Saturday, October 23, 2010

Miami drubs Carolina - Now, that's more what we expected from depleted Heels

After four straight impressive wins, it appears the suspensions and injuries have finally caught up with the Tar Heels as Miami crushed North Carolina 33-10.

The Tar Heels actually had a 10-3 lead early and should have been up by more except for a fumble in the end zone. But then, on the heels of losing tight end Zack Pianalto for the season, the injuries started piling up. Five Tar Heels went down including Pianalto's replacement Ryan Taylor.

Miami, which probably would have won the game regardless of the injuries, reeled off 30 straight points. Several big plays came through the air against the depleted Carolina secondary, which was playing three freshmen and another player, Da'Norris Searcy, who had been knocked woozy earlier.

With nine players having been dismissed, suspended or otherwise held out just in case, it was going to be a tough task at Miami without the four injuries last week and five during the game.

Some players who had previously only played on special teams got to see action for Carolina. The four defensive backs playing at the end of the game were the last four defensive backs on the team.

Despite leading questions, UNC coach Butch Davis didn't sulk about the injuries. He praised Miami as a good football team and said the Tar Heels had a chance to get some points early and didn't come through.

"The kids tried as hard as they can," Davis said, finally alluding to the shorthandedness. "Like I tell them, you never know when your number is going to be called. A lot of kids had to play tonight and hopefully we'll be better for it next week."

Carolina has a homecoming game against William & Mary next Saturday before traveling back to Florida to play Florida State, a team that handled Miami easily a couple of weeks ago.

Defense continues to let down Duke

Duke's demise this season should have been predicted, simply because the Blue Devils don't have the talent and toughness on defense they need to compete in the ACC. The offense can't make up for the problems on defense, with a poor running game and inexperienced quarterback.

Virginia Tech simply manhandled Duke Saturday, 44-7. The game was over by halftime and the Devils plummeted to 1-6. Duke returned six starters on defense for this season, but they lost the bulk of their defensive front from a year ago and there's little on this team that strikes fear into an offensive coordinator. Duke has a long way to go in ACC play ... as this season is reminding the remaining Blue Devil fans.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hamilton wins ALCS MVP award as Rangers pop cork on... ginger ale

Raleigh's Josh Hamilton, who has struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, was awarded the American League Championship Series MVP Award following his team's 6-1 victory over the New York Yankees.

The win clinched a trip to the World Series. Instead of popping the cork on traditional champagne, Hamilton's teammates sprayed ginger ale on each other out of respect for Hamilton and his issues with alcohol.

Hamilton hit .350 in the series while hitting four home runs and driving in seven runs. "First of all, all glory goes to God, Jesus Christ," Hamilton said. "Secondly, i love my teammates. Any of these guys could have gotten this award... I don't want to talk about myself - I want to talk about them."

Hamilton said the Rangers are in this position because the players "don't know how to fail" and there is great team chemistry. "The guys love each other and support each other," he said.

Hamilton, whose voice was cracking as he was being interviewed about what he means to win the MVP after all his struggles, said in the final inning he was in the outfield tearing up, trying to hold it all together in case the ball was hit to him. "It means a lot with everything i've been through and what God has brought me through to this point with this group of guys," he said. "I'm so excited and I feel blessed."

He has 26 tattoos that he now tries to hide and which he got while drinking and doing drugs in Florida early in his professional career. "My first drink - my first drink ever - was at a strip club down there, with the tattoo guys," Hamilton said a few years ago. "Pretty soon, I started using. First the powder. Then crack. I was 20. I wasn't playing. I was hurt. My parents left and went back home. I was by myself for the first time."

The whole world is with the popular Hamilton now and many are rooting for him and his Rangers team as they go to the World Series to play the winner of the Giants-Phillies series.

Even Roy Williams acknowledges Duke is at a 'different level'

Only a year ago, it seemed like North Carolina had gained the high ground in its epic struggle for basketball supremacy with Duke. The Tar Heels won the 2009 national title, their second with Roy Williams, and pulled off a stunning recruiting coup when Harrison Barnes went on Skype and snubbed Duke for Carolina. Williams even had a popular book out on his life.

