Saturday, January 8, 2011

Heels 62, UVA 56: Good things come out of a not-so-good game

The TV announcers kept talking about what a good game the UNC at Virginia game was. And I normally like lower scoring, fewer possession games. But this was not a good game.

It was a good 62-56 win for the Tar Heels, who rallied from 11 down in the second half to win a road game to start the ACC season. But this was not a good game.

This was a game that was tied with 2:56 to go and was a one-point game with 38 seconds to go. But this was not a good game.

Neither team shot very well. And while it was close at the end, the game didn't really seem close throughout. Carolina had a big lead early and Virginia had a big lead in the second half.

The 12-minute stretch during the middle of the game when Carolina scored just two points was like watching paint dry. Despite the futility, the Cavaliers came out of the 12 minutes with only an eight-point lead.

The game did show that Carolina can hit free throws - especially with John Henson on the bench as the Heels canned 14 of their last 16 from the line.

And the game did show that this Carolina team, when it gets behind, is tougher than last year's team. This team is willing to grind it out and keep playing its game until something breaks for them.

For more on the Virginia game, please click here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

UNC team pranksters sticky note John Henson's entire car

With a little time on their hands during break, the North Carolina Tar Heel players have been pulling pranks on one another.

One of the latest comes at the hands of the subs who come in at the end of games to mop up to a chorus of "shoot, shoot" from the Carolina students living out their George Plimpton-like dreams. The victim was John Henson whose car was covered with 2400 sticky notes. Click here for video.

The players - Daniel Bolick, Stewart Cooper, DJ Johnston, Patrick Crouch and David Dupont - have dubbed themselves "Blue Steel." Henson thought the culprits were Larry Drew and Justin Watts who had earlier been the victims of pranks themselves.

A retaliation attack of cotton balls, baby powder and Saran Wrap was made on Johnston's car today.

Players and coaches alike seem to have enjoyed the hijinks and say that this team has good chemistry. The Tar Heels take on Virginia to open the ACC season at noon

Title IX investigations are generally a waste of time and money

Just nine months ago the feds closed an 18-month case against the Orange County Schools for supposedly shortchanging girls athletic teams. The U.S. Office for Civil Rights investigated gender equity in the district's athletics programs and found the complaint to be groundless. Again, it took a year and a half for them to investigate and find the complaint groundless.

Now the feds are coming after the Wake County Schools based on an accusation from the National Women’s Law Center that Wake and 11 other school systems across the country have failed to provide high school girls with equal opportunities as boys to play interscholastic sports.

Title IX was a commendable venture when it started in 1972. There were few opportunities for girl athletes. Now that there are lots of opportunities, radical feminist groups like the National Women's Law Center are unnecessarily politicizing Title IX and pushing it to the extremes.

What they and the feds don't want to admit is that men and women are different. While women outnumber men about 60 percent to 40 percent in society, men care more about athletics in general than women. They watch sports more and they play sports more. They have more interest in sports and they are generally better at sports than women. Take the best male athlete and the best female athlete in any sport and compare.

Colleges are especially hurt by Title IX today. Many more women are attending universities today than they did in 1972. So, the percentage of women's teams have had to increase yet men remain more interested in athletics than women. Over a 15-year period in the '90s and '2000s, something like 6,000 opportunities for women were added while something like 20,000 opportunities for men were lost.

Schools are forced to field women's teams at the expense of men's teams because of overzealous social engineering. Benefitting a handful of female students at the expense of a bunch of male students doesn't seem fair to me. And Title IX was meant to be about fairness, wasn't it?

Fielding women's teams where there is no wide interest of potential players or little interest of fans creates a financial burden on athletic budgets.

If a high school or college has 60 percent females, do they really need 60 percent of the athletic opportunites? If you take 100 women and 100 men and ask them about their interests, I bet more than 90 percent of the men would include sports in their first two or three interests whereas I bet the number of women including sports would be half that, especially when you are talking about playing sports. Yet females have to have more of the sports opportunities?

