Posts Tagged ‘ ACC ’

On this team’s underrated toughness and ACC road record

When the ACC is as bad as it is this season, it is understandable that no one is handing out much praise to Carolina for surviving the ACC season without what could be termed a bad loss. It wasn’t until we soundly defeated Duke to end the regular season that the national media (excluding Jay Bilas, who seemed to never leave our camp) finally jumped back on the UNC bandwagon as a legitimate national title contender. But there are a few observations to be made that validate the accomplishment.

After we trounced Duke to clinch the ACC regular season title, it was easy to focus on that as the deciding game. In reality, that is a game Carolina expected to win, and the regular season title was ultimately won back in January when Duke dropped two bad losses at home to Florida State and Miami. They made one of them up by beating FSU in Tallahassee, a great win that UNC could not get, but needed UNC to help out with a bad loss of its own. A season split of the Duke-UNC series should have led to a tie between the two, but Carolina made it through unscathed.

We weren’t without plenty of opportunities. Much was made in the media about the inequity of the conference schedules of Duke and Carolina, especially down the stretch, and when the title hunt was still a three-team race, most agreed that over the final month of the season, UNC faced a more difficult series of games, especially on the road, than either Duke or FSU. A simple comparison of which games Duke and UNC did not have to play this year illustrates the disparity. We missed out on second games with each of the anemic bottom three, BC, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech; Duke played all three twice, which means that three of their eight ACC road games were automatic (though they almost lost two of them). Duke, meanwhile, missed out on second games with Miami, State, and Virginia, and faced each of them at home in that one game. Again, they played FSU twice to our once, but our one game with them was on the road. We played a road game against every team that finished in the top half of the conference while Duke played at only FSU, and each of those road games came in one two week span to close the season.

This is an inevitable byproduct of a twelve team league about which the conference can do absolutely nothing. I point this out not to complain, but to tout the underrated achievement of our team. After we beat Wake Forest in an ugly but easy affair, I felt uncomfortable with the false security of our 6-1 ACC record. We had no road wins against legitimate opponents and that brutal non-Duke schedule still ahead with two games against UVA and three other tough road games; I silently predicted that we would drop at least one, since even the 2009 team had that unfortunate loss at Maryland.

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Celebrating the Duke win

For the first time in four tries with me in the building, Crystal City Sports Pub – home base for relocated Tar Heels in Northern Virginia – witnessed a Carolina victory in a big game. Though I am prone to such superstitions, this is not to imply that the place was itself bad luck. The sports bar is well known in the area and has housed UNC fans long before I moved to the area, and to be truthful, the streak of losses (at Duke 2011, regional final loss to Kentucky, and vs. Duke on Feb. 8) only survived our season-ending win last year because I was in attendance in Chapel Hill.

But I mention this because I was due for a big win experience at that place, which obviously differs starkly with those three losses, and is even a definitively different experience than the one I am most familiar with, being there for 30 or so Carolina victories over less significant opponents over the past two seasons. Shannon was in town this weekend to visit, and she caught the Carolina bar at its best: the packed house booed a friend of mine who joined us supporting her Blue Devils (out of respect, of course), cheered wildly in the first half, waited nervously (and sometimes frustratedly) during the second, and then sang the Alma Mater and fight song after the win. It was a quintessential experience for a remote Tar Heel basketball fan.

As for the game itself, it is difficult to imagine it going any better. Nine offensive possessions and 5:30 of game time, including the first television timeout, passed before Duke got its first defensive stop. Nearly every one of those nine scores came by aggressively exploiting our strengths over Duke, a significant size and skill advantage in the post, to score in the paint or after an offensive rebound and kick out. By that point, the score was already 18-5, and it would be 22-5 before Duke halted the run.

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To make the Boston College game more interesting… (and the inclusion of the blog’s first picture)

I may be alone in this, but I’ve had the Boston College game mentally circled on the Carolina basketball calendar for a few months. And for the record, I marked it when I merely thought they would be bad this year, before I knew what we all know now – that Boston College is worse than bad, they are historically terrible. They are perhaps the worst team in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference (BC’s RPI ranking of 263 should be impossibly low for a major conference team; it places them right behind Presbyterian and NC A&T, in a tie with one of UNC’s worst opponents of the season, Nicholls St., and quite a bit behind another UNC opponent, Mississippi Valley St). They are firmly in the territory of low major conference teams, representing an absolute embarrassment for the ACC.

And thus the reason for having them circled on the calendar: I’ve wanted to embarrass Boston College ever since their Athletic Director, Gene DeFilippo, admitted to blocking UConn’s admission to the ACC on the grounds that he wanted BC to be the only New England team in the conference (and because he is in a lasting feud with UConn). For a more detailed explanation of DeFelippo’s arrogance and ignorance,  see my post on why expansion of the ACC to include Syracuse, Pitt, and hopefully UConn is a positive step.

