Category Archives: NCAA Tournament

The PODcast — April 30

Hey LeBron, Larry Legend would've never done that. Neither would Michael. Or Magic.

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In Part 1, the guys take a look at Southern Lee and Lee County baseball before diving into the newest rivalry in NASCAR.

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In Part II, the guys dive into the Panthers’ NFL Draft and rant about LeBron James’ hinting at his injury. Put it this way — Larry Bird would’ve never done that.

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For the Duke haters…

Nolan Smith and the Blue Devils are on their way.

Editor’s Note: Here is Sunday’s column as it was written, before Duke continued its cruise to its fourth national title. This for all of those who were rooting against the inevitable.

It’s the Final Four, so anything can happen. We all know that much. Grainy highlights of Jimmy V and Ed Pinkney remind us of that often at this time of year. But given The Herald’s early-ish deadlines on Saturday night, this sports section — as you can clearly see — does not have the result of the national semifinal between Duke and West Virginia, which did not finish until after our presstime.

Chances are, faithful reader, you already know what happened. And you’ve probably heard the game broken down in myriad ways. And you’ve likely digested all of the postgame comments.

So what you find here in this space is obviously not an analysis of what transpired between the Blue Devils and Mountaineers, no dissection of Duke’s striking ability to snare offensive rebounds that went for second-chance 3-pointers or its towering inside presence and physical, tough-as-nails defense.

There won’t be anything in here about the Devils again finding a way to make an opponent’s best player rather ineffective, in this case, Da’Sean Butler. Or their vast experience taking control in the game’s final 7 minutes, where a close game gets stretched to a 7-10-point lead as Duke does every single little thing right down the stretch to close out the victory.

None of that is in here. Honestly, you don’t need it. It was readily apparent on the TV screen you watched last night.

But what you will find here is a completely unbiased portrait of a brilliant season by the Duke Blue Devils, a season in which a team without ready-made NBA talent used three go-to scorers, outstanding rebounding, a game-changing, legendary coach and a grinding style that belies their true nature — that of wily, cagey and deft precision basketball in the most important of moments.

It’s truly amazing how Duke does it, by…um…by…hold on a minute…I’ll get it out…

It’s truly amazing how Duke does it, by…um…by…

Oh, forget it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know how good Duke is. We all know why they’re good. You don’t need to hear it again. And I don’t need to write it again.

Got that? Got it? Yeah, I respect Duke. Respect the heck out of them. They win the right way. Play a brand of basketball not at all unlike any of the other three teams in the Final Four. That’s why they’re there. That style of basketball won this year, and the last four standing are a testament to it.

And Duke’s the best of them.

And the Devils will win it all.

Doesn’t mean someone, possibly someone like me even, has to like it.

The questions is always out there: can a person report on his school’s rival, watch it and write about it in an unbiased, completely objective manner for his or her readers?

You bet he can. Some have been doing it for over a decade. Even longer. It’s out there, people, believe me. I did it, in fact, a little higher up in this here column. You know, just to prove a point.

But I ain’t doing it now. Not anymore.

Because I know what most North Carolina or N.C. State or Wake Forest fans are thinking this morning.

And this is for them.

Take it, leave it, ball it up or line the birdcage with it, I don’t really care right now.

Because I know they don’t want Duke to win the national championship. Not now.

Not ever.

Yeah, I said it.

And meant it.

Maybe that makes them bad people.

Tough. ’Cause they don’t mind.

I went to the University of North Carolina, and I’m a Tar Heels fan. Can’t lie. That’s my school. And that means some things to some of us.

And one of those things is to root against Duke.

Every time.

Especially now.

Not every Heels’ fan or UNC grad is like this. They wish well for the state of North Carolina, or for the added prestige of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That’s fine.

But I ain’t talking about them.

You can, though. Criticize them all you want, Dukies. Rub your national title in their faces and wax poetic about the winning ways of Coach K, Singler, Scheyer and Smith.

Go ahead and dance on the Tar Heels’ grave and say they are sore losers.

You’re right.

And so were some of you last year.

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The PODcast Returns

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With the show broken into two parts, the guys break down the Panthers’ recent moves, chat about the top seeds for the NCAA Tournament, run through the ACC standings, hit the Bobcats and begin the search for Ryan’s new baseball team.

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The UNC Tragedy

Sadly, this could go on a lot longer.

But the Feed John Henson line is funny.

But I must say this, or I’ll lose my General Alumni Association card:

“The Tar Heels won their second national championship in five years just last season.”

That makes me feel better — at least until Duke loses in the NCAA Tournament.

I hope.

I’m also hoping the Heels’ next line of recruits won’t so much resemble the “hype not matching actual talent” likes of players like Chris Burgess and Shavlik Randolph.

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Precise and patient, Duke may have enough this time

on Scheyer and Kyle Singler

You could almost hear the Cameron Crazies.

Dribble, dribble.

Pass.

Dribble, dribble.

Pass.