A 10-year-old case against the Tacoma, Wash. school district has been recently settled. Someone wasn't happy that while the school district had 51 percent males, 57 percent of athletes in the district were males. Today, athletic participation by males is 50 percent. So, you would think that men and women are equally interested in sports. In order to placate the feds, girls' teams are now fielded in water polo, wrestling and, get this, bowling. There are 12 girls' athletic teams now and 10 boys' athletic teams. Really? So, are girls now suddenly more interested in sports than boys?

I haven't seen the big drumbeat for women's wrestling but I guess if you dress 'em up like the ones on TV, you'll at least have some male fans showing up to watch.

At my son's preschool, not one teacher or administrator is male. I assume this is because of a disproportionate interest of females to have those jobs and not some plot against men. But maybe I should call the feds in for an 18-month investigation just to make sure.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Panthers should take Clemson DE Bowers

Now that Andrew Luck is out of the picture for the Carolina Panthers, the top choice in the NFL Draft should be a player familiar to football fans here - Da'Quan Bowers of Clemson.

Bowers is 6 feet 4 and 280 pounds and one of the few elite rushers expected to be available in the draft. Carolina has the No. 1 pick, and we're not fans of NFL teams drafting local guys to sell tickets. After a game or two, all that wears off. But getting Julius Peppers with the second pick overall was a perfect example of a local guy - UNC - who also fit the need of the region's team.

Carolina is in the same boat now. Peppers joined a downtrodden team and helped turn it into a winner. Bowers is as destructive a force on defense as the ACC has seen since Peppers, and he'd help the Panthers right away.

On offense, it remains true that Carolina is going to have to find out if Jimmy Clausen can win in the NFL after all.  The Panthers have a horrible offense, with Steve Smith and the offensive line declining. But defense is an even more urgent problem. Charles Johnson had 11.5 sacks for Carolina at one end, but he has little help. Adding Bowers would be a start toward respectability on defense, and a great defense always has been the foundation of Carolina's best teams.

Pack basketball living dangerously with slow starts

This is the year of living dangerously for the N.C. State men's basketball team. The Wolfpack beat Elon 87-72 Wednesday night at the Greensboro Coliseum, but it was another game in which State was behind and in trouble.

We take plays off," freshman guard Ryan Harrow told Pack Pride. "That's what we have to get better at."

Harrow made a great point. If you look at the Pack's performance so far, what you see is a good record but one built on uneven performances:

* State beat Tennessee Tech in the opener 82-69 but led just 37-34 at halftime.
* State trailed ECU 23-22 but won,85-65
* State was down 56-55 to George Mason before winning, 78-65
* State led Fairleigh Dickinson by just four points in the second half before winning, 77-67
* State had a slow start against USC Upstate before winning 79-60
* State trailed Youngstown State 31-13 before winning, 67-50
* State needed a last-second shot to beat Delaware State 72-70
* State trailed Elon by 10 in the first half before winning, 87-72

Now, is any single game there indicative of disaster? Of course not. But slow starts are going to hard to overcome in places like Clemson and Virginia, let alone Duke and UNC. State has an easy ACC opener Saturday against Wake Forest - of course, the Pack could turn that into a cliff-hanger - and the schedule gets tougher after that.

This is a young team, and one that will grow. But, whew, you just wonder what ACC play holds if the Wolfpack continues to start so slowly. The larger question that looms over the program is whether this coaching staff has the team ready to play. A few slow starts is one thing - a pattern of behavior is another.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Brian Goodwin, UNC baseball star, to transfer

University of North Carolina sophomore outfielder Brian Goodwin will transfer to Miami-Dade Community College for the 2011 season. The Rocky Mount native started all 60 games last year, batted .291 and was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America.

Goodwin had been suspended from the team this season due to academic reasons. By playing at a community college, he would be available for the pro baseball draft in June. He could also opt to transfer back to a four-year school after the spring semester. No word if either UNC or Goodwin would be interested in his return.

