Monday, March 26, 2007

Guards key for Georgetown vs. UNC

Thoughts on the NCAA tournament and Final Four following North Carolina’s 96-84, overtime loss to Georgetown in the East Regional final:

  • I’m a big critic of the cliché that great guards win in March, because I believe it’s far more important to have great big guys. Ohio State (Greg Oden), Florida (Joakim Noah and Al Horford) and Georgetown (Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert) support my theory. But I believe North Carolina post players Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright were just as good as Green and Hibbert on Sunday, and the superior play of Georgetown’s guards won the game.
  • Throughout the season fans questioned whether North Carolina coach Roy Williams was going too deep into his bench and should have kept his best players on the floor more. But that wasn’t a factor Sunday. Point guard Ty Lawson played a season-high 40 minutes and North Carolina still didn’t win. In fact, if Williams hadn’t taken great pains to develop his bench, the Tar Heels might have never defeated a thinner Southern California team in the East Regional semifinals.
  • Presuming that Wright leaves for the NBA and Hansbrough and Lawson return (just a guess there), the Tar Heels still will be a top-five team in the national rankings to start next season and the preseason favorite to win the ACC.
  • Tar Heel fans’ list of wishes for next season should read something like this: 1. More touches in the post for Hansbrough and fewer jump shots. 2. Bobby Frasor’s return to good health. 3. Lawson and Wayne Ellington learn to defend as well as Marcus Ginyard. 4. Hansbrough develops a mid-range jump shot but rarely has to use it.
  • Watching Florida guard Lee Humphrey against Oregon was like watching Duke guard Greg Paulus late in the season. Both struggled to stop opposing guards from penetrating. But both were so accurate from 3-point range that their teams could live with their defensive shortcomings.
  • Ohio State’s Oden should get the best of Hibbert in the meeting of 7-foot centers in the national semifinals. Georgetown’s patient offense might lull Oden to sleep and leave him vulnerable to fouls. But Oden is by far the superior player athletically.
  • UCLA is the least appealing Final Four team from an aesthetic standpoint. The Bruins play the most physical style – bumping cutters, nudging the dribblers while showing off ball screens – of the national semifinalists. Basketball was not meant to be played with that much contact.
  • Another sign ACC basketball has slumped in basketball: This is the first time the conference has failed to get a team to the Final Four for two straight years since 1979-80. - Ken Tysiac

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ginyard starts but Terry in uniform

Sophomore Marcus Ginyard was a last-minute insertion into North Carolina's starting lineup in place of Reyshawn Terry in Friday night's regional semifinal game against Southern California. Terry dressed for the game, but is battling strep throat. - Ken Tysiac

Reyshawn Terry expected to start

Senior forward Reyshawn Terry, who has been bothered by strep throat for almost a week, is listed as a starter for North Carolina against Southern California on Friday night, according to pre-game information distributed to media members at Continental Airlines Arena.

A North Carolina team spokesman said Terry "probably" will start, but the final decision won't be made until 12 minutes before tipoff.

Terry missed practice all week, and has suffered from headaches, fever and a sore throat. But North Carolina sports information director Steve Kirschner said Terry was able to begin eating again Thursday night and particpated in the Tar Heels' shoot-around practice early Friday.

The top-seeded Tar Heels (30-6) are playing No. 5 seed USC (25-11) in the NCAA tournament's East Regional semifinals. - Ken Tysiac

Coaches bolting for lower profile jobs

Some observations on college basketball while waiting for Friday night’s East Regional to begin:

