Tuesday, May 10, 2016

POOP HAPPENS

© 2016 by Bob Wingate

     I was born Carolina blue. You see, I’m from North Carolina. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve been a Tar Heel basketball fan.

     UNC Basketball first gained national notoriety in 1957 when a group of talented but no-named New York transplants beat seven-footer Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas team in a classic David vs. Goliath matchup to win the national championship. This exciting triple overtime thriller capped off a perfect 32-0 season for the Tar Heels. I would’ve probably eaten this experience up, but I was only one-and- a-half years old at the time, and hungering for milk and baby food rather than basketball.

     It wasn’t until the late sixties that I began passionately following the Tar Heels, when they put together a string of several championship seasons. During 1967 to 1969, I watched each and every game with keen interest, glued to an old black and white television set, feeling as if I was magically transported onto the court.   Led by All-Americans Larry Miller and Charlie Scott, who was the first black player ever recruited in the south, Carolina finished in the nation’s Top Five and won three straight conference championships and trips to the national Final Four tournament.  Their combined record was 81-15. Unfortunately for a true blue fan like me, each year ended with a disappointing loss.  

     Though it didn’t register with me back then, the accomplishments of these earlier Tar Heel teams stand out because in that era, the NCAA, college’s athletic association, only invited 24 teams to their post-season basketball tournament, not the 68 teams in today’s field. It required less games to earn the coveted national title, but all of the opponents were usually of a much higher caliber. Only the tournament champion from each conference was allowed to participate. This meant that a great team might go undefeated for three months, but then lose out in their three-day weekend tournament.

     I didn’t have much in the way of connections or finances as a teenage boy, but a couple of my Tar Heel dreams did come true. During 1969 and 1970, my doctor helped me to attend the Carolina Basketball School, a summer teenage sports camp, which at the time was one of the most exciting thrills of my life. I got individual instruction from the coaches, and got to be up close with the players, and watch them play pickup games. Then in the 1980’s, a family friend helped me get tickets, and I was finally able to visit the new Dean Dome in Chapel Hill and watch the Tar Heels play in person.

     The Tar Heels have long been involved in an inner-state rivalry with Duke University.  Playing twice each year on one another’s home courts, these games take on a greater significance for coaches, players and fans alike. Separated by Interstate 40 and less than ten miles, UNC (in Chapel Hill) and Duke (in Durham) are like two twin siblings fighting one another for their family’s favor.   

     I’ve never known anyone who was a Tar Heel fan that did not hate Duke until one day my Dad told me that he liked both teams equally.  This came about because a dear friend of his, a local minister, was also a beloved Duke fan and through his friendship with my father, my Dad eventually adopted a policy of rooting for both teams. I always respected and loved my father. However, this is one area in which I have not followed in my father’s footsteps.  

     I’m sure many Duke fans will disagree, but I find the evidence for superiority to be overwhelmingly in favor of the Tar Heels.  First of all, there’s an old sports adage in North Carolina that says, “If God is not a Tar Heel, then why did he make the sky Carolina Blue?”   I guess we Tar Heel fans could quote Romans 8:31, “If God be for us, then who can be against us?”   Carolina’s coaches have easy–to-remember names, for example, Tar Heel coaches Dean Smith and Roy Williams.  However, Duke’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski has such a difficult name that they simply refer to him as “Coach K”.   I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a fan of a team whose coach’s name I can neither spell nor pronounce.

     Most ordinary fans would point out Michael Jordan (or “MJ” as we like to call him) as the highlight of all of the years of watching the Tar Heels. And he definitely is one. I enjoyed watching Michael play, and followed him into his NBA career. But to a true fan, each and every game, and each and every 
player, made their own contribution to the overall legacy and history of UNC Tar Heels basketball.  Following Tar Heel basketball through the years has had its shares of ups and downs, but overall it has been a wonderful experience. Some non-sports fans may say, “What’s the big deal?” Something like this is hard to explain to the unitiated outsider. It’s kind of like an exclusive club. Only those on the inside can truly appreciate its significance. And-- it probably kept a young guy like me out of trouble.