The ACC media picked UNC as the co-preseason favor with the Blue Devils, despite Carolina's lack of experience. Duke, of course, went on to win its fourth NCAA title under Krzyzewski and the Duke coach is now within reach of passing Dean Smith in all-time wins.

Duke got all but one vote as the ACC preseason favorite and had two players, Kyle Singler and  Nolan Smith, on the preseason all-conference team. No wonder, then, that Williams downplayed any suggestion that this could be a special year in the Triangle, with UNC and now N.C. State fielding strong teams.

"I don't think either one of us is at the level Duke is. I don't think anybody in the country is at the level Duke is. How many times do you have the MVP in the Final Four come back?" Williams said.

He noted that he really wanted to sign Ryan Kelly of Raleigh, but Kelly went to Duke and barely played as a freshman.

"To me, Duke is at a completely different level than North Carolina or North Carolina State," Williams said.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Carolina fans firmly behind Butch Davis, survey shows

NEWS RELEASE - A new poll of North Carolina voters describing themselves as UNC fans finds that football coach Butch Davis retains strong support from his fan base and that there is little sentiment in favor of replacing him.

Overall 41 percent of UNC fans approve of the job Davis is doing as coach to 20 percent who disapprove. This survey was conducted before the team won in Charlottesville for the first time in 29 years last weekend. Respondents were asked to describe their fandom of the team as ‘hardcore’ or ‘casual’ and among the most devoted fans Davis’ approval rises to 59 percent with only 21 percent unhappy with his performance.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about Davis’ future at North Carolina given all of the team’s issues with the NCAA but only 14 percent of the Tar Heel fan base thinks he should be fired to 57 percent who think he should continue on in his position. That sentiment is even stronger among those who identified themselves as ‘hardcore’ fans. Only 9 percent of them supported replacing Davis while 68 percent said he should remain as coach.

“For everything that’s happened in the UNC football program over the last three months Butch Davis remains extremely popular with Tar Heel fans,” said Tom Jensen, Director of Public Policy Polling. “That seems to reflect a sentiment that the team’s off field troubles are not Davis’ fault, as well as appreciation for the strides the team has made on the field since Davis became the coach.”

The poll had another interesting finding. While 46 percent of voters statewide describe themselves as Democrats to 37 percent who are Republicans, those identifying as Carolina fans break down as 53 percent Democrats and 32 percent Republicans. And those describing themselves as ‘hardcore’ UNC fans are 59 percent Democrats and 29 percent Republicans. Those data points indicate the general perceptions about the political disposition of UNC people may be correct.

PPP surveyed 597 likely North Carolina voters from Oct. 15-17 and 159 of those respondents identified themselves as UNC fans. The margin of error on that subgroup is +/-7.8 percent. Other factors, such as refusal to be interviewed and weighting, may introduce additional error that is more difficult to quantify.

Ten area high school football games to consider attending, with predictions

For the second time in as many weeks, my record of predicting area high school football games was a perfect 10-0, making the season total now 72-18, which is 80 percent accuracy. Here are 10 football games that are within driving distance in the Triangle area this Friday night. After today's rain, Friday night's weather is nice with virtually no chance at rain. Most games are at 7:30 p.m. You might want to check with local officials as some games start at 7. In bold below are the predicted winners.

Apex at Green Hope

Fuquay-Varina at Athens Drive

Garner at Southeast Raleigh

Millbrook at Leesville Road

Panther Creek at Middle Creek

Sanderson at Wake Forest-Rolesville

Wakefield at Enloe

Southern Durham at East Chapel Hill

J.F. Webb at Chapel Hill

North Raleigh Christian at Wake Christian

Check the scores in our Sports Roundup on the left navigation bar.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

No more Mr. Nice guy for Roy Williams

So would you want to make Roy Williams mad? Uh, neither would we. And last year’s 20-17 record by North Carolina, which included a 5-11 ACC record, left the longtime coach looking for a way to spark this group.

“I just didn’t like the toughness we had,” Williams said.
His answer – go back to the fall of 1981.

Now, that was a different team and different time. UNC won the 1982 national title with James Worthy, Sam Perkins and freshman Michael Jordan, a collection of a talent a bit different than the current Heels.
But Carolina had brutal workouts in preseason, which Williams supervised as a young assistant, and he is going back to that same script. Williams had his team, three times a week for four weeks before practice start, run 220-yard sprints, followed by 90 second rests, 12 times.