  • Turns out Herb Sendek was a trend setter. Last year he left N.C. State for a lower-profile job at Arizona State, escaping an angry contingent of fans who weren’t satisfied with five straight NCAA tournament appearances. Under similar circumstances, Tubby Smith left Kentucky for Minnesota and Steve Alford bolted Iowa for New Mexico. All three moves illustrate the toll angry boosters can take on a coach when the media provide fans an opportunity to gripe 24 hours a day.
  • Leaving Duke for the NBA after his sophomore season was not a bad move for 6-foot-10 Josh McRoberts. His ball-handling and passing ability will make him an attractive pick somewhere between No. 10 and No. 20. Sure, he’s not an outstanding scorer, but most NBA teams have plenty of scorers who would be thrilled to play with a big man who takes pleasure in assists. McRoberts would fit perfectly with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • Ohio State can’t keep getting away with sleepwalking through the start of its games and winning with frantic rallies at the end. The strange thing about the Buckeyes is that their perimeter defenders should be able to pressure opponents more when 7-foot Greg Oden is in the game to block shots if opposing guards penetrate. But the Ohio State guards defend better when Oden is on the bench, which leads you to believe they just play lazy defense when he’s on the court.
  • Here’s why John Calipari failed as an NBA coach. With eight seconds left on the shot clock, Texas A&M was inbounding from under its own basket following a near turnover. The one thing Memphis couldn’t give up was a long pass. Memphis pressed anyway and allowed Acie Law to catch a pass over halfcourt behind the entire defense. Law missed the layup, but you’ve got to wonder about Calipari’s X’s and O’s.
  • It’s painful listening to Bill Raftery do color commentary. He’ll provide good analysis in an even tone for a minute, then punctuate the end of a sentence with a growl of contrived enthusiasm. If I wanted to be growled at while I’m watching basketball, I’d get a dog. - Ken Tysiac

Monday, March 19, 2007

ACC fails to make case for greatness

After just one of the three weekends of NCAA tournament play completed, one of the biggest losers already is obvious.

All season long, ACC coaches talked about how their conference was the best in the nation. The inability of highly ranked North Carolina to separate from the pack in the ACC standings supported their argument.

So did the ACC’s high RPI, which remains No. 2 (behind the SEC’s) according to But shortly before the NCAA tournament started, North Carolina coach Roy Williams said the conference needed to prove its strength in March.

That didn’t happen.

North Carolina, the top seed in the East Regional, is the lone representative to reach the Sweet 16 among the ACC’s seven NCAA tournament selections. ACC teams are 3-4 against “mid-major” opponents in the tournament.

The Big Ten is hurting, too, as top-seeded Ohio State needed an overtime win over Xavier to become that conference’s only team left in the tournament. (The Pac-10 and SEC lead all conferences with three Sweet 16 teams apiece).

But the Big Ten wasn’t as celebrated as the ACC heading into this postseason. And after the ACC failed to get any team into a regional final in 2006 in its first season as a 12-member conference, it will take a national championship run by North Carolina to mute talk over the next two weeks that expansion has softened the ACC in basketball.

That might be unfair. Coaches often complain that because the NCAA tournament has become so popular, an entire season’s worth of accomplishments is forgotten if a team stumbles in March.

But there’s no way to change that. Like it or not, the ACC probably won’t be remembered as the nation’s best conference this season because of its failures over a four-day period in the NCAA tournament.

– Ken Tysiac

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Saturday's early observations ...

Observations from Saturday's early NCAA tournament games:

Don’t let Xavier’s near upset of Ohio State fool you into thinking the Buckeyes will be easily eliminated soon. Xavier was a difficult matchup for 7-foot center Greg Oden because it pulled him away from the basket with Justin Cage’s 3-point shooting. The opponents the Buckeyes will meet from now on probably will match Oden big-on-big, and that always will be an advantage for Ohio State.

Boston College forward Jared Dudley set the best screen of the season Saturday, obliterating Patrick Ewing Jr. on the wing to set up a 3-pointer by Tyrese Rice. If somebody had done that against Ewing’s daddy and the Hoyas of yesteryear, payback would have been painful.

Perhaps the ACC coaches were right. Perhaps theirs was the best conference in the nation this season. But North Carolina coach Roy Williams said teams had to prove it in the NCAA tournament, where the conference has struggled against mid-major competition. Maryland’s loss to Butler makes the score Mid-majors 3, ACC 2 so far. Virginia Commonwealth (Duke) and UNLV (Georgia Tech) also have eliminated ACC teams.

Great win for Texas A&M. Louisville was hot and playing in front of an overwhelmingly friendly crowd in Lexington, Ky.

The ability of Boston College to succeed with almost no production outside of its top three players has been amazing. The Eagles led No. 2 seed Georgetown 30-26 on Saturday at halftime. Tyrese Rice, Sean Marshall and Jared Dudley combined for 29 of those 30 points. The bad news for the Eagles is that Marshall and Dudley won’t be back next season. – Ken Tysiac

Friday, March 16, 2007

Adult commercials shouldn't be aired

- During a break in the action, CBS was promoting one of its upcoming shows. Actor David Spade’s character said he was dating a woman who was obsessed with sex, which was perfect for him, because he does not like a challenge. This aired at 8:11 p.m. Friday. Shame on CBS for airing such adult material during a program that’s supposed to be family material at an hour when small children might not be in bed. Shame on the NCAA for not insisting on higher standards for the programming that airs along with its broadcasts.