     Over the years my Aunt Jayne, who is a UNC alumnus and fan, has shared all of these highs and lows with me. We rejoiced in 1982 when UNC won its first championship for coach Dean Smith, when young freshman Jordan hit the game winning shot with only 17 ticks of the clock left against Georgetown. And we’ve also had collective groans and sighs whenever things didn’t go our way… like this year.

     I guess some of you have been wondering how the title of this article fits into the story. Well, someone has said, “Whenever life gives you a lemon, make lemonade.” But what do you do when life poops on you? It seemed that kind of a dilemma just a short time ago, when this year’s Tar Heels had gone on a ten-game winning streak to advance to the national championship game against Villanova.  Carolina had been picked in the preseason polls as the #1 team and was the favorite to win the title.  My guitar student, a fellow Carolina fan, and I had decided to watch the game together on his big-screen TV.  We sat glued to the set as the game went back and forth, and eventually swung in Villanova’s favor. But the Tar Heels, down by as many as ten points, mounted a comeback. Star point guard Marcus Paige made an acrobatic shot from the three-point line to tie the game with less than five seconds left.

    We sat, mesmerized and shocked, as we watched the final ticks of the clock play out on the floor.  We were hoping for overtime, but could not believe the unbelievable ending as one of Villanova’s players cooly tossed in his own three-point shot to win the game at the buzzer.

     About a week later, I was standing in front of our house, preparing to leave on a walk, when suddenly I felt and heard something above me. I reached up, grabbing the UNC ball cap off of my head.  There, on the bill of my cap, was the residue of a bird’s not-so- welcome deposit. Later, when talking to one of my sports buddies, a Duke fan, he remarked : “Yeah, I sent him down from Durham just for you.”

     Yeah…Right.  Poop happens!
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Bob Wingate is a freelance writer living in Salisbury.

You can read his Tar Heels sports blogs at www.bobstarheels.blogspot.com.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Final Four--- Meeting of the Minds

UNC TAR HEELS
2016 FINAL FOUR

    Thursday night, the Tar Heels, along with Oklahoma, Villanova, and Syracuse all prepared in Houston for their matchups on Saturday.  But in Salisbury, Howard Platt and Bob Wingate converged at a local restaurant to enjoy food and fellowship, with the conversation--- although occasionally veering off the path-- centered on the Tar Heels and the Final Four.  This is the 19th trip to the Final Four for the Tar Heels.

    Perhaps we should have planned it a few days in advance and invited more guests to join us, although we did put out a Facebook post welcoming anyone to join us.   It may have been more lively and entertaining to both of us if we had a few Duke fans or others to spice up the conversation.

    Frankly, Howard and I agree with each other on most aspects of UNC basketball.   We agree the team has come a long way in improvement, from last year, and also in the midst of this season.   Several players have blossomed or added new dimensions to their games.   Some reserves have stepped up to take new roles with greater responsibility.  A few players have surprised us along the way.




     Howard says, "I think the depth of the Tar Heels could really tell the story. If guys like Pinson, Britt, Hicks, and even James make major contributions, as they have been lately, the Heels should have an easier time.  Also it seems UNC has dominated the second half of games recently because of that depth. ...This gives the Heels so many options which I feel gives them the edge against every team in this tournament."

    Howard also says that the two biggest statistical factors in the game for Carolina will be rebounding and shooting at least 45% to 50% from the field.
So far in the tournament, the Tar Heels have been averaging almost a whopping 90 points per game, and shooting at a phenomenal 62% rate.

    He believes that the Syracuse zone and press defenses may give the Tar Heels some problems on Saturday. I agree-- although Coach Roy Williams said in his press conference that his team has been practicing and watching game film to prepare for these things.  (see below video)

    Syracuse and Carolina have one thing in common-- which may be a benefit to both teams.   They played each other twice during the ACC season.  UNC won both games, but they were not necessarily easy wins.  They won by 11 points, 84--73, at Syracuse in early January, and then almost two months later, won by only five, 75--70, in Chapel Hill.   One could theorize that the Tar Heels were a better team in the second game, played on their home court. But then Syracuse was also a better team.  It's an even better bet that both teams are much improved now, playing in the Final Four.


