Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Capital Sports Report will feature Twitter feeds from around the Triangle

So it's the first day of March, and you know what that means in North Carolina ... basketball tournaments. With March arriving, the Capital Sports Report will move to a new look this week. We'll have updates throughout March, with original news and opinions, and a very cool Twitter feed that includes information from around the Triangle.

Look for the updated Capital Sports Report beginning this week.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Williams says Heels can be 'immature,' but still know how to bear down

North Carolina is well aware it plays Duke Saturday night in the Smith Center, and yes, the Tar Heels know they are tied with the Blue Devils at the top of the ACC Standings.

But Carolina also knows it plays a tough Florida State team Wednesday night in Tallahassee, and coach Roy Williams insisted his team – though young – isn’t getting ahead of itself.

In fact, Williams even called his team “immature” in some ways.

“We know that we’ve go a big challenge at Florida State,” Williams said. “This team is immature as all get out about some things but they really have been pretty focused about playing the next game.”

For example, Williams said his club can be loose and comical around the clubhouse. But the Tar Heels are often playing with the poise of an experienced team despite starting two sophomores and two freshmen. Carolina has won 15 of 17 and 10 of 11 since that loss at Georgia Tech.

That’s an impressive run for a program that was a huge disappointment last season, and came into this year with significant, and unexpected, personnel losses.

“You go back to last May, when the Wears say they are not coming back … Will Graves ... Larry Drew. There has been some adversity I never want to to through again,” Williams said. “Right now I’m estatic about what they have done. … I am really proud of what my team has done. It hasn’t been easy. Ol’ Roy has had a hard year since last May. But I am really proud of them.”

Pack's Lowe says Wood being grabbed by defenders

N.C. State shooter Scott Wood has been up and down this season, exploding for points in some games and disappearing offensively in others. He had zero points against Duke, nine against Wake Forest, five against Clemson, 15 at Maryland and three against North Carolina.

Then in Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech, Wood erupted for 20 points and hitting seven of 10 shots.

That raises the obvious question of why Wood has been so erratic. On Monday, Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe had a pointed response on the ACC teleconference.

“One [reason] is that people are really paying attention to him and trying to do things to him to prevent him from getting shots,” Lowe said.

But Lowe couldn’t help but add a strong point about how Wood is being grabbed by defenses.

“I know he’s my player and I might be biased but the film doesn’t lie. He gets held more than anybody I have ever seen. They literally grab him, grab his jersey.

“People are just aware of him. The last ballgame he really moved well without the ball. That’s one of the things we’ve been trying to tell him - keep moving so they can’t grab you.”

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Heels tie Devils atop ACC after putting away Maryland

North Carolina never trailed as the Tar Heels banged inside and hit from outside to defeat Maryland 87-76 and tie Duke for the ACC lead with just two regular-season games to go. (2/23)

Tyler Zeller did the offensive damage inside with 25 points while Harrison Barnes and Leslie McDonald did the damage outside with 21 and 15 points.

Barnes drained three threes in the first four minutes and Carolina got out to a quick 13-5 lead. But Maryland fought back to tie it at 13-all and it stayed close until the last five minutes of the first half.

Carolina went on a late 12-4 run to take a 43-31 halftime lead that stood up through the second half. That run was highlighted by a McDonald three from straight away, an old-fashioned three-point play by Zeller and a Barnes reverse lay in.

The Tar Heels now stand at 22-6 and 12-2 in the ACC, even with Duke after the Devils lost at Virginia Tech Saturday. The Heels go to Florida State Wednesday night before finishing the regular season at home against the Blue Devils.

When asked about possibly playing Duke for the ACC regular season title, UNC coach Roy Williams said, "We better be thinking in terms of Florida State."

For more on the Maryland game, please click here.

Duke women wrap up ACC regular season title with win over UNC

The Duke women's basketball team has clinched the top seeding in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and they did it against one of their favorite teams to beat, North Carolina. The Blue Devils, behind seniors Jasmine Thomas (17 points) and Karima Christmas (14 points), beat UNC 66-58 today in Durham.

The Blue Devils (26-3, 12-2) got out to a big lead and withstood a comeback by the Tar Heels (22-7, 8-6). Going into the game, Duke was the No. 9 team in the nation while Carolina was No. 13.

Italee Lucas scored 15 points and Chay Shegog added 14 for the Heels who enter the conference tourney in Greensboro later this week as the No. 6 seed. (22-7, 8-6), the No. 6 seed for the league tournament later this week in Greensboro.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What they're saying about former N.C. State football captain Ricky Bell

Ricky Bell, the former N.C. State defensive back and team captain, has died at the age of 36. The cause of death has not been released. He played professionally in the NFL and the CFL, where he won a Grey Cup. Here's what they are saying about Bell:

"He was a competitor. He was a good guy. He was a good football player and helped us win a Grey Cup." - Wally Buono, who coached Bell in Calgary of the CFL.

"Rick loved the game. He loved to compete. He was a good team player.” - Harold Nash Jr., who played with Bell in the Winnipeg secondary.

"He loved to talk to young men and tell them: 'Go to school and study because football isn't going to last all the time so you can have something to go back on."'
- Florence Bell, his mother.

"Ricky was and will always be a special person to all of us who played football with him at NC State. A part of our Wolfpack family has gone on to a better place." - Dewayne Washington, former Wolfpack teammate.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It feels like a rivalry again despite Carolina's 10th straight win vs. NC State

Despite the fact that North Carolina has now beaten N.C. State 10 straight times, it feels more like a rivalry after UNC's 75-63 victory in Raleigh.

Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe got a technical foul. Wake County deputies were stationed behind the Carolina bench. Players woofed at each other a little and players screamed after dunks. The intensity was there.

N.C. State players certainly played with more intensity than they did at Chapel Hill. The State fans were into it and stayed in it even when Carolina got up by nine points twice in the second half. The fans didn't throw in the towel until Zeller's dunk follow with a minute left gave Carolina an 11-point lead.

The Lowe technical really was a silly technical that hurt his team. With the Tar Heels up 67-59 and a minute and a half to go, Lowe complained that one of his players was fouled. Not only did replays show a clean blocked shot but Carolina got free throws AND the ball.

The game had gone back and forth with State leading by 10 points in the first half only to lose the lead by halftime. Plus, the Pack was within four points with five minutes to go.

The Tar Heels have won 16 of the last 17 games but this was a hard-fought game that was not determined until the last few minutes. With young key players on both squads, this could continue to feel like a rivalry again for some time to come.

For more on the UNC-NCSU game, please click here.

Carolina's Spring football game set for April 9

NEWS RELEASE - The University of North Carolina will hold its annual Blue-White Spring Football Game on Saturday, April 9 at 3 p.m. Admission to the Blue-White Game is free.

Head coach Butch Davis will divide the teams into two squads and the Tar Heels will play four quarters. Final game-day details including parking and activities will be released on TarHeelBlue.com as they become available.

"The Blue-White Game is an excellent opportunity to give our fans a glimpse of the future,” said Davis, who welcomes back 12 starters from last year's eight-win team. "We will have several newcomers that will play an integral part in our team’s success this year and the Spring Game is a chance for many of them to perform for the first time in front of our fans.”

The Spring Game is the 15th and final spring practice date for the Tar Heels, who begin spring workouts on March 16. Carolina has won eight games three consecutive seasons, and last year knocked off Tennessee in the Music City Bowl to earn the program’s first bowl win under Davis.

Last year, Carolina played its Spring Game in front of 29,500 fans and an ESPN nationally televised audience.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Zeller named first team Academic All-America

CHAPEL HILL - Tar Heel men's basketball forward Tyler Zeller, UNC's leading scorer and the top field goal percentage shooter in the ACC in league games, has earned first-team Academic All-America honors, the College Sports Information Directors of America announced Tuesday.

Zeller is one of five first-team Capitol One All-Americas, joining Butler's Matt Howard, Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis, Northern Colorado's Devon Beitzel and Kansas's Tyrell Reed.

Zeller is the eighth Tar Heel to earn first-team Academic All-America honors and the first since Eric Montross in 1994.

Other Tar Heels to win first-team Academic All-America honors include Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham in 1965, Charles Scott in 1970, Steve Previs and Dennis Wuycik in 1972, Tommy LaGarde in 1976, Steve Hale in 1986 and Montross in 1994.

Carolina is second in ACC history with eight first-team Academic All-Americas.