“It’s run, run, run, run,” Williams said.

It doesn’t necessarily replicate basketball, but it designed to make the team “tougher,” Williams said. “Everybody’s pampered so dadgum much,” Williams said. 

N.C. State's Lowe weighs point guard options with Gonzalez shining


So much has been made of N.C. State's incoming freshmen that it's easy to forget the Wolfpack actually returns three starters in Tracy Smith, Javier Gonzalez and Scott Wood. That Smith will remain a starter is a given. But Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe made some interesting points about his other two incumbent starters Wednesday at Operation Basketball.

Asked if freshman Ryan Harrow would start at point guard or come off the bench, Lowe was careful and said, "I'm going to have to see how that works out. Our senior [Gonzalez] there can help Ryan understand what it's like to be a freshman in this conference. ...

"Javy is playing great right now. He is playing great."

Lowe what impressed him was that Gonzalez was talking more than ever and often making points to Harrow about how to improve. "He is not looking at it as a threat - he's looking at it as, OK, we have another good player who can help us. That's what you want," Lowe said.

Lowe also noted that Wood has been mentoring C.J. Leslie in practice. Leslie is a gifted offensive player but could drift on defense in high school and get away with it. In practice, Leslie has learned he has to stay with Wood – or get burned by a jumper. Lowe said he likes the way Leslie gets upset if Wood torches him, which has happened.
“What he has done is rely on his leaping ability and think he can meet you at the rim and go get it, as opposed to locking down [and playing great defense],” Lowe said of Leslie. “But he’s learned he’s got to do the other stuff before he gets to the rim.”

Duke picked to win ACC; UNC 3rd, N.C. State 4th

OK, the votes are in at the ACC's Operation Basketball in Charlotte. Duke is picked to win the ACC again, with North Carolina picked third and N.C. State fourth. Duke got 61 of 62 votes to win it.

Kyle Singler of Duke leads the preseason All-ACC basketball team, joined by Malcolm Delaney of Virginia Tech, Nolan Smith of Duke, Tracy Smith of N.C. State and Chris Singleton of FSU.

Singler is the preseason Player of the Year and Harrison Barnes of UNC is the preseason Rookie of the Year.

Here is the voting:

1, Duke (61) 743
2, Va. Tech 632
3, UNC (1) 622
4, N.C. State 526
5, Florida State 496
6, Maryland 432
7, Clemson 335
8, Miami 432
9, Ga. Tech 274
10, Boston College 173
11, Virginia 164
12, Wake Forest 134

1, Kyle Singler, Duke, 62
2, Malcolm Delaney, VT, 61
3, Nolan Smith, Duke, 55
4, Tracy Smith, N.C. State, 45
5, Chris Singleton, FSU, 29

Krzyzewski wants to be 'in the moment,' downplays chasing Dean Smith

Duke coach Mike Kryzewski has 868 career wins, which means this could be an epic year in important ways for the Devils coach. Former North Carolina coach Dean Smith had 879 career wins, which was the record at the time. Bobby Knight, Krzyzewski's coach at Army, now leads with 902 all-tme wins.

Krzyzewski, though, is downplaying this run at those records. He still keeps up with Knight, having dinner with him a couple of weeks ago. As for Smith, his longtime adversary, he said, "I respect the heck out of Dean and we became really good friends. But I don’t have any contact with him."
Krzyzewski, at Operation Basketball Wednesday in Charlotte, declined to reach any conclusions about the meaning of any potential records.

“What that means is longevity. That means a lot," he said with a bit of a laugh, no doubt recalling that many Devils wanted him gone in the tough early years. "I’m still doing what I love to do.

"Those are not goals for me. Number of wins, number of championships are not goals. If they are then … [shakes head] … I don’t think you do as good a job.

“You have to be consumed with the group you have. I have Kyrie Irving. That’s a neat thing for me. I don’t know how long I will have him. … It’s important for me to be in their moment, not for them to be in a historical moment.”

Coaches dine on salmon as ACC interviews get under way

The ACC’s Operation Basketball is in Charlotte this year, and there are four letters for that. If you guessed ESPN, you are correct. ESPNU is actually based in Charlotte, and having the event here allows the league to shuttle coaches and players to ESPNU for all sorts of interviews – television, radio, internet … you get the idea.