    So what to expect?  We both expect a hard-fought game, but we both feel that the Tar Heels will have the upper hand.  Both of predict a five-point victory.  Howard predicts the game score will be about 86--81 for Carolina. I'm wondering if the Tar Heels will be able to score that many points against an improved Syracuse defense.  I believe they will play well, but the Orangemen may still be able to slow the pace enough to keep the game in the 70's.  My prediction : 75--70-- same score as the earlier game in Chapel Hill-- but probably with a few new twists and turns along the way.


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     We also discussed the problems with the Houston NRG Arena, which are documented, about the open ends behind the baskets, which cause outside shooters to lose focus and miss more shots than normal.   This may affect Paige, Berry, and Jackson from hitting behind the arc.  But if the game is contested mostly on the inside, the Tar Heels will hold a distinct advantage with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, and reserve Isaiah Hicks.
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     I asked Howard about the other teams that are playing in the Final Four. He knows a little more about the other teams than I do, and I respect his opinions and insights.   

     We both believe that Oklahoma will beat Villanova, although it may be a close one.  Howard says, "This one could go either way.  Villanova's defense will be the key for them against Oklahoma. Villanova must also shoot very well in order to win.  They have been a hot and cold shooting team, but they have been hot throughout the tournament."  

    Our conversation about the Oklahoma-Villanova game immediately gravitated toward the Sooners' sensational guard, Buddy Hield, who was the 2nd--leading scorer in the nation this season, and who has literally "lit it up" in the NCAA Tournament.  He scored 46 for a season high in a loss to Kansas earlier this year, and hit for 36 and 37 against VCU and Oregon in the past two weeks, shooting at a 65% rate against the Ducks in the Regional Final. Howard said, "The Sooners are very difficult to control, especially with transition threes."

     If the Heels get by the Syracuse zone press, Hield and the Okies may be waiting in the wings for them on Monday night.   (although we both acknowledge that both Oklahoma and Villanova are strong, talented teams, and the team will most likely go down to the wire).  The Tar Heels have been snowed under by previous sharpshooters--- such as Rick Mount (Purdue-1969), Steve Kerr (Arizona-1988), and Glen Rice (Michigan--1989).   They should have a game plan already in place by Monday night to at least contain or disturb Hield's offensive threat and shooting.  Hopefully the "no-man's-land" view behind the baskets will get to him.  We shall see.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves--
the Heels first have to advance past Syracuse.

Should be a fun night to watch basketball!

GO TAR HEELS!
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Thank you Howard for participating in these 
Tar Heel--Final Four Blogs

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tar Heels--- Final One?


      Hey-- I've been following the Tar Heels since 1967 or '68.  I remember going to Carolina Basketball Camp and watching Charlie Scott and other Tar Heel stars play pickup games in Carmichael Auditorium.  I remember the early 70's NIT Champions, and the first NCAA title in '82.  And there's been a few down years too-- like '77 or '84-- and more recently 2011.  But here we are, in 2016-- back in the Final Four.

      A lot of you Tar Heel fans have "analyzed until you're paralyzed" all of this basketball stuff, and I appreciate all of it-- I really do-- but gosh-- I think it will all come down to our team's heart and soul on Saturday and Monday.       I think the Tar Heels have a keen sense of ebb and flow in the game, and when the outcome is on the line, I think they are capable of making a run, or getting a stop--- and securing the win.

     Some-- not all-- but a few think that the Tar Heels are unbeatable now.  They've had a couple of ups and downs, but they hit their stride in the ACC Tournament and now they're rolling along, and no one can stop them.  As I've said before of the Panthers, and they possibly set the example-- It's Okay if EVERYONE ELSE thinks that-- but I just hope the TEAM won't buy into it. You see, there are three very good other teams in Houston-- and any of the three COULD beat us.  Fortunately, we only have to play TWO of them-- but we better not lose sight of what got us here-- and we also better be ready to play for forty minutes-- and not come out lackadaisical, or get a lead and get lazy or proud, and sit on it.