Zeller hails from Washington, Ind., and majors in business administration. He has started every game this year, leading the 20-6 Tar Heels in scoring (14.5 points per game), field goal percentage (.534) and free throw pertcentage (.764). He is also second in rebounding at 7.3 per game and blocked shots with 30.

Zeller scored a career-high 27 points in Carolina's win over Kentucky in December. Over the last seven games he is averaging 16.6 points. He has won Carolina's defensive player of the game in each of the last four games and a team-best eight times this season.

"I am thrilled for Tyler because he puts as much effort toward his academics as he does basketball, and he's typically one of the first players on the court and last ones to leave," says head coach Roy Williams. "It really is a big deal to be an Academic All-America - it's a credit to truly what every student-athlete's first priority should be. We had severalrecipients at Kansas, including our current assistant Jerod Haase, and `Z' is our first here at Carolina. I couldn't be prouder or happier than I am for him."

Williams says Heels need to be able to play lower-scoring games

UNC coach Roy Williams has always said his teams need to be able to play games scoring in the 50s and 60s. But against Boston College, the Tar Heels could only manage 48 points in their two-point victory.

"I never thought I'd say we need to be able to win in the 40s," Williams said adding that he'd rather win the 90s. "Offensively, we need to be able to play both ways."

Williams, speaking at his weekly media teleconference, said that defensively he likes his team to double team and gamble. "But at the same time, when you have the
big guys inside somebody would say you should even gamble more because you have shot
blockers. But it's hard in this league because there are so many teams that go small," he said.

"I think that's important because you can't just allow someone to say well we're going to play this style, and you can't play that. You have to be able to play in every style and have to be able to be successful in every style. That's what we aim for during our practice sessions."

It will be interesting to see how N.C. State plays the Tar Heels on Wednesday night in Raleigh. Certainly it appears that a zone defense and being deliberate gives opponents the best chance of beating Carolina but the Heels got plenty of practice against that technique against Boston College.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Duke perplexed by Singler's shooting woes, confident he will start hitting


Duke ascended to the No. 1 spot in the polls again Monday, a move that reflects the carnage of the top at last week and the fact that the Blue Devils have steadied themselves after the loss of Kyrie Irving.

The Devils are continuing to win despite an odd shooting slump by senior star Kyle Singler. Coach Mike Krzyzewski continues to praise Singler for his defense, which you can take as a way of boosting Singler’s confidence, but there’s no doubt Singler’s shooting woes are puzzling.

Singler scored 24 at Wake Forest on Jan. 22, 14 against Boston College Jan. 27, 20 vs. St. John’s Jan. 30 and then 22 at Maryland on Feb. 2. So he was pretty much rolling along to a year worthy of national honors.

Then suddenly, he skidded. Here are his last five games, with shooting from the field and three-point range:

Feb. 5, N.C. State 5-13 (1-2) 14 points
Feb. 9, Carolina 3-17 (1-6) 10 points
Feb. 13, at Miami 6-12 (2-6) 14 points
Feb. 16, at Virginia 1-5 (0-2) 2 points
Feb. 20, Georgia Tech 5-14 (0-1) 15 points.

“I don’t know if there’s any one thing,” Krzyzewski said Monday. “Sometimes you just don’t shoot as well. Sometimes when you don’t shoot as well you don’t play as well. To me what’s remarkable about that kid is every other part of his game is terrific.

“At Virginia, he let that, for one of the few times in his career, affect how he played. And he can’t do that. He’s so important for us, whether he goes 2 for 12 or 8 for 12.
We won’t win a really important game unless Kyle plays with that spirit. And when he hits that shot, he’s a lot better.”

Krzyzewski compared Singler to a .320 hitter who is suddenly hitting .250.

“We think that he will hit .320 and balance out for the season. But I’m proud of him. He’s handling all his other responsibilities well.”

Poor shooting percentage reflects how Harrow has to adjust


Ryan Harrow signed with N.C. State at a wild ceremony at a sports bar near campus that was attended by more than a hundred cheering Wolfpack fans. The kid with the squeaky voice and flashy moves was one of the most anticipated Pack recruits of Sidney Lowe’s tenure.

So far, the road from good to great has been a tough one for Harrow. He was brilliant at slashing to the basket in high school, but has found that more difficult at the collegiate level. Harrow is shooting just 39 percent from the field for the season, and a dismal 21.7 percent from three-point range.

Harrow is now the starting point guard for State after Lowe clung to Javier Gonzalez the first part of the season. He has improved, and rapidly, but there’s little question that the jump to ACC competition has been challenging.

“I see him growing,” Lowe said Monday. “He’s better at learning how to run the team, get guys shots. He’s been accustomed to coming down and taking shots any time when he was in high school. Now he realizes he’s got teammates who are capable of helping him.

“That’s an adjustment for him.”

Defense has been another adjustment, but that’s to be expected. Harrow has a slight build and many freshmen struggle with the physical nature of college basketball. If you’ve ever sat anywhere near the court at an ACC game, you quickly realize how rough and rugged play can be.

Harrow got many of his high school points thanks to his quickness and ability to get the basket faster than anyone. That’s harder now. Even if he can beat his man off the dribble, there’s always a 6-foot-10 shot-blocker waiting in the lane in the ACC.

“It’s a tough adjustment. Guys are bigger,” Lowe said. “He could get to the basket on anyone in high school. Now the guys here are just bigger.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Carolina hangs on in lowest scoring game ever at the Smith Center

I like low-scoring games, I promise. But I found myself surfing the Internet during the first half of North Carolina's 48-46 victory at home over Boston College. (It was just 21-20 at the half.) BC certainly controlled the tempo and made for a ho-hum game for much of the time.

"We could have played a nice offense like we usually do and we would have lost by a lot," said Boston College coach Steve Donahue.

Carolina looked really good offensively for five minutes in the second half but that was it. During that stretch, UNC outscored BC 15-3 and appeared to have the game in hand at 41-26. A long pass from Kendall Marshall to a streaking Tyler Zeller started the run which included a Harrison Barnes three and a pair of spinning, driving layups by Marshall and Barnes.

But then the Heels lost the ball on five straight possessions and BC, unlike the Heels, were able to hit some threes which got them back in it.

The Tar Heels did hold BC to just 27 percent shooting and outrebounded the Eagles 44-30.

Carolina's defense is carrying the Heels right now but it's just a matter of time before they lose one they oughta win unless they get their offensive woes figured out.

For more on the Boston College game, please click here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tempest over poem attributed to Leslie overshadows Wolfpack win

It has been that sort of season for N.C. State, hasn’t it? Thursday night was exactly what you wanted from the Wolfpack – an intense ACC win over a good Clemson team, solid defense and some real effort by the Wolfpack.

Not only that, but we saw something from C.J. Leslie we thought we’d never see – real hustle. Leslie actually dove for a loose ball, something that seemed abhorrent to him earlier in the season. One of the defining moments in State’s home loss to North Carolina was when Leslie barely reached for a loose ball while two Tar Heels dove for it.

But rather than relishing that 69-61 victory, the talk Friday morning is all about Leslie’s poem for an English class that made it to Deadspin. The poem essentially focuses on the poet’s efforts to hook up with a girl and his excitement when she sends a text saying, “sex.”

N.C. State hasn’t confirmed if that was really Leslie’s poem, and the fact is, no student should have his academic work splashed all over message boards. Would you want your freshman essays shared with the world? Uh, no.

Regardless of what you think of the poem, Leslie doesn’t deserve to have his private work shared with the world without his permission. The N.C. State Code of Student Conduct prohibits “willfully damaging the academic work or efforts of another student.”

Frankly, the school should find out who leaked the paper and punish them accordingly.

But all this doesn’t change the fact that State is being made fun of in the national and local press. This morning on 96 Rock radio, for example, the hosts made a big deal of making fun of Leslie’s poem.

Too bad, too. Leslie played great Thursday, with 18 points and 10 rebounds and a determined effort across the board. It’s what coach Sidney Lowe has been waiting for from his star freshman, and what this Wolfpack team needs. What should have been a big win wound up as fuel for talk show hosts, and that’s too bad.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

UNC fullback Ramsay now eligible, NCAA rules

Chapel Hill - Based on new information provided by the University of North Carolina, the NCAA has determined that no violation has occurred in the case of football player Devon Ramsay, according to a UNC release. As a result of this ruling, Ramsay is immediately eligible to return to competition.