ACC bowl performance caps disappointing season

What an ugly loss for Virginia Tech Monday night in the Orange Bowl, a 40-12 drubbing at the hands of Stanford. That loss put the ACC at 4-4 in bowls this season, with Boston College still to play Nevada in San Francisco's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (huh?) on Jan. 9 (what? Isn't that time for spring football?).

So how often can we say N.C. State and North Carolina came through for the league in football? But this year, that's the way it played out, with those schools getting wins while the rest of the ACC largely floundered.

Florida State beat South Carolina 26-17 in the Chick-fil-A
N.C. State trounced West Virginia 23-7 in the Champs
UNC topped Tennessee 30-27 in double overtime in the Music City
Maryland routed East Carolina 51-20 in the Military

Virginia Tech lost to Stanford 40-12 in the Orange
Clemson lost to South Florida 31-26 in the Meineke
Georgia Tech lost to Air Force 14-7 in the Independence
Miami lost to Notre Dame 33-17 in the Sun

Overall, it was a mediocre end to a disappointing ACC season. Hey, at least we have Wake Forest basketball ...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tar Heels rightly won and deserved to win Music City Bowl

Despite the griping and moaning about North Carolina being the beneficiaries of late-game breaks, the Tar Heels not only deserved to win the Music City Bowl they rightly won the game.

The pro-Tennessee factions on the Internet are claiming that Volunteer defender Janzen Jackson should not have been called for a personal foul for leading with his helmet in hitting UNC receiver Todd Harrelson late in the game. Please look at the attached photo above and judge for yourself but, unless you're in denial, you'll see it's obvious that Jackson led with his head.

Then they argue that Harrelson didn't have possession of the ball following Jackson's illegal hit until he was out of bounds. Having looked at the replay several times, not only is there no indisputable evidence that it wasn't a catch, to me it looks as if his right shoulder hits down in bounds. There certainly was nothing in the replays that would overturn the officials call that Harrelson had possession of the ball in bounds.

Then they argue that Carolina's poor time management at the end should have cost them the game. Funny thing is that a late hit perhaps should have been called on Tennessee's LaMarcus Thompson following a Dwight Jones catch. That would have moved the ball to about the 12 yard line and stopped the clock. Had that happened, as perhaps it should have, there would have been no clock issues at the end. Volunteer fans have a point that UNC's Ryan Taylor made contact with Thompson but clearly to me it wasn't enough to make Thompson pop Jones like he did.

I certainly could forget about that late-hit call except for the fact that some argue that when TJ Yates alertly spiked the ball with one second left, Carolina should have been called for a 15-yard illegal participation penalty rather than a 5-yard too many men on the field call. If the late hit had been called and the illegal participation penalty had been called, the final field goal still would have been from approximately the same distance.

Even if a 15-yard penalty had been assessed, Casey Barth very well could have hit a 49-yarder to send the game into overtime. Not only has he missed just one field goal from longer than 40 yards this year, he's hit a 49-yarder this season.

Then they argue that, by rule, the official should have stood over the ball as time expired in order to allow the defense to adjust. Now can you imagine the uproar if time ran out because an official wouldn't get out of the way so Carolina could spike the ball? To me that would have been a much bigger injustice.

Yes, it was rather stupid that the Heels had players running all over the place in the final seconds. But would the NFL's 10-second runoff rule really have been justice. Carolina was rightly penalized - should they have gotten the death penalty for confusion?

I may be the only person alive that doesn't like the NFL's 10-second runoff rule - when an offensive foul occurs in the final 10 seconds, the game is over. The game should be played until it's over, especially if the ball is spiked or otherwise time is legally stopped (running out of bounds, incomplete pass, etc.)

David Parry, who oversees college football officiating for the NCAA, said that he anticipates that the NCAA rules committee would discuss moving to the NFL 10-second runoff rule. He also correctly said that under current college rules (which both teams had to play by I might add) the officials, as bad as they were (my words and you can read more about that here), correctly adjusted the clock to one second.