     One reporter said, "These are the Tar Heels we've been waiting for all year."  YES-- they are playing well.  It seems that most, if not all, of the players are contributing-- the stars and starters, as well as the subs and role players too.  They are giving it their BEST.   And it will probably take their BEST to win this thing.   One of the best things about this year's Tar Heel team has been their balance and sense of teamwork.  Lately, somehow they've also grabbed hold of the concept of stingy defense too, and their "D" has won them a few ball games down the stretch.

    Even though I recognize and admit that either Villanova, Oklahoma, or yes -- even our ACC rival Syracuse-- all could win the title this year, I believe the main ingredient is NOT the focus on the other teams-- but that OUR team play their absolute BEST.  If UNC plays their honest BEST game, I don't see how they can be beat.  And then-- even if they lose-- I'll somehow find a way in my heart to accept them as the champions that they really are.

     But heck-- or as Coach Ray says it, "Doggone It!"  Why win the Bronze or the Silver-- when we can win the GOLD ?

So--let's do it!



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

(YAY YAY) TAR HEELS IN FINAL FOUR (ALL THE WAY)

    Sometimes I feel a little less than enthusiastic posting blogs about Tar Heel victories.   Of course--- the Tar Heels are in the Final Four.   If you didn't see it on TV or in the newspaper, you heard it on the radio, or from a rabid Tar Heels fan on the street.   So-- what's the big deal?   Maybe it's NOT-- for you.   But it's been SEVEN years since the Tar Heels made it to the Big Dance the last time--- and for some college basketball teams, it's a great accomplishment to just get there--- ever.    

     I feel a bit for the players and coaches of UNC and the other schools in the Final Four--- Oklahoma, Villanova, and Syracuse--- because often fans and sportswriters expect their teams to go "all the way" and win a championship.   Unfortunately, only ONE team can win it all each year.   There will be three teams that go home a bit disappointed-- no, a LOT disappointed--- as "losers".   And in a bigger sense, there are 64 other teams that have already gone home with their heads hanging low.

Roy cutting down the Net
    I'm proud of what the UNC Tar Heels have accomplished already this year.  They are 32-6 and ACC Regular Season --and--- Tournament champions.    Not many teams can say that they've won 30 games and achieved first place in their league.   I know though that the Tar Heels as a team, and each individual player, want MORE.   It's been their dream all season, and for the seniors, all four years, to get to this point.   Now that they've "arrived", the desire to win a championship is burning even deeper inside of them.   


They can almost taste it now.


    Hey-- what these guys achieve (or don't) this year cannot be overshadowed or compared to the Dean Smith years, or the Michael Jordan years, or any other coach, player, or team.  It's their special year.   They have risen to the top.   It's been a year of some ups and downs. 

     Several players have especially improved this year.   
  • G Marcus Paige has come back from a bad injury at the start of the year that obviously hampered him, and finally managed to regain some of his previous greatness, and shooting touch from the perimeter.  
  • F Brice Johnson  has become a real dog inside.   He's become a great scorer, but I believe his greatest contribution to the Heels successful season, even more than his point production, has been his tenacious rebounding and defense inside.   He's a real ball hawk, and has consistently defended the basket. 
  • F Isaiah Hicks and G Theo Pinson have really come into their own as valuable bench players who perform on the court as if they were regulars.   In the regional final against Notre Dame, they made several big plays down the stretch, including one momentum shifter when Pinson fed Hicks on a fast break for a slam dunk.
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  F Justin Jackson, along with Paige and Johnson, made the Eastern Regional all--tournament team, with Johnson being named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
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      All players on the Tar Heels team, especially the top 8--10 in rotation, contributed greatly to the Tar Heels success so far in the postseason.    It's been an obvious metamorphosis in their team play from the regular season to the tournament.    Especially noteworthy has been the upgrade in their intensity on the defensive end of the court.   UNC opponents in the ACC and NCAA tournaments have only averaged 65 points, while the Tar Heels are averaging 90 points.