“We are delighted for Devon," said Dick Baddour, University of North Carolina Director of Athletics. "He is an outstanding young man and this is the right decision. Devon and his family never wavered in their belief that he did not commit a violation as we worked through this process. We appreciate the time and attention given to this case by the NCAA staff.”

Ramsay is a rising senior from Red Bank, N.J. As a junior in 2010, he played in the first four games of the season before being withheld from the final nine contests. He has one season of eligibilty remaining.

Banks' injury more serious than originally revealed

The Washington Post is reporting that Washington Redskins' returner Brandon Banks of Garner was more seriously injured than the team and his agent revealed following a fight outside a DC nightclub.

Banks remains hospitalized with a knife wound. Doctors have inserted a tube into his chest.

For more information, please click here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Swofford says ACC looking at ways to improve interest in ACC Tournament

Declining attendance at the ACC Tournament has league officials concerned, with some changes in store for this season's event in Greensboro and more possibly on the way.

The 2010 tournament in Greensboro drew 93,849 fans, according to a report in the Greensboro News & Record. The 2006 tournament in the same city drew 108,094.

The decline has perplexed and concerned the ACC, whose basketball tournament has always been its showcase event. It was once nearly impossible to get a ticket, but tickets are now plentiful outside the games.

ACC commissioner John Swofford said the league has decided to vary the number of tickets it gives each school, with the total ranging from about 1,000 to 1,900 depending on how close the school is to Greensboro. Swofford also said he believes the conference must look at pricing - right now, books of tickets for the event are the same price, regardless of seat location.

"We need to look at that," Swofford said.

Swofford said his colleagues at other conferences are also seeing attendance at their tournaments decline. The economy, of course, is one issue. The other, Swofford said, is the NCAA Tournament has become so enormous that it dominates interest in March.

ACC football title game looks certain to remain in Charlotte


You can pretty much guarantee the ACC football championship game will be in Charlotte for a while after John Swofford's comments Wednesday to the Raleigh Sports Club.

The game drew marginal interest in Florida before a successful debut in Charlotte in 2010. The local organizers sold 30,000 tickets in advance and the proximity of the market to so many ACC schools is an advantage.

"I think we've probably found a home in Charlotte," Swofford said. The city has a two-year contract with the league, and Swofford said he expects the ACC to make a decision soon after this year's game. In other words, if all goes smoothly this year, the league will continue to return to Charlotte.

The feeling here is the game is Charlotte's to keep as long as it continues to support it.

Swofford 'insulted' by initial offer of $1 billion for TV rights

ACC commissioner John Swofford shared an amusing moment from the negotiations for the ACC's television deal in his speech to the Raleigh Sports Club on Wednesday. The league hired Barney Frank to help with the negotiations, and Swofford said he and Frank were at the first round of meetings with ESPN and Raycom in Charlotte.

"They went through this whole presentation ... and they finally got to the money part. They said, 'For all this, we're going to pay you $1 billion.'"

Swofford, as he had been coached, showed no emotion, and Frank asked him to step out of the room. What was your reaction? Frank asked him. "I said, 'I was insulted about it.' And I was. He said, 'That's what you need to say.'"

Swofford couldn't help but tell the crowd that, having grown up in North Wilkesboro, he felt a bit odd telling someone who offered him $1 billion he was insulted.

The final deal - a rich $2 billion over 12 years.

The deal has significant changes. For example, ACC football games will start at 12:30 p.m., and not at noon. "You'll probably have a few more students awake and out of bed," Swofford joked.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Carolina creates another win despite shooting woes

North Carolina continues to win despite shooting woes. (Carolina beat Wake 78-64 while shooting 37 percent.) The Tar Heels must be doing something right - but what is it?

Well, free throw shooting has improved of late. Against the Deacons, the Heels shot 21 of 28 for 75 percent.

Turnovers are down. The last two games, Carolina has just 17 turnovers combined. The eight against Wake was tied for the lowest number of the year. Kendall Marshall is solid at point guard, dishing out wizard-like assists and not throwing it away.

John Henson and Tyler Zeller are controlling the paint. Zeller has his baby hook going and Henson is blocking shots and intimidating oppponents. They combined for 32 points and 22 rebounds against Wake.

Finally, the Tar Heels created better shots against Wake Forest - they just didn't hit them. It should just be a matter of time before they start dropping. Until they do, there are other ways the Heels can create wins.

For more on the Wake Forest game, please click here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Krzyzewski compares Singler to Battier on defense

Ever thought of Kyle Singler as similar to Shane Battier? Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has.

In fact, on Monday Krzyzewski said Singler is similar to Battier as a defender, which is high praise considering the fact that Battier is considered one of the best defenders Duke has ever had.

“He’s as good a defender as there is in the country,” Krzyzewski said. “Kyle really can defend 1 through 5. …

“He’ll fight everybody. He gets through screens. A beautiful part of his game is how when he is the ball, how he orchestrates our defense. He is like Battier in that regard.

“Defensively he is very similar to Shane. I think he can guard more perimeter positions than Shane. Shane was one of the best talkers we’ve had as far as on defense.”

In case you didn’t know, talking on defense is critical to how Duke plays. If you are close to the floor, you can hear the Devils talking to each other, which is a big point of emphasis for Krzyzewski. So praising Singler in that vein is significant for Krzyzewski.

“Kyle is one of the great defenders who has played here,” Krzyzewski said.

UNC coach attributes three-point shooting woes to shot selection

North Carolina has hit only four of its last 28 three-point shot opportunities. Meanwhile opponents in those last two games have scored on 17 three-point shots. That's 39 more points for opponents from outside in just two games.

The Tar Heels lost one of those games (to Duke) and then squeezed by in the other (against Clemson).

"Duke and Clemson did a nice job of challenging the three-point shot" UNC coach Roy Williams said during his weekly teleconference. "We needed to make some more shots but we need them to miss some too."

He said he thought Duke's Seth Curry and Nolan Smith hit some shots when they were closely guarded. Williams noted that not a lot of players are good at hitting guarded threes. He pointed to Wayne Ellington and Rashad McCants as two he's coached that could do that.

Williams said he's trying to get his team to understand the diffence between an average shot versus a real good shot. "If we take a real good shot, more of them will go in," he said.

He wants to see more movement of the ball and the players themselves to open up some threes. Still, he thought this team would be better at shooting the three.

"I'm surprised by the lack of consistency because we make a lot of shots in practice," Williams said.

"Of course, you don't want to make a living on shooting those shots to begin with."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Redskins' Banks of Garner stabbed outside DC nightclub; expected to recover

The Washington Post is reporting that Washington Redskins punt-kick returner Brandon Banks of Garner has suffered a stab wound to his upper left abdomen while trying to break up a fight outside a DC nightclub, at 3 a.m. Saturday.

His agent, James Gould, said Saturday evening that Banks remains hospitalized but is expected to make a full recovery.

"He is with his parents right now, and is expected to make a full recovery," Gould said in a phone interview. "He was trying to save his boyhood friend (Christopher Nixon), and is very concerned about him right now. Brandon is very upset."

Barnes dunk sparks Heels to victory at Clemson

UNC freshman Harrison Barnes drove, twisted, turned and dunked to break a tie with three minutes to go and started an 8-2 run that bolstered Carolina to a 64-62 win at Clemson.

The Tar Heels came through on the foul line this time, hitting nine of 12 down the stretch. And, it was needed as the Tigers drained three threes in the last 23 seconds. A pair of free throws by UNC point guard Kendall Marshall with four seconds left put the game out of reach at 64-59. Marshall hit 10 of 11 free throws in the second half and didn't commit a turnover in the final stanza.

With the score tied at 51 with 3:30 left, Tyler Zeller came up with a steal. After a timeout called by UNC, the Heels wanted to get the ball to Barnes. Marshall got the ball to Barnes at the top of the key with 14 seconds left on the shot clock. He dribbled right of the foul circle, stumbled a bit, kept moving, changed hands, turned toward the basket, leaving his defender behind midway down the lane and twisted his body to go in for a right-handed dunk.

"It fired Harrison up, our team, our bench," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "To me it was just two points... I wanted us to get our butts back down on defense."

For more on the Clemson game, please click here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Former Red Sox great Dwight Evans says Carolina League is the best

In 2012 the Carolina Mudcats will drop from Double A to Single A. Some may think that's bad news but if you listen to former Boston Red Sox great Dwight Evans, going to the Class A Carolina League is no negative.

