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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