Jon Scheyer would hold the ball, maybe not going so far as to put it on his hip and stand there, but holding it nonetheless. Maybe make a jab step, and back out of it, keeping his dribble until he needed it to forge a better passing lane.

All of this happening some 35-40 feet from the basket.

North Carolina was playing with an intensity Tar Heels’ fans have been begging to see for three weeks, keeping the eighth-ranked and bitter rival Blue Devils close in front of them, and at times, behind them.

But really, the Dukies were closer in their rear view mirror than they actually appeared.

Because, really, that’s all any UNC lead in the first meeting between the two historic programs on Wednesday night really was — a slim little edge that Duke could probably wipe out anytime it needed to.

All it needed was time, and perhaps a bit of rest.

And so Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler would weave the ball around the backcourt between them, too distant even for them to attempt a shot. But that’s not what they were looking for. They were seeking a crease in the Heels’ defense, one they would wait on until the waning seconds of the shot clock to attack.

North Carolina fans may have felt like the game was, if not in their hands, at least attainable from about the 12-minute mark in the second half on to, say, 7 minutes to go in the game. The Heels even led 43-39 with 11:33 to go, and the Dome’s roof was perilously close to being blasted from its moldings.

But the Devils painstakingly meandered the ball up the floor and into their deliberate halfcourt set, choosing precision over panic and persistance over desperation.

And even in a game in which they did very little right, the Blue Devils were as calculated and smooth as any team in the Top 3 in the final 7 minutes of the game, outplaying North Carolina so handily that all the Heels had left was the bad taste of a nothing more than a measly moral victory.

Is Duke good enough to win the national title? The jury is still out on that, even though the Devils will likely either gather the ACC regular season championship or league tournament title — or both. They’ll be nothing less than a No. 2 seed in March and will probably have no more than six losses all season.

And yet questions will continue to follow a team that hasn’t, in recent years, enjoyed the kind of monumental success the program made look so routine two decades ago. It will be posited that the Devils will struggle through another poor shooting night in March, that at least once against a tournament team, they will have one of their Big 3 struggle, and then that will be the end of them, perhaps no further than the Sweet 16.

But watching the poise with which the Blue Devils played North Carolina, a team in desperation mode at home, trying to rekindle all the magic of the last five years in one night, and in front of the most decorated Tar Heel in history, it was clear that Duke may very well be good enough to grind its way back to the Final Four.

The Blue Devils won’t wow anybody with flash or raw athleticism. That’s obvious now.

But they just might outthink you, backing the ball up and slowing things down for a 5-minute stretch so that their best players can save their legs while staying on the floor. It’s a strategy fraught with danger, allowing a lesser team to remain close for long stretches, gambling that your execution at clutch time will far exceed that of the opponent’s.

But it worked on Wednesday night. And it worked well.

Is Duke flawed? Yes. But most teams are. Shoot 25 percent for 35 minutes against Kentucky or Kansas (and maybe even Maryland), and the Blue Devils will get slapped around.

But if it’s tied with 3 minutes to go, there may be no more frightening team in all the land.

That much we know.

Just ask the Tar Heels.

 

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Three-game skid? No worries, there’s still only one way to dance

Campbell's Jonathan Rodriguez may be the Atlantic Sun's best player. And if he gets hot for the right three games, who knows?

You’ve never heard of them.

Never once thought about their school, and certainly not the basketball program.

But there they will be, in about a month, getting their moment in the triumphant glare of the SportsCenter spotlight, students and fans rushing to the middle of the floor to join the players and coaches who have just won their way into a tournament they have no chance at winning.

But that’s the life in the small Division 1 college conference, where just earning a place in what is annually one of the most exclusive clubs in sports is a championship in and of itself.

Of course, there’s the other side of the jubilant pandemonium taking place there in the middle of the floor. While the championship team cuts down the nets that will forever be on display in a trophy case that probably doesn’t look all that much different from the one your high school may have had, dreams are dashed and tears fall in a depressive unity with slumping shoulders and sagging sighs. In their hearts they know they probably weren’t going to win that first-round game as a 16 seed, but that was never the point. This loss, the one in the conference tournament final, is a different kind of loss than an NCAA Tournament loss. Always will be.

And so it happens sometimes, a dominant team is stunned in its tourney final, and all of a sudden it is realized that the 26-4 regular season record means nothing. The league won’t get two bids into the Field of 64, and none of it seems fair.

But this season, and for a team just down the road from us, what’s potentially unfair may be better viewed as a second chance. It is where midseason three-game losing streaks can be forgotten with just three days of perfect basketball. Put it together for three very specific days, and it can be as though the 29 games before were nothing more than a series of scrimmages designed to give teams extended scouting reports of each other. Reports that may mean everything for one very important week.