Speaking to fans of the Salem (Va.) Red Sox Thursday, Evans said that the Carolina League is "the best" Single A baseball played in the country. In fact, he said fans of Carolina League teams will see players who skip over Double A altogether and go directly to Triple A. As a matter of fact, that's what he did.

In 1971, as a 19-year-old playing for the Winston-Salem Red Sox of the Carolina League, Evans batted .286 but was known from the beginning as a great fielding outfielder. The next season he was promoted past Double A directly to the Triple A Louisville Colonels of the International League. Before the end of that season, he was promoted to the Red Sox at the age of 20 and embarked on a 20-year major league career.

Evans won eight Gold Glove awards, made the all-star team three times and had more home runs in the 1980s than any other player during the decade with 251 of his career 385 homers.

His whole life is a testament to how quickly things can change. "When I was 15, I didn't make the team," Evans said. "I was an alternate and had to travel in street clothes. Two years later, I was drafted by the Boston Red Sox."

Seemingly always positive, Evans said he played with some great players but more importantly played with some great people. Interestingly, though he played only one season with the Orioles (1991), he specifically mentioned the Ripken family. Teammate Cal Jr., who played more consecutive games than anyone in major league history, was the biggest name but he reserved his biggest compliments for brother Billy who he said would "dive on cement" for the ball and his dad Cal Sr. who he said was a "great, great teacher" who would have made a great World War II military leader.

Evans' positive nature has come in handy in his personal life. Though he kept it quiet, much of the time he was playing baseball, he was worried about his children's health. Now both grown and fully functional, his sons both have Neurofibromatosis, a disease where nerve tissue grows tumors and can cause other serious problems.

One son almost died on the operating table during one procedure while the other is undergoing his 39th operation in March. Through the operations and hospitalizations, Dwight and his wife Susan kept it private. During his playing days, Evans often went to the hospital before and after a game. Sometimes he even left games mentally exhausted and went to the hospital while the game was still going on. Yet, apparently, few knew what his family was going through.

Over the years Evans has become involved in raising money for research of Neurofibromatosis, which he said is more common, even though less known, than Cystic Fibrosis or Muscular Dystrophy with one in 2500 being affected.

The Triangle Red Sox Nation club, based in the Raleigh area, got the idea to have Evans sign some balls and photos - which he did Thursday night - in order to auction them off for charity. The group, led by Sean Bunn of Raleigh, has raised more money for the Jimmy Fund than any other Red Sox fan club outside New England.

The Jimmy Fund supports the fight against cancer in children and adults at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The relationship between the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund is the longest standing, most extensive, and most significant team-charity relationship in all of professional sports.

Half the proceeds from the sale of Evans memorabilia will go to the Jimmy Fund for Cancer Research and the other half will go to the neurofibromatosis nonprofit that Evans and his wife Susan have long supported, NF Inc., Northeast.

For information about the Jimmy Fund, visit www.JimmyFund.org, and information about NF Inc. Northeast can be found at www.nfincne.org. Membership in the Triangle Red Sox Nation is free. Baseball fans can join by visiting www.TriangleRedSoxNation.org.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lack of threes and poor foul shooting catches up to Heels as Duke rallies

Erratic three-point shooting and poor foul shooting finally caught up to Carolina this year in a game against rival Duke as a 16-point lead evaporated and ended with a 79-73 Blue Devil victory.

Despite being 7-1 in the ACC coming into the game, Carolina was next to last in the ACC in three-point shooting and eighth in free throw shooting.

It was really a remarkable first half for the Tar Heels as they made Duke look slow and led by 14 at the half. Carolina players were hitting their shots and, with freshman Kendall Marshall at the helm, getting out quickly on the fast break.

But in the second half Duke picked up its intensity and Carolina couldn't buy a basket from outside of about five feet away from the basket.

Carolina was still there late in the game and would have had a good chance at winning if the Heels could have hit their free throws and at least a couple of three pointers.

The Tar Heels were 0 of six from behind the arc in the second half and only two of 14 for the game. Duke got 18 more points from three-point land and two more free throws. That's a 20-point differential.

Carolina hit just 13 of 22 free throws plus the two players best from beyond the arc went a combined one of nine. Freshman Reggie Bullock was 0 of four from three while Leslie McDonald was 1 of five from three. Dexter Strickland, who had been shooting well lately, was in foul trouble and didn't even take a three and took only four shots.

Meanwhile Duke's Nolan Smith scored a career-high 34 points and Seth Curry added a career-high 22. The two scored 41 of Duke's 50 second-half points.

For more on the Duke-Carolina game itself, please click here.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Williams more comfortable with the team he's taking to Duke this year

North Carolina might be coming off a big win over Florida State and UNC may have found a solid point guard but now the Tar Heels have a week where they play at Duke and at Clemson, two teams that beat them by a combined 51 points on their home floors last year.

The Heels, who play at Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday night, were embarrassed 82-50 at Duke last year. While the Tar Heels weren't playing with their full complement of players a year ago, they just weren't very good. Carolina was 16-15 and 5-11 in the ACC after that game.

This time the Tar Heels are 17-5 and 7-1 in the ACC as the teams meet in Durham. Coach Roy Williams, during his weekly media teleconference today, said he was "scared to death" but feels more comfortable with the team he is taking over to Duke this year, especially considering the way they are playing.

He said it would be a "monumental task" to beat the Blue Devils but he is confident that his team will try extremely hard and will play together.

Some have marveled at how quickly the Tar Heels seem to have gotten over the loss of point guard Larry Drew II. Freshman Kendall Marshall, who had won the starting job from Drew four games earlier, had 16 assists in Carolina's impressive 89-69 win over Florida State.

"Kids get over things so much easier and quicker," Williams said adding that coaches have a harder time with adversity. "But it was a tough 48 hours for all of us."

Earlier Dexter Strickland seemed to indicate that Drew along with the Wear twins and Will Graves - four players no longer on the team - were not "all in" when he came to being a part of the Carolina team.

For his part, Williams said that the team practiced really well the two days after learning that Drew had left the team. He said that team chemistry is built throughout the course of the entire season and that adversity, within reason, tends to bring a team together.

"I love coaching the guys we have left," Williams said.

Former Tar Heel and Redskin Hanburger elected to football hall of fame

As we told you back in August, former UNC and Washington Redskins great Chris Hanburger was up for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This past weekend, he was indeed elected to the Hall.

Induction ceremonies are Aug. 6 in Canton, Ohio. Hanburger, now 69 years old, was a center and middle linebacker for the Tar Heels from 1962-1964 and was twice named All-ACC.

The 6-foot-2, 218-pound linebacker played 14 years for the Washington Redskins, appearing in 187 games. He was selected first-team All-NFL four times in five-season span in the mid-1970s. He was voted to nine Pro Bowls.

No. 55 was honored in 2002 as one of the 70 greatest Washington Redskins players of all time. On Sunday, he was introduced at the Super Bowl.

Interestingly, Hanburger, who majored in history, now spends much of his time reading books about American history and says he doesn't keep up with pro football much because it just doesn't interest him. Still, he was excited to get the call.

"It's wonderful," Hanburger said in a conference call. "I am just overwhelmed. It's just a tremendous honor to have been nominated, much less get in. ... It's just a select group that make it."

Lowe blames Leslie's suspension on 'youth,' says he will play Sunday at Wake Forest

N.C. State doesn’t have a game until Sunday at Wake Forest, and perhaps it comes at a good time for the Wolfpack. Tracy Smith’s knee is ailing – again – and State is also looking to get freshman C.J. Leslie back on course after he was suspended from Saturday’s loss at Duke for violating team rules.

Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe said Monday that he expects Leslie to practice Tuesday and play Sunday.

As for the suspension, Lowe said, “I characterize that just as youth, just not understanding the importance of things, little things. …

“It’s just youth. It’s just growth and maturity and understanding there is structure, there is discipline, and it has to be done.”

Lowe also made a pointed remark about the club circuit and its impact on the elite players. Lowe suggested that some of the behavior seen at the college level has its roots in club basketball.

“Unfortunately sometimes kids today – and I hate to talk about the AAU circuit – but there is not a lot of structure and discipline there. And then we get the kid and we have to show them that.”