What everyone seems to be forgetting is that the penalty didn't give Carolina another play. The legal spike by Yates gave Carolina another play. Again, the Tar Heels were appropriately penalized on the play.

Then the pro-Tennessee factions say that as soon as Carolina lined up for the field goal, the clock should have started and that one second is not enough time to snap the ball. If one second isn't enough time to snap the ball, then games should end a second earlier. I'm not sure I follow that logic. Of course you can snap the ball as soon as time is started and it appears that's what Carolina did.

While everyone is focused on the last 31 seconds, perhaps more attention should be paid to some other factors. For instance, Carolina held Tennessee to 27 yards rushing. UNC held the lead for most of the game. UNC blocked a PAT that allowed for the last-second efforts. Plus, Tennessee got away with several taunting and excessive celebrations after touchdowns.

State excited to have healthy Tracy Smith back

Senior leader Tracy Smith is finally back in the lineup to help out the three freshmen that have led the way for N.C. State and the Pack is excited about the prospects.

"We're coming off a good showing," Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe said of State's 76-54 win over San Diego. "Last game we had Tracy Smith back and obviously we're excited about that."

Smith has been out for all but three of State's games because of a knee injury but he scored 16 points against San Diego and looked in midseason form.

Smith had been concerned about coming back too early but with only one nonconference game left Wednesday against Elon, the Pack needs him for the ACC run.

"He was a little hesitant to give it a try even with little slight discomfort," Lowe said during his weekly media teleconference. "It's a matter of him going out and understanding that there will be some discomfort but that the injury is gone."

Smith told Lowe during the game that he felt great and wanted to stay in the game. As a result Smith played more minutes than Lowe originally anticipated.

So far, so good, Lowe said. "We'll see if there is any further discomfort," he said.

Texas loss sticks in Williams' craw as Heels start ACC play

Despite more consistent play from a number of players over the last few games, UNC coach Roy Williams isn't sure if his Tar Heels are ready for ACC play.

"You don't ever know if you're ready until you get out there and play the games," Williams said, adding that the Heels have done what they can to prepare by playing a good schedule and playing good teams on the road.

"I would have like us to have played better in some of those games," Williams said, especially pointing to the loss in Greensboro against Texas. "We did some nice things in the Texas game but we needed to win that game."

The Heels led the Longhorns by seven with less than six minutes to play but ended up losing by two.

"We didn't finish out the Texas game. You always have that in the back of your mind, wondering if you've gotten rid of that completely," Williams said during his weekly media teleconference.

But Carolina's defense has improved of late and that's resulted in a pair of blow-out victories. "I don't know that I'd say we've turned the corner by any means but we are getting better," Williams said.

Williams said the work ethic, desire, efficiency, intensity and concentration is all there and gotten better during the season. "As long as you have those things, you have a tremendous opportunity to improve," he said.

"We're a work in progress but we're excited to start ACC play."

The Heels travel to 8-5 Virginia Saturday for a noon tipoff.

Duke coaches use banner years to battle sense of entitlement

On Saturday, the Duke basketball coaches took their team into Cameron Indoor Stadium and showed them the ACC banners. Here’s what this team overcome, they pointed out. Here’s how this player evolved this season.

It was a deliberate effort to make sure the Blue Devils, who lost three starters from the championship team, don’t take ACC success for granted.

“A new group can’t assume that it’s just going to happen,” Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday. “… That’s what we’re trying to get across, a realism as to where you are at right now, and not that you’ve been born into a rich family.

“In sport there is no such thing. You’ve got to do it every year.”

The move was a good reminder of how Duke tries to fight any sense of entitlement with the program. It’s something that can seep in with fans – witness Krzyzewski’s frustration in recent seasons when students failed to fill their seats.

Duke beat Miami 74-63 Sunday night in Cameron in its ACC opener. The Blue Devils surged ahead when Nolan Smith had a 3-point barrage in the first half.  But the game also showed that Duke, while still superior to its ACC rivals, isn’t unstoppable. With Kyrie Irving out with a toe injury, Duke lacks the full-court firepower it had with him running the offense.

