We are the champions!
North Carolina beat Illinois for the National Championship tonight. It is Carolina’s first title since 1993 [my senior year in high school] and Coach Roy Williams’ first title in his 17-year career. As a Carolina fan...this is just so sweet after going thru the horror of the 8-20 season of 2001-2002. Guys like Adam Boone and Brian Morrison transferring and the whole Matt Doherty debacle.
I watched Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and Jeff McInnis get outmuscled in Seattle by Arkansas in the 1995 Final Four. I watched Vince Carter and Antwan Jamison fall short in the 1997 and 1998 Final Fours even though they were the best teams there. All of them didn't do what this team did tonight.
It was a very good game. It was nip and tuck for the first 15 minutes or so...then UNC went on a run that gave them a 13 point halftime lead. Illinois made their patented run and tied the game at 70 with over 2 1/2 minutes left. That was the last time they scored.
One ongoing trend in Noth Carolina titles has been bad turnovers late in games. In 1982, we all remember Freddy Brown tossing the ball to James Worthy to seal Georgetown's loss. In 1993, Chris Webber called a timeout when Michigan had none. Tonight, Luther Head drove then kicked the ball out to Raymond Felton's outstretched arm.
Also, in 1982, a freshman named Michael Jordan hit the game winning shot. Tonight, a freshman named Marvin Williams hit the game winner.
When your team wins...you want to pump your chest and scream out loud [I am doing both]. But I want to scream about how well I predicted this game. Look at my blog entry about this game.
SPORTZ SAID: "I think that Illinois' love affair with the 3-pt shot may be their undoing. They shot over half of their shots Saturday from behind the arc. If they don't hit a great amount of those shots...it will start the North Carolina fast break and that's what Illinois doesn't want. I think THAT fact combined with May having yet another superb game will make the North Carolina Tar Heels National Champions with a 77-71 victory!"
This is exactly what happened. Illinois shot FORTY 3-pt shots. FORTY!!! That is unreal. It broke the record for most 3pt shots attempted in a title game by 25%!!!!! [The record was 30 treys]. It didn?t really create a ton fast breaks for UNC, it did create some and it really kept Tar Heels out of foul trouble. I even got the score somewhat correct. While it wasn?t the 77-71 game I predicted...the score was very close to it as was the margin of victory. Oh, and May had that "superb game".
SPORTZ SAID: "One thing North Carolina seems to have an advantage is from their bench. Against Michigan State, Marvin Williams, David Noel and Melvin Scott each played at least 16 minutes. For Illinois, Jack Ingram played 21 minutes but the Illini got only 15 bench minutes from everyone else combined. If the game does become a track meet...it seems to favor the Tar Heels."
The benches did play big parts in this game. Since Augustine was in such foul trouble, Illinois needed to rely of Jack Ingram for major minutes. And they didn?t have anyone to back him up. And none of the Illini big men could do anything against May. The rest of Illinois bench gave them zero points, one rebound and no assists in only 8 minutes. Deron Williams played the full 40 minutes. Brown and Powell played 38 apiece. Head played 37. You could see tired legs on those final Illini shots.
Ingram played 30 minutes as a reserve. Only May, Felton and McCants played at least that much for North Carolina. On the surface, Illinois bench out-scored UNC [11-9], but bench guys David Noel, Marvin Williams and Melvin Scott did play many minutes out there. Noel played excellent defense and Williams got the game-winning put back.
SPORTZ SAID: "Both teams technically use a trio of guards. North Carolina has the better PG in Raymond Felton and the better offensive player in Rashad McCants. Not to mention Jackie Manuel is one of the tougher defenders around. But Illinois' trio of Derron Williams, Luther Head and Dee Brown gives them a slight edge. All three of them defend excellently....all three can stroke it from anywhere...and all three have high basketball IQs."
Felton had a tremendous game. He scored 17 points and dished out 7 assists...all while trying to stay out of foul trouble. McCants scored his entire 14 points in the first half. Add in Manuel, and the Carolina backcourt scored 31 pts on 10 of 25 shooting. The Illinois Trio scored 50 of their 70 points...and needed 47 shots to do so. Head, Williams and Brown shot 34 of the three-pointers. Head shot 16 threes by himself.
SPORTZ SAID: "Roger Powell came to play in the Final Four. And Augustine will nab some boards and put a bit of a buffer in the middle. Jack Ingram can come off the bench and contribute. But North Carolina has a clear edge here. Sean May could be the MOP of this tournament. He's played against tougher centers in the last two games [Davis, Wilkinson] than he will on Monday. Carolina also can throw Marvin and Jawad Williams in there. Jawad struggled in the regionals...but was insane on Saturday. He knows that Monday will be his last game and he may make the most of it. It also could be the freshman Marvin's last game....and he is just such a tough matchup for anyone. Add in a David Noel who works hard on defense and runs the floor and the Heels have the clear advantage."
Illinois got just 20 points from their front court....and none from Augustine. Powell was a beast on the boards...nabbing 14 total and 8 offensive. But UNC got 44 points from their big men...including 26 from Sean May. Marvin Williams, though mostly ineffective, got the game-winning tip in the closing minutes.
SPORTZ SAID: "Illinois must slow the game upenough on defense that it forces the Heels to play more of a half-court game. Stop the dribble. The Illini has the defense to do it. Illinois must slow down the guard penatration of McCants and especially Felton. If they break down Illinois' defense, it will be a long day."
Illinois did a pretty good job limiting fast breaks and penetration by Felton. The problem is that North Carolina played so well in the half court game due to Sean May. They didn?t need the break outs since they could just dump it into #42 all night long.
SPORTZ SAID: "North Carolina has to establish May early and often. They forgot about him in the first half against Michigan State and it cost them a halftime lead. May should be able to do damage against Augustine."
Well, duh. We all saw how this one turned out.
SPORTZ SAID: "North Carolina has got to play better defense on the perimeter. This has been a sticking point at times during the season....especially when they were in Syracuse. D Williams, Brown and Head will completely murder them if they don't stick on 'em."
I was very surprised how well the Heels played defensively. Sure, they weren?t the greatest defensive team ever....but they played much better than usual. They really forced everything Illinois did outside. They had virtually no inside threat and never could dribble the ball to the hoop.