Wake's Desrosiers develops, gives Deacons hope for future

This has felt like a lost season for Wake Forest, with one ACC win  and a new coaching learning the league and his personnel. But there may be more hope for the Deacons longterm than one believes.
The Deacons lost 91-70 at Maryland Saturday, dropping them to 8-15 overall. But the Deacons started two freshmen and two sophomores, and one of those freshman, center Carson Desrosiers, is starting to show potential. Desrosiers is a slender 7-footer but he is a decent shooter and should improve rapidly.

He scored 11 points and had five rebounds against the Terps. Those are hardly All-ACC numbers, and he is averaging only 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds for the season. Tall players take time to mature, though, and Desrosiers may be a center Wake can build around.

“In a quiet way Carson is slowly becoming one of the the elite freshmen in this league,” Wake coach Jeff Bzdelik said Monday. “Down the road as he acquires the necessary strength to finish around the rim and be able to hold and contest his position around the rim, he will develop into one of the elite big men in the ACC in the future.”

Elite? That’s a strong word, and Bzdelik used it later in the ACC teleconference when referring to freshman point guard Tony Chennault. But the idea that Wake could have high-level players at those two critical positions is important.

Desrosiers, the first native of New Hampshire to play at Wake, had already committed to the Deacons before Bzdelik was hired.

“He could have reneged and gone somewhere else. But a the same time whwne we met, it took him abut 10 mintues to say coach, ‘I’m in.”

“I’m sure glad he did. He’s a cornerstone of our program.”

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Marshall may just make opponents sick now that he's in charge

Kendall Marshall said he threw up at halftime of North Carolina's 89-69 win over Florida State. If his first game without Larry Drew II sharing time is any indication, he's going to be making a lot of opponents and their fans throw up.

Marshall dished out 16 assists, two shy of the all-time Carolina record held by Raymond Felton and breaking the record for a game against an ACC opponent.

He made some spectacular passes including a nifty driving underhand job to Tyler Zeller who dunked it and a long upcourt fastbreak assist to John Henson who dunked it.

Carolina might want to get a bodyguard for Marshall, who saw his minutes go from about 20 a game to 36 against Florida State. Without Drew, he'll have to stay healthy for the Heels to have a chance at an ACC title and a long run in the NCAA tournament.

UNC coach Roy Williams said he'd like to get Marshall's minutes down a bit but backup Dexter Strickland, a shooting guard, hasn't had time to get up to speed at the point.

Williams said Marshall not only is smart but he has a good feel for the game and has good court vision. He can also score when he needs to. He drained a pair of threes against the Seminoles.

The team's shooting percentage should improve as Marshall gets the ball inside for dunks. Carolina will miss Drew's defense but there may be better chemistry now with Marshall playing more minutes.

Maybe the amount of playing time as much as his nerves led to Marshall throwing up. But it was Florida State that felt sick after this game.

For more on the Florida State game itself, please click here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Drew II's move makes no sense

Ok, I get it that Larry Drew II didn't like losing his starting position and I get it that his minutes were down about six minutes a game from last year. But quitting in February with your team in a virtual tie with Duke for No. 1 in the ACC?

He has to sit out a year to play at another Division I school regardless of whether he quits now or at the end of the season. Plus, he had been playing well coming off the bench. I remember John Havlicek was an all-star as the Celtics' sixth man a couple of seasons. There's something special about being able to come off the bench and excel. And Drew was doing that.

While he scored no points against Boston College the other day, he dished out nine assists and had only one turnover. That's a valuable contribution. He also was one of the strongest defensive players on the team. However, he didn't have real strength - both in character to stand up to his father, who very well may have made the decision that he leave, or the thoughtfulness to discuss the possibility with his coach before making the decision.

By leaving now, rather than at the end of the season, he has forfeited his opportunity to be part of the Carolina family for the rest of his life. I felt a little of that feeling just as sports editor of The Daily Tar Heel when I was in college. I occasionally traveled with the team, including to the Final Four twice - once on the team plane and once with the cheerleaders.

To give up that connection and cameraderie for life to simply sit out the next two months makes little to no sense. And it certainly won't make him a better player to not be playing those games.

Further, word is that his teammates didn't know about the decision until ESPN broke the story. Heck, we may have had it up on capitalsportsnc.com before all his teammates knew.

This leads me to believe there is more to this story than just the loss of a starting position. I'm not going to speculate now about what that could be. But it does appear that, as my mom used to say, "he wanted to show his rear end." He wanted to make a spectacle out of himself and the situation, possibly to hurt Coach Roy Williams, his teammates and/or the Carolina program.

Or maybe his father did.

Drew departure continues California exodus from Chapel Hill

The stunning decision by North Carolina guard Larry Drew to leave Chapel Hill in the middle of the semester continues a trend in which recruits from the state of California have not remained in Chapel Hill.

Under Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge, the Tar Heels rarely went to California for players. Center Scott Williams was one of the few from that state to play in Chapel Hill. But Roy Williams had established deep connections to California in his time at Kansas, and he continued to recruit that state, with success, at UNC.

But the shocking news that Drew is leaving marks the fourth time a California product has left Chapel Hill early under Williams. Alex Stepheson transferred to Southern Cal after playing the 2007 and 2008 seasons in Chapel Hill.

Last season, David and Travis Wear surprised Williams after the season when their father told him after the season they were transferring. They eventually picked UCLA.

Drew continued that trend Friday, and in a manner similarly surprising. Williams, in a news release, said Drew’s father told him the son would leave. (You’d think the players, in the cases of both the Wears and Drew, would have had the nerve to tell the coach themselves).

Regardless, it’s a stunning development for a team that appeared to be hitting its stride with that win at Boston College.

Carolina never seemed to play to its potential with Drew at point guard, and UNC fans heaped criticism on him for last season’s failures. Fair or not, it was clear Carolina had renewed fire when Kendall Marshall took over at point. Marshall is a deft passer and his teammates just exude more joy and confidence with him on the floor.

Drew had appeared to take the demotion gracefully. He played 19 minutes in the impressive win at Boston College Tuesday. He didn’t score a point but had nine assists. From the outside, he certainly appeared ready to share the ball and put winning first.

With Drew gone, that knocks a hole in Carolina’s depth, but not one that is unsurmountable. It solidifies Marshall’s job at point guard and means Reggie Bullock will get more minutes. Not a bad thing but still, a stunning development in Chapel Hill, where players rarely voice public displeasure over playing time.

Report: Larry Drew II leaves Tar Heels, will transfer

ESPN is reporting, "In a jarring February development, North Carolina point guard Larry Drew II has left the Tar Heels team and will transfer, according to a source close to the situation."


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Super Bowl players, coaches have links to the ACC

ACC RELEASE - No fewer than 20 players or coaches on the Super Bowl participating teams have connections to current Atlantic Coast Conference schools. Below is a listing of players and coaches from the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers who have connections to current Atlantic Coast Conference schools.
Also five former Super Bowl MVPs have been from current ACC schools. They are listed as well.

Pittsburgh Steelers (13)
Coaches (3)
Bruce Arians, Offensive Coordinator
Quarterback at Virginia Tech (1971-74)
Graduate Assistant Coach at Virginia Tech (1975)

Scottie Montgomery, Assistant Coach, Wide Receivers
Lettered four season as a wide receiver at Duke
Assistant Coach, Wide Receivers, Duke (2006-09)

Jerry Olsavsky, Defensive Assistant
One season as strength coach at North Carolina (2002).

Players (10)
Crezdon Butler, DB, Clemson
Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech
Nick Eason, DE, Clemson
James Farrior, ILB, Virginia
Keyaron Fox, LB, Georgia Tech
Bryant McFadden, CB, Florida State
Heath Miller, TE, Virginia
Lawrence Timmons, ILB, Florida State
Greg Warren, LS, North Carolina
Jason Worilds, OLB, Virginia Tech

Green Bay Packers (7)
Coaches (3)
Winston Moss, Assistant Head Coach, Inside Linebackers
Lettered four years at Miami (1983-86) including 1983 National Championship Team

Edgar Bennett, Assistant Coach, Running Backs
Four–year starter at fullback for Florida State (1987-91)
Florida State Athletics Hall of Fame

Jimmy Robinson, Assistant Coach, Wide Receivers
Lettered four years as wide receiver at Georgia Tech (1971-74)
Assistant Coach at Georgia Tech (1987-89)
Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame

Players (4)
B. J. Raji, NT, Boston College
Sam Shields, CB, Miami
Robert Francois, LB, Boston College
Morgan Burnett, DB, Georgia Tech (IR)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bullock's four three pointers changed the game quickly for UNC

The three-point shot can certainly change games in a hurry and it did so during North Carolina's 106-74 drubbing of Boston College. It looked as if BC might continue its ACC dominance at home after hitting four threes in a row to get out to an 18-13 lead.