Krzyzewski said Monday that Irving will be re-evaluated this week but there is no timetable for his return.

Duke's win over Miami is a preview of this Devils team

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made some important points on his television show Sunday afternoon. Speaking of Kyrie Irving, he noted that the Blue Devils had to be thinking about the team they are without him, not the team they could be with him. If you heard it, it was clear Coach K isn't expecting Irving back any time soon, if at all.

So Sunday night's game with Miami was a great preview of what this Duke team is trying to be. The Hurricanes aren't great but they are athletic and tenacious on defense. The Blue Devils are clearly more skilled, but the gap between Duke and the rest of a weakened ACC isn't the gulf that it was with Irving. As Krzyzewski pointed out in his show, Seth Curry and others will have expanded roles now, on offense and on defense.

Nolan Smith remains a star, as he showed in Duke's 74-63 win in Cameron. Smith scored 28 points, but 13 game in a first-half stretch that was the difference in the game. Smith has a great 3-point shot, even from well behind the college arc, and he simply blew Miami out in that stretch.

But how Duke develops beyond the established pair of Smith and Kyle Singler will be fascinating. Curry looked overmatched on defense Sunday. Ryan Kelly from Raleigh looks much stronger than a year ago and could start to become more of a factor on offense. Same for Andre Dawkins. What's evolving is more of a halfcourt team that plays rugged defense and depends less on fast breaks.

That's not a bad formula at all - Duke rode it to a national title last year. But the Devils had three playmakers in 2010, with Jon Scheyer the third. Right now, it's Smith and Singler - and a player to be named with Irving on the bench.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Saint Francis coach leaves Chapel Hill sounding like a Tar Heel fan

Following North Carolina's 103-54 drubbing of his team, Saint Francis coach Don Friday sounds like a fan of the Tar Heels. He praised the way he and the team were treated off the court and even on the court. He said the Tar Heels have "classy kids" who'll knock you down and then help you up.

Saint Francis is a young team that had little chance to win but any time you score more than 100 points and win by almost 50, it's impressive. Coach Friday said Carolina just had too many bodies that wore them down with an aggressive, trapping defense.

Without any air of cockiness, UNC coach Roy Williams matter of factly summed it when he said, "we're more gifted than these guys are."

Eight Tar Heels scored in double figures. John Henson and Dexter Strickland led the balanced scoring with 13 points. Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald dropped in 12 points, Zeller had 11 and Justin Knox, Larry Drew II and Harrison Barnes added 10.

For more on the Saint Francis game, please click here.

With Smith back, N.C. State faces fascinating ACC run

The return of Tracy Smith sets up a conference stretch for N.C. State that will be among the most interesting in recent memory.

That the Wolfpack played poorly without Smith is undeniable. State was 6-4 with the  senior forward on the sidelines, and coach Sidney Lowe constantly talked about how losing Smith slowed the team's progress. Smith was terrific Saturday in his return getting 16 points in State's 76-54 win over San Diego.

The Pack has Elon Wednesday in Greensboro and then the steady run of ACC games begin. First up is Wake Forest in Raleigh, followed by games at Boston College and Florida State and home to Duke. This run will be an enormous test for Lowe, who has to integrate Smith back into a young team. And State enters the new year with its rotation undetermined.

For example, who is the point guard? Senior Javy Gonzalez remains the starter, but he played only 18 minutes Saturday and contributed four points and two assists. Gonzalez is nothing more than a backup on a good ACC team, but Lowe has stayed with him so far. That leaves Ryan Harrow coming off the bench, and he had 21 minutes and 12 points Saturday. Sure, that's lesser competition - what can he do against Duke? Or more significantly, what will he do against mid-level ACC teams like Boston College?

Assuming Smith is fully healthy, Lowe has to create a consistent playing rotation, and fast. This is still a team trying to figure out its parts. State appears to have the talent to be an upper echelon ACC team, especially in such a down year. But a poor ACC performance would be disastrous for State, which has yet to make the NCAA Tournament under Lowe.