Posts Tagged ‘ Dook ’

The bracket

Staring at a printed bracket is a favorite pastime of mine, one that I will uphold stubbornly for the rest of my life, even though I, like most of the rest of America, host pools online now rather than score them myself. I enjoy the time it saves, and cannot rationally give that up, but to be truthful, I miss going through the brackets after each round and seeing each individual’s upset-predicting successes and failures.

A tale from my childhood illustrates the extent to which, at an early age, I acquired my love for a 64-team, single elimination tournament in the greatest sport in the world: I was once grounded during the second week of March, for actions unrelated to college basketball, and when I was grounded as a kid, it took the form of losing entertainment privileges (television and internet) for a period days. When she discovered that the period coincided with Selection Sunday and the week following, my mom realized that the punishment now far exceeded whatever my crime was. It wasn’t necessary to deprive me of my several days of preparation and then watching the opening rounds of the tournament, and the punishment was moved to a different time.

Anyway, below I have inserted my bracket, completed and finalized. For most of my life, I have been a so-called “one bracket kind of guy” who sticks with the same selections across all of his pools. Choosing to fill out more than one seems like an attempt to end up lucky, rather than trust your own bracket prowess. Fill out enough brackets, and one of them will emerge as a good one, but it takes skill to align what you truly believe will happen with what plays out over the three weeks of the tournament.

A few thoughts on the bracket, and on Carolina’s first weekend:

  • This is perhaps the least upset laden bracket I have ever filled out. I almost always pick a 12/5 upset, and I’m generally decent at hitting on it. I also enjoy taking at least one double-digit seed to the Sweet Sixteen, and I’ve had moderate success there, as well.  Neither occurs in my bracket this year, and most of it has to do with the matchups. The two twelve seeds with the best shot at advancing were Harvard and VCU, and both drew tough draws: Harvard catches Vanderbilt off their recent upset of Kentucky, and VCU catches fellow mid-major Wichita St., who also has much to prove and isn’t likely to be taken by surprise. It’s also a different year in college basketball than we have seen recently: the bubble was as soft as ever, yet the pool of good teams runs about 20 deep before there is a drop-0ff, deeper than it has been in the past few years. There is a larger than normal gap between the 1-5 seeds and the rest, and as a result I have only one true upset in my first round, which itself is only an upset according to seeds: N.C. State is better and more talented than overseeded San Diego State.

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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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Recovering from last week’s loss: a look back at Carolina’s 2005 comeback win against Duke

In the hour after our stunning loss to Duke last week, my thoughts turned briefly from somber shock to what I would possibly write on the game here. Balancing my desire to preserve some memory of the event – in case we do proceed to win a national title this season – with my desire to avoid discussing or examining it in any way, I thought about titling a blank post simply “No Comment.” A week and two wins later, it isn’t remotely surprising that disappointment over the loss remains strong. I knew that night that you never fully recover when, having a won a game that would fit into the permanent record of an epic rivalry, that game abruptly becomes an instant classic loss. At the least, it will take a win at Cameron or a national title to dull the frustration.

Most of the frustration centers on how radically the narrative of this college basketball season changed in the course of a two minute long sequence of unfortunately flukish events. If any one of no less than ten unlikely occurrences – some our error, some the refs’ error and some bad luck –  goes the other way, we win the game. Win that game, and there are a number of tectonic shifts in the college basketball landscape. Conversation on the game would remember the way that we survived a hot-shooting Duke team at their best to lead after the first half and asserted ourselves as the far superior team in the second. We would be ranked no lower than #4 and probably #3 in the polls, with a solid grip on the ACC regular season title and a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky and Syracuse would be looking over their shoulder at our looming shadow as the best team in the country finally getting into gear. Tyler Zeller would have nearly clinched the ACC Player of the Year Award, and Harrison Barnes would have a strong argument himself after taking over the game in the second half.