It has turned out well for the ACC, though. The league gave out 197 media passes for this year, about 25 more than last year in Greensboro. Numbers have trended down in recent years as media outlets have reduced staff and cut travel.

Players were interviewed by the rest of the media and coaches come in Wednesday afternoon. By the way, your Capital Sports reporter did make one faux pas. I went into what I thought was the lunch room for the media and, with no one else there, got a big plate of salmon and other yummy stuff.

Oops – turns out that was the lunch for the coaches. Back in the regular press room were, uh, hamburgers. …

More ahead ...

O'Brien gives Pack players a few days off before preparing for FSU

After losing in overtime at rival East Carolina, and with no game this weekend, NC State coach Tom O'Brien figured his players needed a little time off.

"We will get on the football field for the tomorrow for the first time since saturday," O'Brien said Wednesday. "I gave the fellas a few days off. They're tired and we need to try to get back both mentally and physically."

The Wolfpack hosts Florida State Thursday, Oct. 28 in a primetime ESPN game that could put the season back on track or continue to bring the Pack down to earth.

State, 5-2, got off to a 4-0 start before losing heartbreakers to Virginia Tech at home and ECU on the road.

"I think we are a much more competitive football team than we've been the past three years," O'Brien said. "That's due a lot to the young kids growing up and getting much more experience. But the biggest thing is we haven't suffered the devastating injuries we have the last two years."

He said not only is the team healthier overall but deeper since the players who had to step in over the last couple of years now have more experience.

Florida State is 6-1 and atop the Atlantic Division with a 4-0 mark. The winner of this game would be the favorite to take the division.

"We have a huge challenge but thank God we have some time to rest," O'Brien said. "Hopefully we can regroup and have a great night next Thursday night."

ACC basketball preseason predictions before writers' official picks today

Our Dane Huffman will be providing live updates today from Operation ACC Basketball in Charlotte and will be voting with the other ACC basketball writers on the following categories. Prior to the official voting by the sportswriters in attendance, I thought I'd weigh in on preseason honors.

Predicted Order
Virginia Tech
NC State
Florida State
Boston College
Georgia Tech
Wake Forest

First team All-ACC
Kyle Singler, Duke
Nolan Smith, Duke
Malcolm Delaney Va. Tech
Tracy Smith, NC State
Harrison Barnes, UNC

Second team All-ACC
Dorenzo Hudson, Va. Tech
John Henson, UNC
Chris Singleton, Florida State
Kyrie Irving, Duke
Jordan Williams, Maryland

Third team All-ACC
Jeff Allen, Va. Tech
Seth Curry, Duke
Tyler Zeller, UNC
Demontez Stitt, Clemson
Durand Scott, Miami

All-Freshman team
Harrison Barnes, UNC
CJ Leslie, NC State
Ryan Harrow, NC State
Kyrie Irving, Duke
Reggie Bullock, UNC

All-ACC Defensive team
Chris Singleton, Florida State
Iman Shumpert, Ga. Tech
Jordan Williams, Maryland
John Henson, UNC
Soloman Alabi, Florida State

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cutcliffe says team has confidence in Renfree, even after five picks

At the beginning of the season, Duke fans dreamed that Sean Renfree would live up to his potential as quarterback and sneak the Blue Devils into a bowl game. He hasn't, they won't.

Renfree even threw five interceptions last week against Miami before being lifted for freshman Brandon Connette, who moved the ball better. But Duke coach David Cutcliffe says he will start Renfree and that he and the team have confidence in him.

"He understands the responsibility, and out squad has confidence in him," Cutcliffe said. "I can’t make that happen, nor can he. Ultimately what it comes down to is performance on game day. He can’t fix this in one day, but rather one play at a time."

Those plays this week come against heavily favored Virginia Tech.

"The quarterback has had a little bit of a problem here lately, but I think he's got a tremendous upside," VT coach Frank Beamer said.

He pointed out that Duke averages about 400 yards per game, of which 278 are passing yards, and that Renfree completes 57 percent of his passes. And, to be fair, several of the interceptions were tipped passes.