- No. 11 seeds are going to be almost as coveted as No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. No. 11 seeds Winthrop (over Notre Dame) and Virginia Commonwealth (over Duke) defeated No. 6 seeds in first-round games, and George Mason reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed last season.

- No. 14 seed Miami of Ohio’s effort against No. 3 seed Oregon should be encouraging for Winthrop, which plays Oregon on Sunday. Oregon edged Miami 58-56. And it says here that Winthrop is at least three points better than Miami.

- Virginia’s J.R. Reynolds, who has been bothered by a sore hip late in the season, scored 28 points in a first-round victory over Albany. If Reynolds bounces back from his injury, it won’t be easy to bounce the Cavaliers from the tournament. Reynolds and Sean Singletary might be the nation’s best guard tandem when they are healthy.

- Georgia Tech’s first-round loss to Nevada-Las Vegas was no surprise. The Yellow Jackets were 1-8 on the road this season, and their two top scorers, Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young, are freshmen.

- Boston College forward Jared Dudley, a confessed North Carolina fan who said he grew up hating Duke, offered his assessment Friday of why the Blue Devils were bounced from the tournament by Virginia Commonwealth. He said Duke matched up poorly with VCU’s quick guards. "They just struggled with guard penetration and keeping people out front," Dudley said. – Ken Tysiac

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Watch out for Davidson next year

Davidson’s 82-70 loss to Maryland ended the Wildcats’ season, but the lessons learned from the defeat could carry into next year.

The Wildcats created a bit of a buzz with their performance, which included a second-half lead against one of the best teams in the ACC. Here’s a few things to watch out for next season:

- Stephen Curry will become a national name. Curry had been a hidden treasure for most of the season, but his 30-point outing Thursday will likely vault him onto some preseason All-America lists. One thing to watch: reigning Southern Conference Player of the Year Kyle Hines of UNC Greensboro returns, but Curry might be the preseason pick to win that award.
- Davidson’s scheduling could get stronger. The Wildcats have nine nonconference games next season, and six of them are already slotted. Assistant coach Matt Matheny coordinates the Wildcats schedule, and said the team wants to play in a preseason tournament (three games that only count as two per NCAA rules) and one other game. Davidson could get an invite to a prestigious tournament now, such as the Preseason NIT, but the Wildcats might struggle to get a big name in their final available game. Schools from major conferences will likely avoid Davidson, so the Wildcats might have to turn to another mid-major school.

- Davidson hasn’t been nationally ranked since 1970, but the Wildcats could sneak into the preseason poll next year. All 11 scholarship players return, and Thursday’s game may have helped their cause.

- Heightened expectations. Davidson’s 29-5 season was a pleasant surprise this season, since the team lost seven seniors. But next season, anything less than a Southern Conference championship and a NCAA tournament victory will be considered a disappointment. - Kevin Cary

More first-round struggles for Knight

Impressions from the first afternoon of the NCAA basketball tournament:

- If it seems that Bob Knight-coached teams don't make it past the first round very often, it's because they don't. His Texas Tech and Indiana teams have won just five games in their last 10 tournament appearances.

- Butler guard A.J. Graves might be the best player you've never heard of. He's a great shooter and playmaker and he pushes the ball up court faster than anybody this side of North Carolina's Ty Lawson. His game is reminiscent of former Kansas point guard Kirk Hinrich.

- It's probably OK for teams like North Carolina (playing in Winston-Salem), UCLA (Sacramento, Calif.) and Memphis (New Orleans) to stay close to home in the first and second rounds. Their high seeds can justify it. But for sixth-seeded Louisville to play in Lexington, Ky., was unfair to Stanford and will be on Saturday for No. 3 Texas A&M. -- David Scott

No tournament upsets so far

Observations on Thursday afternoon’s NCAA tournament games:

- Looks like Stanford – one of the most-criticized at-large selections - didn’t belong in the NCAA tournament after all. Louisville crushed Stanford 78-58. Incidentally, Louisville finished strong, winning 18 of its last 23 in the regular season after a 6-4 start, and might not be finished making an impact in this tournament.