Conventional wisdom scorns the ‘what if’ talk, but in reality there is little reason to avoid it. It doesn’t diminish their win in any way, but strictly for the purpose of evaluating our prospects for the rest of the season, it absolutely matters that after 38 minutes we were, as we expected, significantly better than Duke. With a one-game sample size and the fact that basketball depends so much on factors outside of the players’ control, far too little had to change to completely reorient all of the conclusions drawn based on the outcome of the game. There are two lessons there, one being to use caution in drawing conclusions based exclusively on who is ahead at the end of a mid-season game. The other is to treasure that in basketball, the nature and rules of the game are designed to produce outcomes reflective of the way the game was played, and that what happened last Wednesday happens very infrequently. If basketball crazy North Carolinians need solace, just think: our favorite sport could be soccer.

While paying ‘what if’ does offer limited if not enduring catharsis, remembering the cumulative history of the Duke v. Carolina rivalry offers relief that is much more potent. Having shared all of the thoughts on last week’s loss that I care to submit for memory, I will now share what proved to be my most effective comfort the day after. I’ve never been much into YouTube, but oh how I was thankful for it on Thursday. A quick search found this video, which I watched five or six times.

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The Most Memorable Dook Losses (of recent memory)

Tonight was one of those nights when Carolina Nation waited anxiously for about an hour, watching the clock tick down far too slowly and spreading the word electronically that there was a chance Dook was about to go down. In  my case, I was following the game sparingly on my phone, so as to participate in the joy but refrain from jinxing it. There are those that disagree, but I’ve long thought that hatred of Dook is one of the defining traits of the most ardent Tar Heels, and that the celebration of their losses is one of our most sacred rituals.

The rivalry needs no further feeding of the fire – both teams are and will forever be among college basketball’s top tier, the only rivalry in college basketball that boasts of that caliber of competition. Though its origin lies in past competitive match-ups of top ranked teams, it is no longer sustained by those individual games, but rather by the larger historical comparison of each program’s collective record, and the mutual dislike based both on that comparison and on the lasting cultural clash between relocated Yankees and proud Southerners. It is for this reason that Dook’s loss is always our gain, explaining why I was united in celebration through social media when Temple finally completed their upset tonight.

As such, tonight seemed like a good occasion for a list of my most memorable Dook losses. I haven’t posted in a while, and tonight’s loss was the most significant event of the past two weeks for Carolina fans. A few honorable mentions to start: the last second 2008 loss to Pitt that I watched at home with my dad, yelling and waking my mom at the last second Pitt three; returning from snow football in 2010 to learn that Georgetown had beaten Dook handily; watching Dook lose to Maryland that year to stumble into a share of the ACC title in one of the conference’s worst seasons.

10) March 8, 2007 to N.C. State: A bad loss for a self-destructing Dook team at the hands of a young Wolfpack team, in the ACC tournament, Coach K’s most friendly confines. The game wrapped up during the minutes before a Campus Crusade meeting as most of the guys excitedly huddled around phones.

9) February 26, 2011 to Virginia Tech: The Hokie seniors deserved this signature win, especially since they got mistreated by the Selection Committee again two weeks later. It also paved the way for the Heels to clinch the ACC regular season title outright with a win against Dook in the season’s final game.

8) March 22, 2008 to West Virginia: A year after losing in the first round, Dook stumbled in the second. They would fall in the third the following season, allowing perfectly for Carolina fans to mock their marginal improvements. We made similar improvements over the same span: Elite Eight to Final Four to National Champion.

7) March 26, 2009 to Villanova: We all had a feeling that Carolina was headed for a national title, and it was made even more sweet as Duke reached what seemed to be a bottoming-out. Talk of Dook’s elite status falling was already prevalent after their loss the previous season, and this marked their fifth consecutive loss before the Elite Eight (we went four out of five years over the same span). And of course, a week after Villanova blew out Dook, we blew out Villanova in the Final Four.

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The Carrier Classic and Opening Night

I wanted to get a few things down in writing before the season officially begins tonight with what seems to be the biggest season opener ever for Carolina.

