By: Keith Hartley
To continue my thesis that this is absolutely the strangest year of college basketball that I’ve experienced, since we’ve last convened together, the once proudly hopeful Oklahoma team has taken a nosedive the likes of the 2007 Mets. (Which certainly does not bring any argument from our fearless leader here on Medium Rare Basketball.)
And in parallel with said nose dive, Trae Young’s unfettered lock on the National POY award is also slipping through his hands. Continuing our broad look around the CBB landscape, you’ll see that the top teams are littered with perennial tourney underachievers (cough Xavier/Purdue cough) and a lot of others that make you think you’re looking at the college football rankings (Clemson, Auburn, Texas Tech, and Ohio State). You also have three of the giants of CBB (UNC, Kansas, and DOOK) butted up nice and cozy, because it’s cold in the winter, with the likes of Rhode Island and Saint Mary’s.
Looking ahead to what March might hold, I would play the age-old game of F, marry, kill with Virginia, MSU, and Villanova as they are the top 3 teams right now. However you think this game plays out in your head, I really only see one of these three teams getting to the championship game.
For my money, I’m going to marry Virginia this year. I will certainly admit that this might be coming with a heavy dose of ACC bias but at least I can be upfront about that. Counts for something right?
You may not like the way Tony Bennett has his team play but over the course of many games, his team usually has the odds ever in their favor. I’d probably select kill MSU and given the recent state of affairs surrounding that campus, I’m certainly not the leader in the clubhouse with that feeling. And Nova… ugggh every time I say their name my heart breaks all over again. Mr. Paige and Mr. Johnson, you both deserved so much better of an ending and I will keep that team forever close in my heart. I think by process of elimination you can figure out which they are in this little game and they have bestowed that title as I think they will likely get to the final weekend but meet their demise in their first game in San Antonio this year.
Well, with that rough overview of my quick hitters on the CBB landscape, let’s get back to what we all know and love best around here and that’s our beloved Heels. They are certainly not immune to the crazy that is this year’s CBB results as is so evident in their earlier loss to Wofford and their more recent loss to VT. I believe if they won both of those games, we’re looking at a Top 5 team in the country given the strength of their schedule. Alas, this is not the case so we’re currently saddled with #14 but not all hope is lost.
In the past 15 games, we’ve won 2, lost 2, won 4, lost 3, won 4. How’s that for going streaking through a season? Given the pendulum swings lately, it would appear that we’re headed for some rough times and if you look at our remaining four games it’s not hard to see a L4 to close out the season. I’m here today to say that will absolutely positively will not happen though.
While saying that UNC won’t lose their last four isn’t exactly going out on a limb, this next sentence certainly is: I think we are going to win 3 out of 4 to end the season with our only loss coming at home to Miami (how’s that for a prediction?). And yes, that would mean we complete the season sweep of DOOK which would just be among the most wonderful of feelings as it always is.
Beating DOOK is like pizza, sometimes it certainly is better or more rewarding than others but it is never bad and it never gets old (shout out to my cold pizza lovers).
Speaking of DOOK, let’s look back at our previous handful of games real quick. The loss to Clemson was a heartbreaking one given our track record against them. However, this is not your father’s Clemson as they say. The Heels were down big at the half (44-28) but displayed resiliency in fighting all the way back to tie the game at 74 with about two minutes left to play. But in those last two minutes, it was Clemson that hit the big shots which put them ahead for good.
After that devastating loss, it was nice to have a tune-up game against a very overmatched Pitt team. This game was a bunch of familiar faces for transfer Cam Johnson as this was the squad he played with last year. It was proven pretty quickly why he transferred as UNC had this one locked up pretty early and rode it out to a 96-65 W.
This all leads us into every season’s most anticipated matchup with our bitter, hated rivals. In what has become the best rivalry game in all of American sports for my money (sorry UM & OSU football fans, it just hasn’t been that great lately), the devils made the 8 mile trip down Tobacco Road to come into the Dean Dome for the prime-time matchup.
The roles were reversed this year as the dominant paint/glass team was DOOK with their tangible size and strength advantage inside headlined by freshman bigs Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter.
As they say though, if games were played on paper Tom Brady would be a current Super Bowl Champion (football tangent, Peyton Manning is the most revolutionary and therefore greatest quarterback of all time… @ your boy with some stats/facts and we can talk… short rant over), and at the half the Heels held a 28-17 lead in boards (despite their size disadvantage) but that did not translate into halftime scoring lead.
Fortunately, that spark retuned when they came out of the locker room for the second half and it certainly was needed. UNC started a 16-2 run that proved to be the difference as they never gave the lead back the rest of the game. This is precisely the type of game the boys will need if they are going to progress deep in the tourney and that is a nicely balanced scoring effort from Cam, JB, Luke, and Kenny with Theo doing all the other things he does extremely well.
As huge of a win as this was for UNC’s season, the schedule is not very forgiving at this time of year as this was the first of a 3-game in 5-day gauntlet. It wouldn’t really matter who was next on the docket as it’s incredibly difficult to come back after such a hugely emotional victory (anyone want to ask Case Keenum his thoughts on that), but having to head away at NC State is about as tough of a follow up game as you could have picked.
I fully went into this game just assuming we were going to have a letdown and to my extreme surprise, we came out and had our third highest scoring game of the year. This was mainly due to an incredible second half by Luke Maye. Hitting 12-14 after the break and the team hitting 25-32, is seemingly indicative of the Heels MO this year as it’s not uncommon to see them stroll through the first half before really turning on the after burners post half time.
The final game of this late season test was a home game against a sneaky ND team which gave us fits earlier this year. And don’t let the final score deceive you, this was not nearly as big of a blowout as the 83-66 final makes it out to be. This was a 4 point game with under 6 minutes left to play before Carolina went on an 18-4 run to end the game.
This four game win streak, paired with the constant string of top 10 upsets, has upped the expectations of what I think this team can accomplish come March. More to come on that in a separate post as some of us writers around here give our takes on what our teams need to do to make it to the final weekend. Until that time, signing off again here at Keith’s Carolina BBQ.