       Okay-- here's the Million Dollar question, although (of course)--- if I answer it right, I will NOT stand to inherit or win a million dollars.   

       Will the Tar Heels win the Final Four?   Defeat Syracuse on Saturday, advance to the Championship game on Monday night, and win it all?

In a word--- YES!
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Order your 
Undisputed National Champions
TEE SHIRT or CAP

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tough & Tenacious Tar Heels Triumph in Tournament

     Hey.  I'm sorry.  But I just had to.   Those of you that know me well know that I have an extreme appreciation and love of alliteration and rhyme.  I just plain like it.   But even I sometimes get sick of the constant use of it.

    Sweet Sixteen.  Elite Eight.   Final Four...   Sexy Six..  ha ha..  on and on and on.. I just had to go crazy with Today's Titillating Title.   Sally Sells Seashells by the Seashore.  Okay.  I'm done with that now.

ELITE EIGHT

   The excitement and anticipation is over... at least for another day.   The Tar Heels beat Indiana and advanced to the "Elite Eight", just ONE STEP away from the illustrious Final Four.   The first weekend of the tournament, there were 34 games.   After this weekend, which features only four contests, there will be only four teams remaining.   The big question is: will our Tar Heels team be one of them?


     I admit-- I'm a diehard Tar Heels fan.  I've followed them ever since around 1967 or 1968, when legendary coach Dean Smith led them to three straight Final Fours.  But even I had some reservations about Friday night's game with Indiana.   I mean, after all, we had NEVER beaten Indiana in the NCAA Tournament.  We had met twice before, in 1981 and 1984, both times also in Philadelphia. Both years, the Tar Heels were the #1 seed and the favorite to win.  And both years, the Hoosiers ended Carolina's dream for a championship and sent them home early.

   In 1981, they were 29-7 and coming off a convincing win over Virginia in the national semifinals.   Indiana and sensational point guard Isiah Thomas beat them, 63-50.   In 1984, it was an even greater upset in the regional semifinals, as the Tar Heels were not only the #1 seed, but the #1 rated team in the country.  At 28-2, they sported the #1 player in the country, budding superstar Michael Jordan, but they also had a recovering point guard, Kenny Smith, who had his wrist broken earlier in a January game against LSU, and never quite regained his form.  The Tar Heels shot poorly, and Jordan, plagued by foul trouble and harassed by Indiana defenders, had a miserable performance with only 13 points.

    Fortunately, for the Tar Heels and their fans, sandwiched in between these two disappointing season-ending games, was the 1982 championship season, which ended in dramatic fashion in New Orleans with Jordan's game-winning jump shot with only 17 seconds left on the clock.

    Why all of this retroactive analysis of past games?  I don't know, except it somehow made me leery of facing them again.   But-- even though it was the same location, these were different teams, and a different season.   And thankfully, it was a different result.

UNC ROLLS OVER INDIANA
Tar Heels dominated Indiana
     The Tar Heels, who came out of the gate fast and furious, running up and down the floor, hit their first seven three-pointers, led by guard Marcus Paige, who started 4-for-4 from the arc, and finished with 21 points, passing the legendary Michael Jordan in career points scored at UNC.  Big man Brice Johnson also added 20 points and 10 rebounds for his 22nd double-double of the season.   Paige and Johnson were not without help, however, as the other Tar Heel starters Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry II all scored in double figures.

    Balanced scoring and tenacious defense has been the norm lately for the Heels, and these good tendencies continued in the game against Indiana.   Although Coach Roy Williams said that Indiana just "missed a lot of shots", a good part of that was the Tar Heels, including their big men, chasing and harassing shooters out on the perimeter.

    The Tar Heels made their shots at over 60% in the first half, and ended the game with better than 50% shooting.   One very glaring statistic is that Carolina had a 50% rate on offensive rebounding-- in other words, the Tar Heels got second chances on over half of their missed shots.   The national average is around 30%.