- Passing through a hallway during the interminable, 20-minute halftime of Texas Tech’s game with Boston College, coach Bob Knight stopped for a chat with former Georgetown coach John Thompson, who’s doing radio analysis for the tournament. That’s why the former coaches and players get these big analyst jobs. Thompson can go back on the air and report what Knight told him. Knight doesn’t stop to talk to the average reporter at halftime.

- Nice start for the ACC, which got seven teams into the NCAA tournament and was disappointed when Florida State didn’t get in. Maryland (vs. Davidson) and Boston College (vs. Texas Tech) survived early afternoon games against dangerous opponents.

- Davidson has nothing to be ashamed of after losing 82-70 to Maryland. The Terrapins were 5-0 against Duke, N.C. State and North Carolina.

- There were no big upsets in the early games. So far, it looks like the selection committee did a good job seeding the tournament.

- Butler’s No. 5 seed was heavily criticized because of its late-season struggles. But it proved it deserved the seed with a strong performance against another top mid-major, Old Dominion.

- Georgetown already has one of the best front lines in college basketball with Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. If guard Jessie Sapp plays the way he did Thursday (a career-high 20 points, 8-for-10 from the field), it won’t be easy to keep the Hoyas out of the Final Four.

- Wins by Boston College and Georgetown on Thursday set up a meeting between former Big East foes for Saturday in Winston-Salem. Some Big East coaches were angry when Boston College left for the ACC two years ago, but Georgetown’s John Thompson III wasn’t one of them. "With that whole situation, I kind of left that up to our president and our administrators," he said. – Ken Tysiac

All they needed was a chance

One of the most enjoyable things about following sports is realizing the lessons they teach that carry over into everyday life.

The lesson that came through loud and clear from the first- and second-round games this week in Winston-Salem was the value of giving people a chance.

Coach Roy Williams didn’t think Reyshawn Terry was good enough to play for North Carolina when Williams inherited Terry from departed coach Matt Doherty. But Williams told Terry he would give him an opportunity and be fair with him. Terry matured into the best athlete on North Carolina’s team.

Tom Crean was just a high school coach when Tom Izzo, then an assistant coach at Michigan State, took an interest in him. Though their recruiting targets didn’t overlap when Izzo was at Michigan State and Crean was an assistant at Elma College, Izzo took Crean along to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Rensselaer, Ind., to watch high school players.

"He was one of the first people to ever give me the time of day as a young coach," Crean said. "I looked up to him in a real hero-idol kind of way, but as time went on our friendship grew and we became peers."

Izzo is one of the great NCAA tournament coaches, and now Crean has become one of the hottest young names in coaching at Marquette, a job he took after serving four years on Izzo’s staff at Michigan State.

They meet each other Thursday evening in a first-round game that might not have been possible if Izzo hadn’t given Crean the same kind of chance Williams gave Terry. – Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Niagara feels dissed by play-in game

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Disrespect. It's the new watch word in athletics today.
The latest of the disrespected these days seems to be the teams that "must" play in the NCAA tournament's play-in game, in this year's case Florida A&M and Niagara.

Up here in Buffalo, close to where Niagara is located and where an NCAA regional is taking place, the Purple Eagles were furious -- just furious!! -- that they had to play the Rattlers on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, for the right to play Kansas on Friday in Chicago.

"We feel disrespected," Niagara forward Charron Fisher said on Sunday. "I'm sure you'll be able to see when we play on Tuesday how disrespected we feel."

Niagara -- who probably would have lost badly if they played NCAA-scorned Syracuse, Florida State or Drexel -- should realize how fortunate it is to be included at all. -- David Scott

Hansbrough: New mask more comfortable

WINSTON-SALEM North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough said his new mask is more comfortable than the one he wore last week to protect his broken nose during the ACC tournament.

He said the new mask, which he wore during practice Wednesday, is tighter on his face. It appears lighter and less cumbersome than the one he wore previously to protect his broken nose.

"It doesn’t cut my vision like the old one did," Hansbrough said.
Coach Roy Williams said Hansbrough’s healing is close to the point where team medical officials and Hansbrough’s family will agree that he doesn’t have to wear a mask.