But UNC's Reggie Bullock went unconscious over a three-minute period with four three-pointers. His three from the right corner gave Carolina its first lead at 19-18. About 40 seconds later Bullock hit a three from the left corner and just over a minute later he swished a three from the left side to put the Tar Heels up 29-22.

At the end of the day, Boston College had 13 three-pointers compared to 11 by Carolina. But the time of the game in which the threes were made was big plus BC shot a lot more threes. You live by it and you die by it. Carolina hit 52 percent of its three pointers while BC hit 39 percent.

For more on the Boston College game itself, please click here.

Florida State grabs dominant recruiting class

Back at Operation Basketball in October in Charlotte, a Florida State media relations person made an interesting comment in the hallway. The conversation turned to football, where the Seminoles had once owned the ACC.

“We’re going to be what we used to be,” he said. Really? Asked a Capital Sports reporter. Why?

Jimbo Fisher is just bringing it together, he explained. The coaching staff, the organization, the entire program was falling into place.

On signing day, we’ll see it. North Carolina has a good recruiting class and N.C. State has a perplexing one, but the Seminoles have a great one. Football coaches love to say you can’t truly gauge a class for five years, and there is some truth in that, but the teams that win big on the field tend to win big on signing day. Just look at Alabama – Nick Saban came in and turned the program around with some monster recruiting classes.

Florida State is poised for a tremendous day Wednesday. The Seminoles have 25 commitments and 10 are ranked in the Top 100 by Scout.com. Four are five-star recruits, 10 are four-star recruits and 11 are three-star recruits.

The next closest ACC team is Clemson, at No. 18, followed by UNC at No. 19. As of Tuesday night, Carolina had one five-star recruit and five four-stars. Ratings are just guesses – Russell Wilson was a two-star – but the chance of getting a stud goes up with the number of stars.

One interesting note on Florida State’s class – its only quarterback so far is three-star recruit Jacob Coker of Mobile, Ala.

Ten reasons why I liked the U.S. figure skating championships

Caitlin Yankowskas.
Becky Bereswill.Alissa Czisny.Gretchen Donlan.
Caydee Denney.
Madison Hubbell.Madison Chock.Meryl Davis.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Wolfpack goes blank on Saturday, and for a moment Monday morning

N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe obviously has more to worry about than the ACC media teleconference, but there was an awkward moment Monday morning when his phone line died in the middle of an answer to The News & Observer’s Joe Giglio.

Giglio asked about how hard the Wolfpack plays, and whether Saturday’s loss at North Carolina was an aberration.

“Um, I think this group will play hard. Saturday, that was just a game. I don’t know, it was a weird game. Guys seemed to be ready n the locker room, ready to go to and excited, with good energy,” Lowe responded.

“Initially, when we don’t hit a few shots early, our defense seems to suffer a little bit. Our energy goes down. And we can’t have that.

“We have to be better at overcoming that early drought of not hitting shots and picking up on the defensive end.”

Whoops! Not long after that, Lowe’s line went blank (Wonder if he has AT&T as his cell service?)

After a minute or so, he was back on the line. In the remaining time, Lowe touched on a variety of points involving the Wolfpack team. One was that State doesn’t seem to have great balance when it comes to scoring, and the return of Tracy Smith after an injury hasn’t bolstered the team as expected.

“I can’t remember the last time we had a game where everybody played well. We haven’t had that in a while,” he said. “Having Tracy back certainly helped but we need other people to play well for us. We’ve had a couple of times now where we would take three or four players who played the majority of minutes and they went 4 for 16. And we can’t do that.

“But with Tracy back we should be better defensively. I don t think we’ve taken advantage of that. I don’t think we’ve defended as well as we need. We need to get games where we have more than two guys playing well.”

Speakingly broadly, Lowe had an almost deflated tone in this news conference. He talked about how tough the Wolfpack’s schedule has been in ACC play, and how this team still has time to make a run, but if you listened to his tone of voice, you had a hard time believing this team is about to roar through the rest of the season.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vision, facilities lead to successful All-Star Weekend

The ultra-successful All-Star Weekend in Raleigh was a testament to two critical factors when it comes to professional sports – facilities and vision.

Raleigh had the foresight to commit to building the RBC Center before it had a hockey team, which was a key reason the Hartford Whalers moved south. Pro teams follow the money, and money often means a swank place to play with friendly rent.

Raleigh’s big mistake, as the weekend also highlighted, was the failure to build the arena downtown. Then-mayor Tom Fetzer led the decision to go to cheaper land at the Fairgrounds, even though the downtown renaissance was already under way. The expectation then was businesses would grow up around the new arena, but that hope has never materialized. Meanwhile, the downtown area was the focus of three days of partying for the weekend.

Also due a heaping amount of credit is Jim Cain, the Raleigh product who was the Carolina Hurricanes’ president at a time when the future of the franchise was no given. Cain’s name hasn’t come up much in the reports on the weekend, but he was essential to what happened this weekend.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promised an All-Star Game in five years if the Canes hit 12,000 season tickets, and Carolina announced on May 31, 2001, that it had sold 12,309 season tickets. A late push by Harris Teeter, which bought 1,000 season tickets, put Carolina over the goal.

“People don’t have to talk about this franchise anymore as a franchise that doesn’t care about hockey,” Cain said at the time. “We’ve got a great community here, a great fan-base and a great organization.”

The NHL hemmed and hawed on its commitment but finally delivered this weekend. The wait was longer than it should have been but wow, was it worth it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hubba, hubba, Czisny back as America's best in skating

Alissa Czisny, reason enough for red-blooded American males to watch figure skating, is back as America's best female skater after taking the U.S. Figure Skating Championship tonight in the sold-out Greensboro Coliseum.

"It's pretty exciting to come back after thinking about quitting," Czisny said, "and being able to find my love for the sport again. I love to skate and I want to share it with everybody."

Third after Friday's short program, Czisny skated a near-perfect, fluid, energetic long program routine to hold off last year's champion Rachel Flatt, who made two minor errors in her long program.

Czisny, who has struggled with confidence in the past, appears to be back after finishing 10th in the U.S. championships last year. She also won the U.S. title in 2009 but had struggled until beating the world's best recently at the Grand Prix final.

"She has so many things you can't teach," former men's champion Scott Hamilton said. "She has a beautiful presence on the ice. You can develop it but what she brings with her spinning and her artistic sense is really amazing."

Even before the end of her long program, Czisny was smiling as she knew she had nailed it. "What else could you want in a woman figure skater?" Hamilton asked. "Alissa Czisny has it all and she just delivered it. What a comeback."

Mirai Nagasu, on the other hand, faltered in the long program after leading going into Saturday night. Small errors throughout dropped her to third.

Flatt, competing last, was third after the short program and couldn't overtake Czisny. "She put together a good routine but two mistakes are too many to hold off a performance like the one delivered by Alissa Czisny," Hamilton said.

Czisny, who leads the U.S. team to the world championships in Toyko in March, finished with 191.24 points, while Flatt had 183.38 and Nagasu had 177.26.

The men's champion, with favorites Ryan Bradley and Jeremy Abbott fighting it out, will be determined Sunday. The event closes with a skating spectacular performance Sunday night.

Hometown paper really playing up the NHL All-Star weekend in Raleigh

The News & Observer, which has taken some shots from critics as newspapers have struggled economically, is doing an admirable job covering the NHL All-Star activities being held in its hometown of Raleigh.

The city has been partying downtown since Friday night and the N&O has been there to cover many angles of the story as well as the events themselves which include a Fan Fair, an all-star draft and a skills competition.

Team Staal, as in the Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal, defeated Team Lindstrom, as in Detroit Redwings' Nicklas Lindstrom, in the SuperSkills competition at the RBC Center tonight.

For complete coverage of the skills competition as well as the entire NHL All-Star weekend, including a preview of Sunday's All-Star game, go to the N&O's website at www.newsobserver.com/allstars

ESPN's TV audience misses Harrison Barnes' coming out party

In North Carolina's 84-64 win over N.C. State, Harrison Barnes had a coming-out party of sorts, especially in the first few minutes. Too bad ESPN didn't show it.

