 is in the books and the year belongs to the Heels (though Maryland really has the last laugh from that standpoint — they are the best team in North Carolina -- from Maryland).

But that said, I was happy to see that Duke did not go out without a final parting shot. For the whiners out there who cried “cheap shot” at Henderson’s foul on Mansbrough, I can’t deny that it didn’t reek a little bit of frustration on the part of my man Gerald, but anyone who has ever been part of an historic rivalry that dates back to the 1920s (I’m sure that there are a lot of us nodding in experienced understanding right now) is likely to get a little bit frustrated when coming out on the losing end of the rivalry two times in a row. Mansbrough isn’t hurt; Henderson gets a suspension so let’s get over it and move on.

As for my analysis of the game post facto, it’s pretty simple: too much Mansbrough and Lawson (and every one else from Carolina’s side – seemed like everyone contributed yesterday) and not enough Duke defense. Looking at the box score for Duke, their normal guys played well. Paulus and Henderson were great, Scheyer, Nelson good, and McRoberts played a statistically sound game (save for a pile of nasty turnovers that put them in a hole early). What deserted them this Sunday was stops on the defensive end.

Lawson drove at will; Mansbrough was an animal; Terry got free for a couple spot up threes; back door cuts were available; Wright got to the rim whenever he needed to. None of these things were a surprise to Duke and therefore they should have been more ready for them. Coach K has gone against Roy Boy enough times to know what to look for so I contend that Duke’s offense was not the issue (necessarily) and for only about the third time this season, they could not rely on their defense (the sixth man?) to help them control the pace.

That said, you have to give all that credit to UNC, which employed another great game plan and then executed it nearly flawlessly (makes me wonder how they can lose to G. Tech and NC State when they play like this – but I guess that’s water under the bridge at this point). Lawson shredded Duke’s man-to-man and found guys open all around the rim. It’s the easiest way to beat a team (any team) without shot blockers so kudos the Heels.

What I think is such a shame is that they basically backed into a regular season title thanks to UVA's loss, even though I can't imagine anyone outside of Charlottesville (that's a city in Virginia for you Carolina folks who don't keep up with geography beyond the Research Triangle) actually believing UVA is the better team.

Of course that’s just sour grapes on my part. Were this Duke in the same predicament I’d happily take the “back in” method to winning championships.

So, a toast to Roy Boy Williams and his merry band of Tar Heels. Congratulations on a season that was probably a little disappointing considering early season hype and some of the losses incurred (I can’t just hand out compliments – that is my “back hand” method).

The ACC Tourney starts Thursday and Duke will be playing. I predict that they will win that opening game then fall on Friday. UNC doesn’t play until noon on Friday and will most likely line up against Maryland. I NEED UNC to win this game. Bob the Terp is on a nasty roll here at the office and someone needs to slap him down. To Hell with the Shell! Who’s with me?

In conclusion, this was not exactly the year of the Blue Devil and its too early to tell if the Tar Heels can bring the Championship Trophy back to ACC country.

But I’ve got my ticket to Atlanta just in case.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Duke vs. Carolina – the Anti-climax


Patrick Kendall

So this is what it all comes down to...nothing but bragging rights in state. No national status is at stake here, no real standings in the ACC, no opportunity to leap frog the other and secure a top seed in the conference. It’s been a long time since, as my good friend just put it, Duke and Carolina were both coming off losses going into both of their conference games creating a more deflated opinion of themselves across the basketball landscape.

All year long you could see that Duke was playing the same way I ski, which is to say, that along the run they were headed for a crash at least four times. The fact that they really only stumbled in two big stretches (so far) simply means they got lucky (wish I could have said the same on the slopes myself). Anyway, most people would agree that somewhere about mid-season, Duke began getting the benefit of their history when it came to rankings, but no one really believed that they were one of the Top 25 for nearly the entire year (though it was the only thing I could hold over Bob the Terp’s head – until the sweep. Now I have a nice drawing of a turtle holding a broom on my whiteboard. The art sucks but the message was still clear. Damn!).

Carolina has also benefited from over hyping and now we’re seeing the true fruits of their over ranking as well. It took longer but for the most part there should be no surprise. They are too young to really be a great basketball team; plus they play piss pour defense and can’t make quality stops at key points in the game; therefore they leave themselves vulnerable in tight games. So, vanity from the UNC and Duke camps this year has led us to eerily similar situations: seasons that fail to meet expectations from either side.

Of course, both teams are going to the NCAAs this year but that is somewhat diminished by the lack of importance of this last meeting from a national standpoint. Truthfully, outside of the regular Duke/Carolina faithful who could give a rat’s ass about this one? In a way, I’m more disappointed with UNC only because I still believe that their losses are a result of a deficiency in their execution or preparation. They either don’t rebound well, or they don’t hustle after the ball, or they choose not to play defense – something that could be remedied by every bad basketball player’s greatest weapon – effort.

Duke is easier to diagnose. They will play hard every night (with the exception of the first Maryland game) but just don’t have the legs to compete for a full forty minutes. They are a true middle of the pack ACC team this year (ouch!) but you can’t really overcome talent issues if the other team plays AS hard (or harder, i.e. Maryland – sonsab*tches).

So we roll into Sunday in a kind of pre-post-season malaise on both sides. Carolina’s loss to Georgia Tech is another UNC example the better team allowing the worse team to set the pace and dictate the level of effort while the same can NOT be said of the Maryland/Duke game. There, the painful fact is that Maryland is the better team. They may also be better than UNC and you can chalk it all up to having a handful of upperclassmen that refuse to go out quietly so they play harder. It’s that simple.

The good news is that it still is a Duke/Carolina game and thus we (the true fans) know that the game itself still holds the allure of a possible “great” game. So we’ll all be excited to see if that materializes.

The bad (and shocking) news is that we (the true fans) are the only ones who care about this game at this point because there is no need for the rest of the nation to watch.