North Carolina will meet Eastern Kentucky in a first-round NCAA tournament game at about 9:40 p.m. Thursday.

Hansbrough said Duke guard Gerald Henderson called to apologize for breaking his nose during the closing seconds of a March 4 game. North Carolina guard Wayne Ellington, a high school teammate of Henderson's, gave Henderson the number.

"It is frustrating," Hansbrough said. "My nose is broken and I have to wear the mask. I accept his apology and things like that, but at the same time, I have a broken nose." - Ken Tysiac

Monday, March 12, 2007

ACC Tournament should go back to Tampa

The ACC tournament should go back to Tampa.

Not immediately, but at some point in the future.

It should also go to Boston.

That would be really cool.

Before we leave the Tampa experience behind, it should be said again that taking the ACC tournament to Florida was a good thing, despite the grumbling that apparently rumbled through North Carolina much of last week.

And most of the people complaining don't go to the tournameny anyway. They watch it on TV so what difference does it make from your den if the games are in Tampa or Greensboro?

The worst that could be said about Tampa was the fact there were maybe 2,000 empty seats Sunday for the final game. Would that have happened in North Carolina? Maybe.

Not if North Carolina and N.C. State were playing, but let Boston College meet Virginia Tech in the final next year in Charlotte and see how tough it is to buy a ticket on the street. It won't be hard.

Greensboro and Charlotte are where the bulk of the ACC tournaments should be played because they're near the geographic and emotional center of a league that cherishes its hoops.

Greensboro has the advantage of nearly 4,000 more seats than Charlotte but there is something to be said for squeezing ticket demand once in a while. Charlotte will have approximately 1,500 fewer seats than Tampa, which means each school will get about 110 fewer than this year (Boston College gets a full share for the first time next year).

That's a serious squeeze because more locals will want to attend than in Tampa, where many regulars chose to take a pass this year, freeing tickets for others.

If Charlotte puts on a good show -- and it will -- it should get the tournament again in the future even if the numbers are tight. They won't be so tight in 2009 when the tournament goes to the Georgia Dome.

It's good that so many people still care about the ACC tournament. And if you think going to Tampa was a bad idea, ask someone who was down there. They'll be easy to recognize. They're the ones with nice tans.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

NCAA men's bracket is finally out

Quick impressions about the NCAA basketball tournament after getting a look at the pairings:

  • North Carolina earned its No. 1 seed in the East but won’t have it easy getting out of the East. The Tar Heels should escape Winston-Salem, though they’ll be pushed in the second round. Michigan State plays terrific defense but has serious trouble scoring and Marquette has three good guards and a coach, Tom Crean, who’ll have the Eagles convinced they can win if they get past the Spartans.
  • Speaking of Winston-Salem, it got a terrific group of teams. Just look at the coaches – Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, Bobby Knight, Al Skinner, John Thompson III and Crean are there.
  • If the seedings hold, North Carolina and Texas would meet in the regional semifinal in East Rutherford, N.J. That’s Kevin Durant against Brandan Wright. Think CBS would like that one?
  • Winthrop gets an No. 11 seed and gets shipped to Spokane, Wash. That’s a long way to go to become the next George Mason but the Eagles can beat Notre Dame. It doesn’t mean they will but it won’t be a shock. And if they can beat the Irish, they can beat Oregon.
  • A No. 6 seed for Duke is about right. If the Blue Devils get the Sweet Sixteen, they’ll have done something because it would mean beating Pittsburgh. For that to happen, Mike Krzyzewski must get his team playing defense again. Without consistent scoring ability, these Blue Devils live and die by their defense – which explains why they’re a six seed.
  • Davidson gets Maryland in the first round. The Wildcats will make it tough on the Terps, who can get antsy when their frustration level rises. But Davidson can’t live by Stephen Curry alone. Or can it?
  • Syracuse won 22 games and had 10 Big East wins and was left out. They have reason to be angry. So does Florida State, though it wasn’t a surprise when the ‘Noles were left out again.
  • Ohio State got a great draw. Memphis, Texas A&M and Virginia are the other top seeds in the Buckeyes’ region. That’s hardly terrifying. Virginia is seeded too high and neither the Aggies nor Memphis have a Final Four look about them.
  • The best potential second-round games: Florida versus Arizona; Kansas against Kentucky or Villanova; Duke against Pitt; Boston College-Georgetown; Indiana-UCLA; Davidson-Butler.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Atsur's health key to N.C. State's success

N.C. State point guard Engin Atsur looked OK.