It will suffice here to say that the most important point I made has been confirmed over the opening two months of the college basketball season: at the moment, Boston College is an utterly worthless member of the ACC, and DeFilippo needs to understand that ACC fans would gladly trade his program for UConn, the Holy Grail of ACC expansion. He shouldn’t have that much clout to block something so great for the conference.

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Pro-expansion thoughts from a college basketball traditionalist

I’ve been meaning to post for a while on the recent addition of Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC and the looming possibility of further expansion as a part of a major college sports realignment.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to many aspects of my life, and that certainly influences my perspective on college basketball. After the most recent expansion to add Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College, I was admittedly among those expressing remorse for losing the nine-team structure.

A more important facet of my traditionalism, however, is that I still cling fervently to the notion that the ACC should be home to America’s best basketball. As is well understood by now, this notion is unambiguously false: the conference will begin this season with UNC and Duke ranked in the top ten as usual, but with nobody else in the Top 25. There is great potential for several middle-tier ACC programs to recover and strengthen the conference, particularly N.C. State, Maryland and Virginia, with Florida St., Clemson and Virginia Tech also likely to continue their recent successes.

But as much as I am a traditionalist, I am also a realist, and the ACC that once had a third or fourth perennial powerhouse to go with UNC and Duke is now a fantasy. Moreover, the entire country is undertaking a massive conference realignment that threatened the long-term cohesion, and thus existence, of the ACC; sitting content, even if we did decide to let others surpass us with football riches, would have ignored the possibility of Clemson, Florida State, or someone else bolting.

I cannot speak to the precise intent of John Swofford and the ACC in selecting Pitt and Syracuse for expansion, but in my view, adding those two fits what should be our goal for realignment. In order to ensure our long-term existence, we need to be at 14 or 16 teams; in order to preserve our identity, we should be looking for East coast schools that play powerhouse basketball and above average but still mediocre football.

The decision was mocked by some arguing that it does not noticeably bolster ACC football. ACC fans, other than those at maybe Florida State and Virginia Tech, don’t care too much about that. While expansion in general has to occur for football-related reasons, the particular programs we select should be calculated for basketball reasons. Given the necessity and opportunity of expansion, it makes sense for the conference to move on from old-ACC nostalgia to pursue its place as the unquestioned home of America’s best basketball programs.

For all of the above reasons, Pitt and Syracuse are perfect additions: they play a little football, enough to contribute to a solid conference; more importantly, they are top ten basketball programs that play deep into March.** Let’s be honest: the ACC tournament recently has been home to some of the nation’s most boring Semifinal Saturdays. The 2013 tournament could occupy the nation’s attention with match-ups featuring UNC, Duke, Pitt and Syracuse.

It is a new-look ACC embracing reality to return to its old, well-established form, which means that ACC purists can get on board.

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#ACCCostumes: Halloween on Twitter

I’m new to Twitter this Halloween, so I have no idea if the #ACCCostumes hash-tag was around last year or not, but its advent reveals yet another enriching, though still ultimately insignificant, benefit of the social media site (for those still skeptical of its merits). Multiple times in my childhood my Halloween costume involved dressing as a Carolina athlete (occasionally with some sort of scary mask to complement), and not being very clever myself, tonight’s ongoing parade of suggestions would have greatly enhanced my ideas. Some of the best provided below, since I have a hunch that several of my most frequent readers here are family members who have not yet succumbed to the temptations of Twitter.

@DocHeelfire Kid dressed as Larry Drew will leave neighborhood early. Other kids in his group will get 10X more candy after he leaves #ACCcostumes

It is not unreasonable to think that somewhere tonight Larry Drew himself read this Tweet, and I for one hope sincerely that he did.

@Barnesbot Kid dressed as Greg Little is on his 5th costume of the night. N&O is requesting info on who owns the first 4. #ACCcostumes

@tarheelfanblog I would go out as Duke basketball but I don’t want to be emotionally fatigued 2/3 of the way down the street. #ACCCostumes

@thedevilwolf Reminder kids, don’t eat uncovered candy. So don’t accept any from the UNC secondary. #ACCCostumes

This represents the lone valuable contribution from this Duke guy; it is both funny and obviously true. Glaring problem is that Duke barely plays football, and it’s extremely disingenuous to suggest that he cares about the success of their program relative to ours.

His other contributions were worse:

@thedevilwolf UNC won’t give out candy, but they’ll assure you it’s been eaten by a third party legal team and it was delicious. #ACCCostumes

This doesn’t make sense. And again, burn us on basketball. His only attempt of the night:

@thedevilwolf If your kid is dressed as a UNC basketball player, I’m handing them a UCLA jersey to wear next year.

Because we’re really hurting from those losses… among other tweets from this guy were one expressing clear envy of a new, first of its kind ESPN blog focused solely on UNC basketball, and another congratulating a person dressed as Barnes for winning a costume contest. Nobody came as Hansbrough?