I’m sure Duke is noticing the nearly around-the-clock coverage of the Carrier game, since the sheer volume of the multimedia material is quite obviously coming at the expense of the myriad of ‘other’ college basketball openers on tonight. In fact, coverage of tonight’s game between Duke and top mid-major Belmont was relegated to a blog post titled “Weekend’s non-carrier action good, too,” a point that evidently needed reinforcement.

If you haven’t already watched the multiple videos on of the team touring the ship and practicing on the court, I would highly recommend them. The ship and court is quite a spectacle, not least because San Diego is one of America’s best cities. The players’ interaction with the soldiers is a strong indication of their appreciation for what they are experiencing, and it is a unique reminder of the greatness of America that not only do we have the world’s most powerful military, but we have sufficient freedom to use that military for a million-dollar, purely entertainment venue of such cultural significance.

In an email to Shannon and her father early last season, when Roy was much maligned for our slow start, I regrettably wrote the following message:

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ESPN’s new program-specific blog: the choice of UNC over the other powerhouse programs

As I mentioned in the Halloween post, has created a new college basketball blog focused solely on UNC, hiring Robbi Pickeral away from the Raleigh News & Observer to write about the Heels for a national audience. As I have no knowledge whatsoever of ESPN’s internal decision-making process here, what I write in this post is purely speculative. But their choice of Carolina as the first program for which to focus a school-specific blog seems to speak volumes about our status as the premier college basketball program in America.

No matter the circumstances that led to the hiring of Pickeral, ultimately the decision cannot help but represent a choice of UNC over the other schools on the short list options. As a write this post, though, I noticed that ESPN has created two program-specific blogs for college football: Notre Dame and Stanford. The Notre Dame selection was no doubt due to their status as a football independent without a conference-specific blog to cover them. Stanford’s is more odd, and discredits my attempt to find meaning in UNC’s selection. I’ll write it off as an anomaly; ESPN could have chosen a major SEC school and did not, so there must be some extenuating circumstances I don’t know about. The choice of UNC, however, is not hard to figure.

Probably the most significant factor in choosing Carolina for this blog was the timing of 2011. Beyond fitting the criteria for consideration, we are the unanimous preseason #1 team preparing for what may be one of our greatest seasons in team history, and we are perhaps at the pinnacle even of our own storied history, looking for our third national title in eight seasons. Had it been another year, the choice could have been Kentucky, Kansas, Duke or UCLA.

Then again, it at least could have been Kentucky or Duke this season, but it wasn’t. Moreover, a huge part of our current place in college basketball is directly tied to our accomplishments not only in 2005 and 2009, but in the stretch running from 2005 to now. Even prior to Roy’s arrival, we were arguably the program with the highest level of consistent success since 1950, with arguably the largest, most loyal and deep-rooted fan base. Only Kentucky could rival us on the first claim; just Duke could on the second, and only then provided you omit the ‘deep-rooted’ criterion from the question. Kentucky likely wasn’t chosen because their fan base isn’t large enough; Duke didn’t get the nod because their program has vastly underperformed in both hype and post-season success over the period coinciding with UNC’s peak, excepting their 2010 title. Duke should enviously accept their inferior stature represented, in part, by this blog.

In the last couple of years, ESPN created separate websites to house content focused on five major U.S. cities with deep and diverse sports histories: New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Chicago. While the UNC blog is a much smaller venture, it makes similar acknowledgements about a particular sports fan base: the brand has enough national appeal to warrant a spot on a national website, and there are enough people in a given region of the country to comprise regular, sustainable traffic to the site.

One cannot help but notice that the Southeast is the only region of the country not represented in those five major U.S. cities; neither Atlanta or the Charlotte-Raleigh combination provides enough of a cross-sport fan base to support one. But college basketball alone does control the region’s attention just as, for example, the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots and Bruins all do in Boston. By itself, it couldn’t sustain a website, but it can sustain a blog. Our region should treat its creation as a badge of honor that college basketball in our state is one of the closest sports institutions in America to equaling the prominence of professional sports in our biggest, most rooted sports towns.