Now, as a Tar Heel fan....I always expect to beat Duke. But, to be honest, the 83-76 win on Saturday night felt better than any win over the Devils in a looooong time.
It was #1 Duke. At Cameron. On Senior Night. JJ Redick's and Sheldon Williams' senior night. On national TV. Three channels on national TV. And it felt good.
The God, JJ Redick, struggled mightily...missing 15 of his final 16 shots. And not all of them were contested. In fact, he had one really good look at the top of the key....and missed. Everything but the backboard. Wide right.
Like I said on Sports Bloggers Live around the beginning of the season....Redick struggles in the tournament [of course, SI.com's Seth Davis went on air after me, essentially calling me an idiot for thinking that way]. Well, Mr Davis.....Redick is 23-for-80 in his last four games. Two were won in single digits against teams that won't be in the tournament.....and the other two were losses. That's Duke. And that's why I didn't think they can win the whole thing. In his last 5 NCAA tournament games...Redick is 18-for-64. Both are 29% averages. Not good. Maybe you shoulda got this guy some rest, K???
And how 'bout those freshmen??? Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard and Bobby Frasore [all UNC frosh] went into Duke.....on senior night....and outscored Duke's seniors JJ Redick, Sheldon Williams Lee Melchionni and Sean Dockery by a score of 55-51. Imagine that? Last Saturday night against Maryland, Mike Gminski [a Dookie who was calling the game for FSN] said the perfect thing about Williams' great coaching job, though. He said "well, it's not like he's doing this with a bunch of walk-ons" True, but even he knows how special these talents are....buthow special kids they are that they can come to a program like Carolina with, essentially, a blank slate [since no bankable stars were here] and still follow Roy Williams' direction. Amazing.
I will say this is the best I've felt about beating Duke since, well, probably 1992.....when Duke was defending champs, our Super Class [Montross, Phelps, Reese, etc] were sophs and the game was about as big of a battle as you could get [Montross had blood pouring out of his head all game long]. I think that game was HATE. This game was LOVE. The fact these youngster could do what they did in Cameron when they did it is quite facinating.
And the fact that the games was on all the ESPNs [I think even "The Ocho" had it] was icing on the cake. The most hyped college hoops game in ESPN history was won by Carolina blue. And thank you ESPNU for having the Cameron Craxies Cam which allows us Heels fans to see those Dookies shocked faces up close! Oh, but did you have to keep showing that "robust" chick with the blue paint plastered all over her doughy body?? I mean, and I swear to this, her arms moving without her moving them. Yeah, the place was rocking so hard that her flab got caught up in the excitement.
Again, in stride...it is just a game. Another game in the Duke-Carolina rivalry. But, above the surface....it was a much bigger win than that.
THE MAGICAL SEASON
Even before Saturday night, the 2005-2006 North Carolina men's basketball season was a huge success. Despite losing the top seven scorers, all five starters and four NBA lottery picks....the Heels ended the year in 2nd place in the expanded ACC, just two games back of the dominant Dookies.
And they've done it with freshmen. Not just freshmen, but upperclassmen that might as well be freshmen. Of the returning team.....only David Noel and Reyshawn Terry had any kind of run on last year's team. Both were used as backups to Rashad McCants and Jackie Manuel on last year's title team. But they averaged about 5 ppg....combined!
It is a contrast of seasons. Last year, the regular season was just the staging area for March Madness.....the time Carolina fans only cared about. This year, the season was watched much more closely and there are no real expectations heading into the NCAA tournament. Well, until now.
The team starts freshmen Tyler Hansbrough and Bobby Frasor....with freshmen Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green as major bench guys. Over the year, these guys have improved greatly. Hansbrough will most likely win the National Freshman of the Year award. Frasor [who may not start next year] has done a much, much, much better job at controlling the ball. He's one of those guys that can have a big game without scoring much. Ginyard's defense has been superb. Just ask JJ. And Green is Mr Intangible. The guy defends, rebounds, goes inside, hits jumpers, gets steals, dives for loose balls....just whatever.
But what impresses me most are those returning players. I touched on Noel and Terry. But Quentin Thomas....who played too fast for his britches last year has contained himself and looks like a legit player now. Last year, I cringed as he handled the rock. This year, he looks like a cagey vet. Wes Miller was a walkon....and looks like a walkon. Dude has transformed himself into a one-trick pony into a starter. Yeah...a starter at the same position Michael Jordan once held. And a guy like Byron Sanders....who barely got any run last year. This year, he sees minutes backing up Hansbrough...and did a great job sparking the big run against Duke today.
So....in March, this team is the exact opposite of what the experts said they were in November. Due to them being thrown into battles AT Kentucky, AT NC State and AT Duke.....they are now experienced. And they are deep....something people didn't think they were. And to most Carolina fans....this win over Duke feels good because....well duh.....but it also is the springboard into next year when all we lose is David Noel and we gain three of the best incoming freshmen in the nation. If everyone comes back....this team will be scary next year!
REALISTIC TOURNY CHANCES
Well, the ACC tournament is next week....and that tourny should be live. Carolina, by clinching the #2 seed, will likely get Boston College in the 2nd round....and Duke, maybe, in the finals. They can win that tournament. As for the NCAAs??? Well, let's just say it will be fun just to watch these guys perform. Just as it always is.
Watch a cartoon lampooning Coach K and his pitchman image......here.....newsobserver.com: Coach Kommercial