And the best of the rest:

@DerekMedlin Going dressed as NC State’s offense…I won’t get much candy early on, but I’ll clean up once all the other kids stop trying. #ACCCostumes

@ACCSports I’m painting myself with aluminum colored paint and going as Byrd Stadium on game day. #ACCCostumes

Several of these would have been useful as a kid…

The NC Sports Hall of Fame’s 5 Greatest Moments in History

I am a bit late on the scene with this one, but I had been meaning to post for a while on the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame’s five finalists for the greatest sports moment in the history of our state. Recently, the Hall announced that Carolina’s 1957 national title victory over Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas won the voting as the #1 Greatest Moment.

There is little to dispute here – as the most recognizable and widely followed sports institution in the state, this honor, whether bestowed democratically or not, was going to belong to the Heels. The ’57 tournament title is arguably our most significant, and not only for being the first; it was an epic three overtime win over a great team and a great player, and it was the first time that basketball was televised across North Carolina. The following season a collection of regular season games were televised, and Carolina basketball was on its way to becoming one of our state’s most important cultural institutions.

The Hall got it right at the top, important since that moment will define the larger project, which organizers hope will draw more attention to the museum. But the Hall’s list of five finalists peaks early and gets worse. As Scott Fowler points out in his column on the project, the five finalists are without representation by professional sports or Duke.

Both of these omissions are reasonable, and I will even defend Duke’s. Christian Laettner’s game-winning turnaround to defeat Kentucky in 1992 is comfortably in the top five greatest moments in national college basketball history; but at the time the proportion of this state to which it was significant was far too small for it to be a defining moment in our history.

As for the omission of professional sports, I am far from indignant – like most North Carolinians I am first and foremost a college basketball fan, and it is one of the great characteristics of our state that we have had multiple professional sports teams for over a decade yet can put together a top five list excluding them. As I will note shortly, this is not because our pro teams have been terrible. It is because we are one of a small handful of states with access to pro sports teams that have consistently preferred the college brand as a whole.

However… though it may be possible to construct reasonably a list of our five greatest moments with no mention of professional sports, ultimately the results of the list make this difficult to defend. Attribute the flaws of the list to improperly defined terms: when most of us think of “great moments” we are imagining moments that were culturally significant to North Carolina in a lasting manner, memories that will be passed on to later generations of sports fans. If we assume these terms – which the museum folks clearly did not – we can toss immediately from the list Jim Beatty’s mile run and the formation of the ACC. The first is a tremendous accomplishment, but that’s not the measure. The second is the product of someone severely overthinking this project; yes, that is significant, but absolutely no one remembers it because no one was watching and no one was there.

If I was reconstructing the list, I would mostly leave the remaining moments in tact: they chose the right moments from our storied college basketball history, my only suggestion (credit to Fowler on this one) being to sub in State’s 1974 upset of the UCLA dynasty in the tournament for their win over Maryland a couple of weeks earlier. I might also add Carolina’s 1982 title as greatest moment #6, unable to separate it from the other three college basketball moments since this was Dean’s long overdue first title.

That leaves two remaining spots, and the choices are so obvious – both coming in the past decade – that perhaps the museum folks just didn’t mark post-2000 history high enough. One is the 2006 Stanley Cup Championship by the Carolina Hurricanes. It remains the only professional sports title in North Carolina history (a mark not to be broken any time soon), and it mesmerized, for a brief period of time, a state full of people who know nothing about the sport. Native hockey haters can sneer, but my memory reports truthfully: 30 of my friends huddled around a television to watch a Hurricanes playoff game at my high school graduation party, and the Weynand family (at my coaxing) watched the clinching victory together from a hotel room in Washington, D.C. It was significant.

The other is assuredly less controversial: pick a moment from the amazing 2003 season of the Cardiac Cat Carolina Panthers. It could be one of the four regular season overtime victories, especially the October one over the Colts that took us to 5-0 and alerted the city, and the country, of the special season in progress. If you are looking for moments, it would have to be watching Steve Smith streak across the middle of the field and take a simple slant route 60 yards to end abruptly the NFC Divisional game against the Rams with a touchdown. The moment chosen by the Hall as one of the 22 greatest moments, but not advanced to the final five, was the victory over Philadelphia to win the NFC title and clinch a trip to the Super Bowl (this was technically my first time rushing a street in celebration, and the only time it was not Franklin Street, but Symphony Woods Drive in my neighborhood in Charlotte).

Those last three playoff games nearly shut down Charlotte in total focused attention – I was playing a rec basketball game during the first half of the Rams game and receiving updates from a teammate’s dad sitting on the front row. During that few week span, the Panthers pervaded conversation in the same way the Heels do during March Madness, and it also cemented the Panthers as the state’s first and only perenially relevant professional sports team. It was surreal month – a team from North Carolina playing in what is by far the nation’s biggest sporting event? That’s a top five moment.