Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament — The Heels need Lawson

 

Ty Lawson will play for the Tar Heels on Saturday. Because he has to.

Ty Lawson will play for the Tar Heels on Saturday. Because he has to.

A few thoughts on Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament:

Ty Lawson will play on Saturday.

Because he will have to if the North Carolina Tar Heels want to advance past LSU in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s not often that a No. 1 seed has to play a Big-6 Conference champion in the second round of the tournament, but with the Tigers losing three of their last four games after they clinched the conference title with two weeks to go in the season, that’s the chore ahead for the Tar Heels.

And it’s going to be an uphill battle.

With the tenacious big man Marcus Thornton, who dropped 30 on a good player in Butler’s Matt Howard, and with the guard tandem of Tasmin Mitchell and Chris Johnson — who combined for another 26 points — LSU has the blueprint for what a team needs to beat North Carolina. Good guard play and a big man inside to hurt Hansbrough and Co.

Do not be surprised if the Heels struggle on Saturday to get out of the second round, or if they don’t get out at all. Don’t be surprised if either Mitchell or Johnson go off for 30 of their own.

And definitely don’t be surprised if Lawson is on the floor. The Heels will absolutely need him from here on out, because even if UNC gets past LSU, Gonzaga — with tough senior guard Jeremy Pargo and 6-foot-11 senior big man Josh Heytfelt — looms with some of the same qualities.

UNC has the toughest draw to the Final Four of any of the top seeds. And without a healthy, speedy, disruptive Lawson, the Heels won’t make it to Detroit.

I know, I know, you’re saying did you even see UNC against Radford?

Yes, and it was a whitewash. And it means nothing.

That said, the Heels did do some nice things, including playing real-live defense in the first half and getting some inspired and increasingly efficient play from reserve forward Ed Davis. If Davis keeps coming on like this, he could become the definition of the X factor for North Carolina.

It was nice to see Danny Green find some of his rhythm again, and you have to think he’ll be better with Lawson on the floor. 

And give Bobby Frasor some credit — he’s been OK at the point and has taken decent care of the ball. Still, he’s been an off guard his entire career, and you have to think some of Green’s recent struggles have to do with not having a pure point get him the ball where and how he wants it. It’s a nuanced thing, but it’s important in basketball.

I picked Carolina to win it all, basically because I thought the Lawson injury was more smoke than fire, and because I think the best overall talent wins a lot in the NCAA Tournament. I’m not so sure anymore — I would’ve liked to have seen Lawson go about 10 or 15 minutes against Radford just to shake some of the rust off. 

There just may not be enough time for that on Saturday.

Nervous times for Heels’ fans, no matter how good they looked in the first round.

Other observations:

Kind of a dull first day, the Cal-State Northridge drama notwithstanding. Unfortunately for most of us, we had to watch a close, but rather unimportant Butler/LSU game all the way despite one of the best teams in the nation being down by six with under 10 minutes to play.

Regional coverage gets old sometimes, but that’s the age we live in. You want to see a particular game, you have to pay for it and buy the March Madness TV package, or whatever.

Nice win by Maryland, who is getting manchild games from Greivis Vasquez right now. Maybe the Terps are the tournament’s darling this year. They sure look good.

There’s really not too much to say about Duke’s win over Binghampton other than the Blue Devils don’t exactly look ripe for an early-round exit this year. Binghamton was pretty athletic, and while there was a huge foul and free throw discrepancy — especially in the first half — a lot of that had to do with Binghamton’s bumping style of defense rather than anything the refs did wrong.

One would think Texas might have a shot of knocking off the Blue Devils, who did still go through 4- and 5-minute stretches of cold shooting against Binghamton, but Rick Barnes is 0-5 all-time against Duke, going back to his days at Clemson. Barnes is a great recruiter, but he’s not the best Xs and Os guy in the world. Mike Krzyzewski tends to eat him alive.

Finally, an upset, although one that everybody saw coming. Western Kentucky had little trouble with Illinois until the closing minutes, staying in control for most of the game. Once again, a 12 seed beats a 5.

As for Clemson, Oliver Purnell’s pursuit of an NCAA Tournament win continues. Michigan played really well, and the Tigers showed a lot of guts to keep coming back. But once again, it wasn’t enough.

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Filed under ACC, ACC Tournament, Clemson Tigers, College Basketball, Designated Hitter, Duke Blue Devils, Final Four, Maryland Terrapins, NCAA Tournament, North Carolina Tar Heels, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald, Ty Lawson, Ty Lawsons, Tyler Hansbrough, UNC Tar Heels

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