FINAL FOUR?
     Carolina should be the favorite to reach the Final Four, and then win the National Championship.   History has proven however, that the favorite does NOT always come out on top.   As many analysts and pundits have speculated, --if-- the Tar Heels play up to their potential, there is no one else who can beat them.   In other words, if UNC does not win it all, they will most likely beat themselves, rather than being beat by another team.

     The Tar Heels face a familiar foe in the Eastern Regional Final in Notre Dame, a "new" ACC team which beat us on their court 80--76 at the beginning of February.   The Tar Heels had won 20 of their first 22 games, and an even dozen in a row, but lost two games in a row on the road at Louisville, and then at Notre Dame.  But a month later, it is the team that they literally whipped in the conference tournament, 78--47.

     Like Indiana, the Fighting Irish are a good team that deserves to be in the Regional Final.   But we-- all pride to the side-- are a better team... that could be a great team. Can we rise to the occasion?   We can... but more importantly, perhaps... we have to. We need to.   Great teams see the potential for greatness, and rise to meet it head--on.

     Carolina is riding high, averaging 90 points per game as a team in the tournament, while only allowing opponents an average of 65 points in the postseason.

     After Notre Dame (do I dare even contemplate this?)-- looms either Virginia or Syracuse, another two familiar ACC teams, and then Oklahoma or Villanova, two powerhouse teams that have 59 victories between them.

     It's only three more games.  Let's ALL rally around our team, and enjoy their success!
Here's to a victory against Notre Dame in the Eastern Regional final... and a trip to Houston... for a chance at the 2016 NCAA Basketball Championship.
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SUNDAY,  MARCH 27
@ 8:30 pm

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Sweet 16---in 2016

     It's 2016 and the Tar Heels are in the Sweet Sixteen--- again.   Last year, they were whipped by Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen.   This year they're back again-- after an up and down year-- and looking as good as a team as they've looked all year in beating Florida Gulf Coast and Providence.   The point could be made that these two teams weren't exactly in the same league as Carolina.    No blockbusters here.   They stayed with the Heels for a short time, but UNC blew both of them out in the second half.   But some have said that if Carolina plays the same type of game that we've seen in the ACC Tournament and the first two NCAA games, it would be difficult for them to be beat by anybody--- that's right--- anybody.

   Speaking of the Sweet Sixteen, here are the 16 teams that are left in the tournament, and they include six--- (yes, six!)--- ACC teams.




      UNC blew by Florida Gulf Coast in the first round, leading only by one point at halftime, but opening up the game in the second half.    Then they led Providence by only four at the half, but poured it on again to win in convincing fashion.    


    The Tar Heels were led by their star, Brice Johnson, with 18 and 21 points, and an amazing eight blocks against Gulf Coast.   However, the team was not without other contributors--- including Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, Marcus Paige, and incredible performances off the bench by reserve forward Isaiah Hicks, who scored in double figures in both games.  ____________________________

    Perhaps the Tar Heels are hitting their stride at the right time.


    Speaking of time--- the Tar Heels meet Indiana on Friday night in Philadelphia--- sound a bit familiar?   To most of you Tar Heel fans, you are too young to remember.   But in 1981-- yes, 35 years ago--- a President was shot and the Tar Heels' title hopes were shot too-- by Isiah Thomas and the Indiana Hoosiers--- at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.   An assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan that afternoon had almost cancelled the game, but it went on as scheduled, and nothing else went quite right for the Tar Heels that night.

      Enough said, right?   It's a different year--- a different Tar Heels team--- and a different Indiana team.   True--- But don't look past this matchup.   

     One ESPN sports reporter labeled the UNC--Indiana game a "true Final Four type" game.   Since our last blog, several highly rated teams have been knocked off, including Michigan State, Xavier, and West Virginia.   The word on the street is-- if the Tar Heels get by Indiana, then their Regional Final game may be an EASIER game.   Possibly so--- although it's always difficult to beat a conference foe twice in one season (Notre Dame) and the other team is the one that sent the Tar Heels packing last year (Wisconsin).