If all you needed him to do was walk the ball up the court and deliver an entry pass to the post, Atsur was fine Saturday afternoon after re-injuring a hamstring that has bothered him all season.

Problem is, that’s not all the Wolfpack needed from Atsur, their senior leader, in the ACC tournament semifinals against Virginia Tech. As Atsur got healthier throughout the regular season, N.C. State began working the high screen and roll to perfection with teammates Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner.

When Atsur was able to drive the lane and explode to the basket for layups, he added a wrinkle off the pick and roll that he wasn’t able to provide as a lame-legged, standstill jump shooter.

That’s why N.C. State had given up most of an 11-point lead by the second media timeout of the second half, when Atsur was back on the bench.
"I just feel like everything is working now that Engin is healthy," Costner had said Friday night.

And when he wasn’t healthy Saturday, everything wasn’t working as well as the Wolfpack tried to continue their memorable run at the ACC tournament.

– Ken Tysiac

Plenty of reasons to question Tar Heels

It took a trip to Tampa to do it.

After losing three of its final six regular season games, North Carolina finally is demonstrating again why it is supposed to be one of the top contenders for the national title.

The Tar Heels are doing it with defense. They held Florida State to a season-low 30.9 percent from the field in a 73-58 victory in Friday’s quarterfinals, and thoroughly frustrated Boston College early in Saturday’s semifinal.

Sophomore point guard Tyrese Rice scored 32 points in an overtime win against Miami on Friday, but had five points at halftime Saturday, when North Carolina led 38-23. He kept pulling on the front of his jersey, begging teammates to set a ball screen for him, but North Carolina defended those perfectly.

When Rice gave up the ball, Ty Lawson got face-to-face with him, preventing him from getting it back.

Jared Dudley, the crafty ACC Player of the Year, had four points and just one field goal at halftime. He was clearly frustrated, hollering "thank you" after referee Mike Eades called a foul against Reyshawn Terry for leaning on Dudley in the post.

Terry shook his head and grinned.

There are still plenty of reasons to question the Tar Heels. Center Tyler Hansbrough, who had three points and seven rebounds at halftime, still looks uncomfortable wearing a mask to protect his broken nose, and the understandably protective folks on the North Carolina bench seem to think opponents should be called for a foul every time somebody breathes on him.

(They got their wish early in Saturday’s game. Boston College was called for fouling Hansbrough three times before the first media timeout).

The only bad thing about winning by double digits is that it doesn’t give freshman guards Lawson and Wayne Ellington experience getting the Tar Heels good shots in the closing minutes of tight games.

But if the Tar Heels hold opponents to 24.1 percent from the field – as they did in the first half against Boston College, they won’t be in many close games. If North Carolina continues to play such stellar defense, it will get as much out of this trip to Florida as any of the baseball teams here for spring training.

-Ken Tysiac

Friday, March 9, 2007

Fans, make some noise

Maybe the most noticeable difference – palm trees not included – about the ACC tournament in Florida can’t be seen.
It must be heard.

This ACC tournament, six games in, has been jammed with close games, three going to overtime, one to double-overtime. And while the tournament rarely reaches the jet-engine scream of a huge game in Cameron Indoor Stadium or Maryland’s Comcast Center, it can get loud.

And it’s gotten loud in the St. Pete Times Forum, just not ear-buzzing, chest-thumping loud. It was loud during the latter stages of N.C. State’s victory over Duke Thursday night but not rock-concert loud.

The 5,000 or so hearty souls who stuck around to the end of Wake Forest’s post-midnight win over Georgia Tech made some noise but, by then, everyone was so tired they mostly just watched and gasped.

During the first two games Friday, the crowd – the place was close to full with a few scattered empties in the upper reaches – was good but not great. It made you think the roof would be quivering if the games were in Greensboro.

Maybe tonight or Saturday afternoon when North Carolina and Boston College go at it, the place will go nuts. ACC tournaments should not just be seen, but they should be heard, too. -- Ron Green Jr.

Hansbrough struggles with mask

While Florida State’s Jerel Allen shot two free throws late in the first half, North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough stood in position to rebound and fidgeted with the straps that hold the protective mask on his face.