Barnes, who scored 25 points, hit his first four shots of the game to lead Carolina out to a 13-2 advantage. Barnes has had some clutch shooting at the end of games but he hasn't started (and maintained) solid play until this game.

Unfortunately, ESPN decided that people who tuned in to watch the North Carolina vs. N.C. State game would rather be treated to a portion - A LIVE LOOK-IN they call it - of an overtime game between Louisville and UConn.

The Tar Heels game was already in progress thanks to an overtime game between Georgetown and Villanova, which one or the other eventually won. The Heels were up 7-2, two minutes into the game when the Georgetown-Villanova game ended.

ESPN decided they would do a full one-minute wrap-up of that game and then send viewers to the LIVE LOOK-IN of Louisville and UConn instead of immediately switching to the Carolina game which they had advertised to viewers as coming on at 2 p.m. If you tuned in to watch the Carolina-State game right at 2 p.m., you got to start watching it more than 16 minutes later.

By the way, when ESPN decided to switch to the Carolina game, not only was the score 13-2 and Barnes had his best start this season, but the game they had given us a LIVE LOOK-IN of was tied at 69 - nothing had been determined. So, we watched nothing be determined in a game we weren't supposed to be watching while certainly the tone for the game we were supposed to be watching was determined.

Was there one Louisville or UConn fan in the country - or even basketball fan in the country - tuning in to the UNC-N.C. State game with hopes of getting a sliver of the Louisville-UConn game?

ESPN has gotten too big for its britches. They have too much power with no consequences for their foolish decisions. I've said it a dozen times but if you are scheduling two games back-to-back, you've got to give more than two hours for the first game to be completed. If you have a 12 noon game, your next game should not be scheduled to start before 2:30.

Further, if you advertise that you are showing the Carolina-N.C. State game, then by God you should show the Carolina-N.C. State game. If I wanted to watch Big East basketball, I would buy the Big East package or I would go to a sports bar or I'd friggin' move out of ACC country.

If ESPN doesn't have the technology to allow people in the ACC viewing area to actually watch entire ACC basketball games, then they should allow the ACC Network to also air ACC matchups. In other words, the Carolina-State game would have also been on WRAL in Raleigh for instance.

It's really past time for someone to reign in the influence and power ESPN has - they aren't good stewards of it.

For more on the N.C. State game itself and more commentary on ESPN, please click here.

No excuse for lazy effort by N.C. State

The North Carolina game is always a crucible for N.C. State, a test that football coach Tom O’Brien has embraced. But the men’s basketball team produced an embarrassing effort Saturday that highlighted the deficiencies of this Wolfpack team.

State has talent, but that’s not enough. Whether Ryan Harrow is on the bench or not with the flu, there is no excuse, none at all, for lazy play. College basketball players, whether playing their rival in the Smith Center on ESPN or playing Delaware State before a small crowd, should give their all. UNC did that Saturday, and great coaches like Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski get maximum effort from their teams.

That’s not the case with N.C. State. Carolina roared out to a 19-6 lead early in the game thanks to a 15-2 rebounding advantage. That’s simply an outrageous imbalance. One of the rare mistakes the Tar Heels made in the game is they once had six players on the floor, which was comical given that UNC seemed capable of winning this game with only four.

But there were little moments that were telling. Carolina’s Kendall Marshall zoomed right down the middle of the NCSU defense untouched, missed a shot and there were two Tar Heels to rebound. Richard Howell got caught in a double-team, and as ESPN astutely pointed out, not a single Wolfpacker rushed to get the ball. You could see it clearly on the replay – with Howell in trouble, his four teammates just stood there.

State never moved with crisp efficiency on offense, preferring to hope a player could beat his man and get a basket.

And as for overall hustle, you just didn’t see that from State. Harrison Barnes once beat two Wolfpack players to a loose ball. Late in the game, C.J. Leslie made almost no effort for a loose ball as two Carolina players went after it.

The only conclusion you can draw is N.C. State is simply a lazy team. They have some guys who play hard – Tracy Smith, Lorenzo Brown, Ryan Harrow – but not enough. By game’s end, UNC fans were chanting, “Not our rival!” Right now, that’s the case.

This was a ridiculous performance from N.C. State, and it’s school, and fan base, deserve better.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When will these younguns learn not to yell "overrated" at Harrison Barnes

You think that might be the last time that idjit students yell "over-rated, over-rated" at Harrison Barnes?

It's the most foolish chant in college basketball. Nothing good can come from it. Do they really think it will do anything but inspire the player, especially one that is used to being the center of attention.

The Hurricane fans yelled "over-rated" at Barnes over and over again as he stood at the free throw stripe with 5:57 to go. He calmly hit two free throws in a one-and-one situation to put the Heels up 63-62.

Then with just 1:04 left, Barnes, who went just four of 11 on the night, swished in a pressure-filled 18 footer from the left side to tie the game at 71-all.

Then with time running down in the shot clock and the game clock, Barnes knocked in a three from right corner to give Carolina a 74-71 victory tonight.

While not living up to the All-America hype, Barnes has consistently come through in late-game situations.

"He's not afraid to take it," UNC coach Roy Williams said of the clutch shooting. "He thinks he's going to make it every time."

By the way, the "over-rated, over-rated" chat is even more foolish when it is used against an opposing team. If you win the game, you have minimized your team's victory by simply winning a game against an overrated team.

For more on the Miami game, please click here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

State gets a big win, will go as far as Harrow can take them

There are big games and biggest games and games you simply have to have. Sunday's contest with Miami was just that for N.C. State at an RBC Center where the disgruntled nature of Wolfpack fans was evident in the swath of open seats downstairs.

State won 72-70 but had to hang on after coughing up a 17-point lead in the second half. Coach Sidney Lowe is hardly having an impressive effort this year, and a loss Sunday would have been disastrous for Lowe's tenure. To his credit, his team hung on and played with toughness in the final two minutes.

Miami actually had a 70-69 lead when freshman Ryan Harrow took a tough driving shot that missed badly. But Tracy Smith tipped the ball so hard it ricocheted off the backboard. Then Smith grabbed it, leaned to his right and scooped in a shot with 43.9 seconds left.

Harrow stole the ball at the other end, and C.J. Williams hit one free throw for State with 15.9 seconds left.

State made an impressive defensive stand on the other end. Lowe wisely put Scott Wood on the Canes' Malcolm Grant, who had hit all five of his three-pointers and had 23 points in the game. Grant tried to shoot but Wood cut him off, so Grant made a wild drive and Smith stepped in. Grant's only chance was a tough pass inside a teammate could not handle, and the horn went off with the ball loose.

What was interesting about this game was who did play, and who did not. The debate over point guard, where Lowe had stubbornly clung to Javier Gonzalez, is over. Gonzalez, a scrappy kid with marginal skills, got only nine minutes and Harrow played the critical minutes in the stretch. C.J. Leslie, the talented but erratic freshman, played just 14 minutes against the rugged Canes front. And freshman Lorenzo Brown, who had started most of the season, gave way to Williams in the starting five but still played 22 minutes.

The team that finished the game - Smith, Harrow, Williams, Wood, Richard Howell - is probably State's core five going forward. If the long injury to Smith helped in any way, it is probably that Howell gained critical experience and State saw what Leslie can, and cannot, do.

The official attendance was 15,222, but empty seats are a sure sign of a fan base that is losing faith. N.C. State got a win it coveted against a Miami team that is better than some might think. Harrow learned some hard lessons - like the wild shot he took toward the end - but State has to keep the ball in his hands. He was just 2 of 10 from the floor Saturday but had seven assists. Heck, when Gonzalez played, it seemed like months would go by without him getting seven assists.