Cutcliffe said that the team is depending on Renfree to be prepared mentally and physically. "He is a big boy and he is taking that challenge on. He is not running away from it," he said.

Too bad the first opportunity to atone for those five interceptions comes at Virginia Tech.

Canes opening schedule is wacky

The Carolina Hurricanes aren't complaining about a brutal opening schedule that has them playing two games in Finland and then heading to the West Coast, but to be honest, this is outrageous.

Making sports schedules is difficult, but anyone in the NHL office could see that a team slated to be in Finland shouldn't be sent to the other side of North America shortly after its return.

The Canes had an exhibition game in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Oct. 4. Then they played regular-season games in Helsinki on Oct. 7 and 8 and won both.

Back in the States, they lost at Washington 3-2 on Oct. 14. Then Sunday, they started a four-game West Coast swing with a predictable 5-1 loss at Vancouver. Think about that - right after you play in Finland, you are on the road for five straight games.

Does that make sense? Uh, no. Now come games Tuesday in San Jose, Wednesday in Los Angeles and Saturday in Phoenix. By the time the home opener comes Wednesday, Carolina will have played seven games.

The good news is the Canes have nine home games in March, when they are pushing to make the playoffs. They may need those home games, given the tough start they've been handed.

James Madison would say, 'Let the players tweet'

James Madison
Should the North Carolina football program be allowed to ban tweeting by its players? The team made that decision recently, which went almost without comment in the local media, but The Daily Tar Heel has raised an interesting question about that decision.

The DTH, in an editorial, denounced that move on first amendment grounds, arguing that the players have a right to free speech.

"Student athletes are under more media scrutiny and play a larger role in the University’s PR strategy, but they are still citizens who have the same first amendment rights as any other student," The Daily Tar Heel wrote.

Frankly, that's a great point, and one the University, and media, should have recognized sooner.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Panthers' Clausen benched in favor of Moore - Ok, whatever

Carolina Panthers coach John Fox released a statement today saying that Matt Moore will return to replace Danny Clausen as quarterback.

This "quarterback controversy" isn't exactly Montana vs. Young or Jurgensen vs. Kilmer. Whatever Fox' gut tells him to do is ok I guess. Whomever practices better probably should start. But the franchise needs to decide if Clausen is the future or Moore is the future.

"We have struggled on offense since the beginning of the season and sometimes it helps to step back and watch and Matt has had a chance to do that," Fox said today.

Somehow I think the Panthers intended to stick with Clausen when he took over, not merely give Moore a break to observe. Perhaps both quarterbacks have a future in the NFL but it doesn't appear that this season will be good for either. It probably doesn't matter which guy is quarterbacking as far as wins but it might as far as developing the future.

The Panthers, who play 1-5 San Francisco Sunday, stand at 0-5 and are one of two teams who are winless - the Bills are the other.

NFL Note: At FedEx Field Sunday night, about 50 Washington Redskins alumni were introduced including former Duke and Wilmington product Sonny Jurgensen. When the new HD television screen showed Jurgensen, his name was misspelled as "Jurgenson." You'd think that a five-time all-pro who threw for more than 32,000 yards and was proclaimed by legendary coach Vince Lombardi as the best quarterback he'd ever seen, could have his name spelled correctly by his own team.

Pressure now on young Carolina receivers

North Carolina senior Zack Pianalto is one of the best tight ends the Tar Heels have ever had - Alge Crumpler and Charles Waddell come to mind as two of the school's best ever - and the fact that he fractured his right fibula in Saturday's win at Virginia puts renewed pressure on Carolina's offense.

Pianalto is one of the team leaders, a tough kid who doesn't complain and a senior who committed early to Butch Davis. His loss will put pressure on offensive coordinator John Shoop, who has used him creatively, and T.J. Yates, who has gone to Pianalto in clutch situations. There's a reason why Pianalto leads the Tar Heels with 30 receptions for 311 yards and one touchdown. He already has the school record for career receptions by a tight end at 94.

Carolina's receivers, though young, have been strong, and continue to find ways to make plays. Dwight Jones went nuts at Virginia, and Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd give the Heels a talented threesome there. The challenge for Yates, and Shoop, will be finding the confidence in a receiver to match what they had in Pianalto.