     The Indiana Hoosiers are a good team.   We are also a good team--- with the potential of being a great team.    This will undoubtedly be a tough contest.   What we do in the next game-- or four games-- will contribute to the Tar Heels team's legacy.    I'm expecting a BIG STEP up in each successive game.   The stakes get larger as each opponent surfaces.   Bottom line is--- we win (however we do so)--- and we move on.    We lose--- and we go home.   It's one--and--done time.   

     I look for a very close game.   I also believe we have what it takes to win in the closing minutes (or seconds) of a game.   I'm looking for the Heels to step up and make a statement, and then close out the East Regional and earn a trip to the Final Four.
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UNC vs Indiana
Friday, March 25 @ 9:45 pm

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Aspirations and Maturation

   By
HOWARD PLATT


Howard Platt
       


     
    
    The North Carolina Tar Heels have been a maturation process throughout the season.   At the start of the season they were ranked Number One in the polls, but they were overrated at that time.  Marcus Paige was injured and no one was really stepping up in his place. 
  • Kennedy Meeks was a disappointment with his knee problems and then he missed a number of games because of that.  Then even when he became healthy, his play and intensity was inconsistent, especially with the high expectation that UNC fans had for him. 
  • Paige came back to underperform in the eyes of the fans and the media, considering what he had done in past seasons.  He had a shooting slump that seemed like it would never end, and although it has never completely come back to the amazing Sophomore year he had, it is now more acceptable and he became a leader again both on and off the court. 
  • Brice Johnson became the on court leader with his numbers while others were searching for their proper roles.  He has become a consistent double-double producer and a better defender.  He is the only Tar Heel, amazingly enough for a team that won the regular season title, on any of the All-ACC teams. He is now certainly one of the best players in the ACC, but also in the country. 
  • And Joel Berry II has become perhaps the scoring leader and one of the top point guards now in the country in the latter stages of the season.  He was particularly outstanding in the ACC Tournament run and now there are new and higher expectations for him in the NCAA Tournament.
        Perhaps the greatest strength is the depth of players that now contribute to Carolina's success.  
  • Meeks is getting to a higher level again, although he can do better.  
  • Isiah Hicks has surfaced as an outstanding inside presence offensively and has improved as a defender.  He was rightly named the best "Sixth Man" in the conference and may be the best offensive option for the Heels over Meeks as they play around the same amount of time and even play at the same time sometimes.  
  • Also Britt coming off the bench has been an outstanding defender and a spark for the team when he comes in.  
   Role players also play  a part.  
  • Joel James is one of the Senior Leaders and although he doesn't score much, it seems he gets clutch points.  
  • Almost forgot about Justin Jackson.  He's like a glue to the team functioning at top efficiency.  When he is in top form, whether on defense or with the teardrop floater he has made a great part of his game, the Heels are almost unbeatable.  
  • Even the Freshmen like Luke Maye and young Kenny Williams have become good defenders. 
     In fact the biggest difference for UNC and what has now made them a top contender for the Final Four and even a National Championship has been the team defense That has not been a secret to anyone who has watched them in the last few games.  Too many times in the past there had been the wide open threes allowed or the opening of the middle of the lane much too often.  They changed all that during the ACC Tournament and it seems they now know what they can do from here on out in that all important part of the game.  

    They must continue to play that well in order to attain the goals they aspire to.  As a Tar Heel fan, I again have optimism as to what this team can accomplish.  Give Roy Williams credit too. Amidst criticism about not using timeouts properly and using his personnel differently than some of us wanted at the time, he has proven that his way is now the best way the team has developed.  

    I now am optimistic about this team having the chance to accomplish what many thought at the start of the year was a great chance.  A Final Four berth in Houston and a National Title is certainly within reach.  Now let's hopefully watch the path they take towards those goals.   

GO HEELS !
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Howard Platt Sports reports can be heard on Memories 1280 in Salisbury and 1410 in Concord and on 1490, Carolina Country.  He also does play by play of local American Legion Baseball, High School Baseball, High School Football and many High School Basketball games in the past. 

  --- I appreciate Bob Wingate allowing me to post on his blog --- 

 [ Ed. Note:  We appreciate you too Howard.  Let's do it again soon !]