That could be the life of the Campbell Camels over the next few weeks. Six short days ago, the Camels weren’t that far removed from the best start in the program’s history, and despite a few hiccups here and there, were still 12-6 and among the leaders in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Since a 72-57 thumping on the road at East Tennessee State, though, the Camels have tumbled down the league standings. They’ve now fallen to 12-9 overall and just 7-5 in conference play after Lipscomb’s Josh Slater hit a step-back 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining to lift the Bisons to a come-from-behind 60-59 victory on the road.

After losing their 9-point lead to a team that got 54 of its 60 points from just three players, the Camels find themselves tied for fourth in the A-Sun with eight games to go — the next two coming in a span of three days some 530 miles south from their Buies Creek home.

The season, for some programs, would be on the line. For some of the big boys, faced with this predictament, the only postseason tournament destination would include the letters “N,” “I,” and “T.” (We’re looking at you, North Carolina.)

But the Camels would still have another chance to spin the wheel. (OK, OK, so do the Tar Heels). As things stand now with a month to play for the conference tournament’s seeding, Jacksonville, Lipscomb and Belmont are the only teams looking down at the Camels. But with perhaps the league’s best player in Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell has already proven it can beat two of them (Jacksonville, at home on Dec. 19, 73-57; and Lipscomb, on the road on Jan. 23, 86-82).

The script wouldn’t be an original one. Top-seeded Jacksonville, perhaps having just beaten the Camels at home on Feb. 25 in the penultimate game of the regular season, gets Campbell again in the tournament semifinals less than two weeks later on March 5 in Macon, Ga. The Camels would take those odds.

Finishing first over four months and 30 games means practically nothing at this level. And maybe there’s something wrong with that.

But for the Camels and teams like them all over the country, it’s just right.

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Tar Heels’ fans have one saving thought

Ah yes, intensity. Interesting...

I think several things when I watch the North Carolina Tar Heels play basketball these days.

Very few of them are good.

Then again, I manage my way through the games, hopeful that I may see the sparks of the future, of what is yet to come, and what may one day be.

Thinking long-term here. March is but a memory, and has nothing to do with foresight.

But, like I said, I manage. Because I can remember one all-important thought, and it gets me through things like three-game losing streaks and uninspired ACC play.

For instance, when I watch them bring the ball up the floor, I sometimes shudder at how often the trombone player in the band has a better chance at receiving an overhead pass when the Heels are trying to break the press than any of the actual North Carolina basketball players. This happens a lot, what with the 2009-10 team averaging a killer 16.5 turnovers a game, up four ticks from last season’s national title team.

But that’s exactly what gets me through: I remember the Heels won it all last season. So I move on.

And then I see Deon Thompson waving fanatically for the ball in the low post.

Oh, wait a minute. Actually, I don’t see that. Hardly ever, anyway. I usually see Thompson 10-12 feet from the bucket, unable to back his defender down to receive any entry pass on the low block. And with the aforementioned ball-control problem, wasting one of those glorious halfcourt possessions by waiting for a soft frontcourt player like Thompson or Ed Davis or Tyler Zeller (before he was hurt) waving for the ball out of position grows tiresome. So are the fadeaway jump shots the once-perceived “best frontcourt in the nation” keeps throwing up. It should be a rule or something — big guys don’t fade.

But then I remember last year, when Tyler Hansbrough would demand the ball in a tight spot, aware he would probably get hacked, but comfortable to win the game from 15 feet away at the line if he had to. He would probably only need to take one foul shot anyway after muscling in the bucket.

And so when I see the Heels try to make the extra pass around the perimeter among a bunch of guys who don’t ever seem all that excited to shoot, even though the team’s shooting percentage is exactly the same as last year and the 3-point percentage is only 2 points less than a year ago, I hang in there.

Oh, the memory...Thank God for the memory...

Because, well, you know, North Carolina won the national title just last year.

And so when nobody seems to take on a vocal leadership role on the floor, even though Marcus Ginyard has been a starter almost since he arrived in Chapel Hill five years ago, and the same can basically be said of Thompson, I barely even notice.

After all, the Tar Heels were 34-4 and… well, you know the rest.

And when North Carolina loses to College of Charleston and a slew of ranked teams, and probably to N.C. State on Tuesday, I march right along to the beat of that persistent drumline banging around in my head:

North Carolina Tar Heels, the 2008-09 National Champions.

Call timeouts to coax a young team through a tight spot or not, I don’t care. Call a TO to calm your inexperienced team down when they are matched up against a more veteran opponent, or don’t. It doesn’t matter.

Because North Carolina won the title last year.

Even North Carolina basketball is due a rebuilding year, and this hasn’t been all bad. It’s certainly better than what’s going on in Pawley’s Pavilion these days.

And so there is a refrain that will carry myself and other UNC fans through this season, which is quickly being lost because of so many factors: youth, inexperience, injuries and NBA defections.

We can sigh, recall the good ol’ days like they were yesterday (which isn’t hard, since they happened only a year ago) and ponder what may lie ahead of the mighty program. It’s easy to take comfort in the growing pains of a talented but young team when the program is coming off its second national championship in five years.

Unless Duke wins the national title this year.

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