Pianalto was out five games last year, suffering an injury at Connecticut and missing the next five contests. The receiver who flourished in that span was Greg Little, who had 23 catches over those five games .Of course, Little is not an option this season. Erik Highsmith snatched six balls per game in the first two after Pianalto went down, but only three total in the three games following. Boyd (seven catches) and Jones (two) were no factors with Pianalto out.

Of course, those receivers are all more experienced this season, and UNC will need them in a tough stretch ahead.

Carolina's 4-2 record is remarkable under the circumstances

North Carolina started this season 0-2 on the field and a heavy underdog to the NCAA investigators, but you have to give credit to Butch Davis, his staff and players for the way they have turned around this season.

First of all, the Tar Heels have played with fire and emotion in every game. They lost to LSU when Zack Pianalto couldn't hold an endzone pass because he was fouled, but Pianalto had the grace to refuse to blame the officials. Looking back, that was a remarkable effort by UNC, which went on television facing national humilation but nearly rallied to beat a team that is now undefeated and ranked No. 7 in the BCS.

Carolina really should have beaten Georgia Tech after that, but an inexperienced secondary let it down. That left the Tar Heels 0-2, with the future of many of its best players uncertain.

Four straight wins have followed, all of them impressive. The Heels won at Rutgers, beat East Carolina and Clemson at home and then crushed Virginia on the road for the first time since 1981. There are a number of reasons for the record. T.J. Yates has had a steady hand, Johnny White is sixth in the ACC in rushing at 77.3 yards per game, the offenisve line is improved with a true freshman at left tackle, the receivers have grown up and the depth on defense has minimized the exceptional losses there.

The stretch ahead is brutal, except for a home game with William & Mary Oct. 30. But regardless of how this plays out, Carolina has righted itself, at least on the field, despite tough circumstances.

Bad defense costly for Duke, Wake

You can't hide a poor defense, and that's the problem now for Duke and Wake Forest.The Deacons have had their moments under Jim Grobe, and the Devils have new hopes under David Cutcliffe, but the 2010 season, despite the ACC's mediocrity, has underscored how difficult it is to win at those schools.

Duke is 0-3 and 1-5 and Wake 1-3 and 2-5, but the reason for those numbers is they are both dead last in the ACC in scoring defense. The Devils are at the bottom at 37.8 and Wake is No. 11 at 37.7. To put that in perspective, no other ACC team is giving up 26 points per game.

Duke is now 1-9 over its last 10 games and Wake is 3-10 over its last 13.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

ACC's reputation takes another hit as N.C. State falls at ECU

The ACC’s dreadful season in football took another hit Saturday with East Carolina’s overtime victory over N.C. State. The league has only one team – No. 16 Florida State – ranked in the AP Top 25 anyway and seems to take another blow to its dwindling football reputation each week.

 You have to give the Pirates credit. Skip Holtz took a program that had collapsed under John Thompson and turned it into a Conference USA power. With Holtz gone, bringing in ECU graduate Ruffin McNeill seemed like a stretch, at best.

But McNeill’s creative offense and passion for the school has led to a 4-2 record for the first time since 2000. The defense has still held only one opponent under 27 points, but the Pirates were stout enough when they had to be against NCSU.

The loss for State is probably more annoying – given how the fan bases are interwoven – than devastating. The Wolfpack is still 5-2 and, at 2-1 in league play, on course for a critical game with Florida State in Raleigh on Thursday, Oct. 28. The winner of that could well wind up in Charlotte for the ACC title game.

State made great adjustments Saturday, reducing its number of defensive linemen to counter ECU’s passing attack. The Wolfpack's comeback, given the circumstances, was impressive. Mustafa Greene (16 carries, 75 yards) continued to emerge as threat at running back and Russell Wilson strafed ECU for 322 yards and a score, although his interception count continued to be high as he threw three more on Saturday.

But for the ACC, this was yet another smack in the gut. The dominant conferences continue to produce riveting games, like South Carolina’s upset of Alabama last week and Wisconsin’s stunner overOhio State Saturday, while the ACC bumbled along like the JV. Regionally, fans know that ECU beating a rival like N.C. State or North Carolina is no huge surprise, but nationally, it looks terrible for the ACC.