When you watch N.C. State, you get the sense that Smith is one of the league's best players, but that this team will go as far as Harrow can take them, and no further.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wake could be headed toward 0-16

Wake Forest bottomed out in the ACC Tournament again last year and then in the NCAAs, prompting athletics director Ron Wellman to fire Dino Gaudio and hire Jeff Bzdelik. Given Wellman’s brilliant hiring record, it was easy to assume he saw much beyond the 36-58 record he had as the head coach of Colorado for three years.
Bzdelik did not inherit the ’74 Wolfpack by any means, but the disaster unfolding in Winston-Salem is beyond expectations. Wake fans who saw the team early shook their heads at the talent on the floor, and what has unfolded meets those concerns. The Deacons are now 0-5 in ACC play and 7-13 overall, and the only surprise from their 83-59 loss to Duke Saturday in Winston-Salem is they kept the game as close as they did.
All of this could point to a winless ACC mark for Wake, which has happened only five times in league history. Here are those previous five:
1987: Maryland 0-14, 9-17
1986: Wake Forest 0-14, 8-21
1981: Ga. Tech 0-14, 4-23
1955: Clemson 0-14, 2-21
1954: Clemson 0-14, 5-18
Note team has ever gone 0-16 in conference play, which Wake has a shot at this season.
The question has been raised as to whether Wake could be the worst team ever in the ACC, and the answer to that is a definitive no. Clemson’s lousy records in the league’s early years speak for themselves, and the ’55 squad allowed 73.7 points per game and allowed 93.3. The 1981 Tech team was truly terrible at a time when the league featured giants at UNC and Virginia. Tech scored 55.7 points and allowed 71.5 in an era in which teams often slowed the pace.
The view here is Wake Forest’s Wellman remains the best athletics director in the ACC, and his ability to turn around the football program and develop nonrevenue sports is remarkable. But Wellman rushed the decision to hire Gaudio after the death of Skip Prosser, and so far, the hiring of Bzdelik is off to an ominous start.

Olympic skating champ Lysacek in Greensboro Jan. 30

2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek will participate in the Smucker's Skating Spectacular held on the final Sunday of the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. The Spectacular will be taped on Sunday, Jan. 30 for broadcast on NBC Saturday, Feb. 5 from 2:30-4:30 p.m. ET.

Following the Smucker's Skating Spectacular, ticket holders will be invited to remain in the arena for the taping of two uniquely choreographed performances that will be broadcast as part of the U.S. Figure Skating event RISE, on February 17. Randy Gardner, 1979 World pairs champion and choreographer on the television show "Skating with Celebrities," will choreograph both special skating pieces for RISE, including the exhibition by Lysacek.

As an official spokesperson for RISE, Lysacek will be in Greensboro during the Championships to promote the February 17 event by skating in the Spectacular and filming his RISE exhibition performance.

Tickets for the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships All-Event, Weekend, Matinee and Evening ticket packages, as well as single-session and Smucker's Skating Spectacular tickets are on sale. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.northcarolina2011.com/all-event-tickets.html.

The event starts today and runs through Jan. 30. There are free practice sessions available to the public as well as tickets starting as low as $10. The U.S. women's, mens, pairs and ice dancing champions will determined during the event.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Duke, N.C. State are two teams heading different directions

N.C. State and Duke were two teams going in separate directions Wednesday at the RBC Center, as the Blue Devils rolled to a 92-78 victory over a Wolfpack team that still struggles to play defense.

Duke's depth was evident, and the play of sophomore Andre Dawkins was particularly impressive. Dawkins skipped his senior year of high school to enroll a year early last season after Gerald Henderson left for the pros, but he had little impact on the championship year as Duke favored a big lineup. Dawkins averaged just 4.4 points and with Kyrie Irving coming in and Seth Curry eligible, you expected him to get swept aside this season.

Instead, he appears to be solidifying a spot in the starting rotation as Curry's defensive woes are highlighted in the rugged conference play. Dawkins played 23 minutes and scored eight points at the RBC Center, and as you watched the game, he clearly seemed comfortable on the court. Irving's situation is hard to predict - and you can't blame his family for being cautious with an NBA future ahead - and so there are minutes to be had in the backcourt. Dawkins looks like he can hold the job, and that gives Duke real depth there with Curry available for sharp-shooting duties.

Last year, Duke used its loss at N.C. State to redefine itself and become a halfcourt, grind-it-out team. This year, the Devils are heading toward more balance as players like Dawkins exert themselves.

N.C. State is spiraling down a different path. Losing to Duke is no reason for shame, but the Wolfpack now faces a huge game Sunday at the RBC Center against Miami. The Hurricanes are 12-5 overall and 1-2 in the league and a team State should beat. But the Pack can't take anything for granted.

"There are still a lot of games left," coach Sidney Lowe said after the game, according to The News & Observer. "But we need a run. We need a nice run. It's not a panic situation. But too many of those [losses], and yeah, it will be."

Games at Clemson and UNC follow the Miami game, and State's 11-7, 1-3 record could soon take a beating.

All it takes against Duke is to have three bad minutes

One can make the argument that Duke's game at N.C. State tonight was won (or lost, depending on how you look at it) during a three-minute period of the first half.

With Duke leading just 16-14, the Devils went on a 16-4 run in just under three minutes, starting with an Andre Dawkins bucket at the 11:09 mark and ending with a three-point shot by Tyler Thornton with 8:15 left in the half.

State went from just two down to 14 down at 32-18, the same margin of defeat - 92-78.

The Wolfpack really played the Devils evenly in the second half, in fact each team scored 50 points. What a game it would have been had State played the first half the same way - or at least those three minutes.


ECU football coach makes statement about his health

East Carolina University football coach Ruffin McNeill had weight reduction surgery last week in advance of a hip surgery later this year. He released a statement today:

"I am appreciative and deeply touched by the caring support so many have extended to me as I work through another one of life's journeys. My first priority is to regain an active lifestyle that will not only benefit myself physically, but put me in a position to provide uninterrupted leadership to our football program and service to East Carolina University.

"It is a blessing to be under the best of care by two of the finest doctors in the country, who have implemented a team approach to allow me to reach these goals. The first step was to address the strain I was putting on my body and I am pleased to announce I am successfully in the recovery phase of bariatric surgery last Thursday (Jan. 13). It is our plan that this procedure will precede hip replacement surgery later in the spring that will allow the pain-free mobility I have longed for over the last few years.

"While I understand the process has only started, my commitment to get back in the weight room and resume a daily workout routine runs deep. My wife Erlene, my daughters, our football team and the Pirate Nation has and continues to serve as an inspiration for me."

Roy Williams not happy with effort, being questioned by fans

Roy Williams used the postgame news conference Tuesday to rip Carolina fans who asked questions about the team. And he used his radio show Monday to rip his players, who he feels doesn’t hustle as much as he would like.

Williams, no question, is a demanding coach with a strong sense of what he wants from his program. But there is little question the team didn’t perform well at Georgia Tech Sunday, and when you read the quotes from the radio program on InsideCarolina.com, it’s jarring how sharp Williams is in his criticism.

When a caller asked about defending shooters and said, “It’s painful watching those guys hit wide open 3-pointers,” Williams shot back, “You think it’s painful for you? What the [heck] do you think about our staff? We don’t enjoy that stuff, either.”

And in discussing the nature of today’s athletes, Williams made a long, and interesting, point.

"And you know the old stories about people shoveling snow so that they could play on an asphalt court? I did that. You’ve heard the story – I used to break into the gym so much and the policeman got so concerned that I was going to break my neck, he got the principal to give me the dadgum key. I get frustrated when I feel like my team doesn’t invest enough or cares about it enough or loses itself in the team,” he said, according to the InsideCarolina.com transcript. "And in today’s culture, it’s hard. I’ve got half of the guys on my team that their mom and dad and their friends and everything think that they’re going to make $88 million. They could give a flip whether we win a game or not. They want their guy to get 37 shots and play 50 minutes in a 40-minute game. The culture is hard on kids nowadays, and I understand that, but it makes coaching harder…

"It’s something that I’ve told many teams – if you cared one-tenth about it as much as I do, [gosh] it would be a lot of fun.”

After the Clemson win, he was still miffed about those radio questions.

"My radio call in show last night stunk," Williams told reporters. "Everybody's talking about there being Carolina fans for nine million years and how bad we were. I don’t give a damn how long they've been Carolina fans. …"So don’t call me next week saying how good we are. Keep your damn phone calls to yourself.”

Needless to say, we can’t wait for next week’s radio show. But all those comments continue a trend in which Williams is rarely wrong. Fans are wrong to question the program … players don’t show the hustle of the past.

This prompted Mark Armstrong of WTVD to make a smart comment on his Twitter account: “The meta-question re Roy's annoyance is whether it drives him into early retirement. Wonder if he's getting much joy out of his job.”

Interesting point. But regardless of what fans say on call-in shows - and the view here is fans have a right to their opinion - is the coaches are ultimately responsible for how their teams perform.