Hansbrough, who was wearing the mask to protect his broken nose, said earlier this week that he would cast it aside if it bothered him. That didn’t happen in the first half, at least, of North Carolina’s ACC tournament opener against Florida State.

With all eyes on him, Hansbrough scored just two points in 14 first-half minutes, shooting 1-for-5 from the field and grabbing three rebounds. He didn’t shy away from contact much, though.

There were some angry words exchanged after he got tangled up with Allen under the basket after Allen fouled him. North Carolina coach Roy Williams had a conversation with referee Les Jones after the play as the teams came to the basket for a timeout.

Minutes later, Hansbrough was called for his second personal foul for going over the back of Florida State’s Uche Echefu. Williams waved both hands at the referees in disbelief.

Williams understandably seemed protective of Hansbrough after Duke freshman Gerald Henderson’s forearm broke Hansbrough’s nose Sunday. But there were times before that incident when Williams inexplicably protested even obvious calls against Hansbrough, particularly traveling violations.

Those protests likely will be louder after what happened against Duke because the coach will want to prevent further injury to Hansbrough.

As for the mask, Hansbrough fidgeted with it some more, putting his hands up to his nose. When he came to the bench after that second foul 1:52 before halftime, he took it off.

But he was wearing it again as he came out of the locker room for the second half with North Carolina leading 36-26.

– Ken Tysiac

Our odds on Davidson's NCAA destination

Where will Davidson play in the NCAA tournament?

A quick sampling of players only reveals one consensus. They’d rather not play in Spokane, Wash.

That’s understandable – Spokane is 2,700 miles away from campus, and only guard Stephen Curry has any ties to the region (his godmother lives in Portland, Oregon).

Yet, Spokane might be the most likely destination for the Wildcats, based on how the NCAA tournament is set up. The tournament tries to keep the top three seeds in each region close to home, and since many of those teams have already been decided, it looks like Davidson might end up heading West if the Wildcats end up as a No. 12 or No. 13 seed, as projections indicate.

For example, North Carolina and Georgetown, both likely top-3 seeds, are expected to be placed in Winston-Salem. Since their second-round opponents also have to play there (i.e., the corresponding 8 vs. 9 or 7 vs. 10 games) that takes up all four games for the site.

So, the chance of Davidson ending up there would seem slim, unless Georgetown is moved out.

Here’s how the other destinations shape up for Davidson:

Sacramento (likely 5% chance or less): UCLA and Washington St. are both expected there (Washington State can’t go to Spokane as the host school). Davidson’s travel hardship would also likely keep the Wildcats from this Thursday/Saturday site.

New Orleans (5%): Florida and Texas A&M could end up here, leaving no games available for the Wildcats for this Friday/Sunday site.

Chicago (5%): Wisconsin and Kansas or even Southern Illinois could come to this Friday/Sunday site, denying Davidson point guard Jason Richards a chance to play in front of his family. He’s from in Barrington, Ill.

Lexington (10%): Ohio State is expected here, because the Buckeyes can’t play in Columbus as the host school. Memphis could also end up at this Thursday/Saturday site, since it is the Tigers’ closest location, although Memphis could also end up in Columbus.

Buffalo (20 percent): Pittsburgh will likely end up in Buffalo or Columbus, leaving one pair of games available for a 4 vs. 13 and 5 vs. 12 game at this Thursday/Saturday site.

Columbus (20 percent): Like Buffalo, Columbus should get at least one pair of games involving a No.4 and No.5 seed, and could have all four games like that, if no higher seed is to this Friday/Sunday site.

Spokane (30 percent): No top seed except for host Washington State is close to this location, and the Cougars aren’t eligible. Two other factors might point Davidson here. Nevada and UNLV are expected to fall within the 4-5 seed range, and this site is the closest for them other than Sacramento. Gonzaga is the other factor. The Zags are expected to be a No.12 or No.13 seed like Davidson, but their proximity to the site might send them elsewhere to avoid an unearned home-court advantage. That could send Davidson out to Spokane for Friday/Sunday games.

-- Kevin Cary

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Duke makes early exit

Strange to think, before the first day of this ACC tournament is over, that Duke is already gone.

Not literally. The Blue Devils still have to shower, go back to the hotel and rebook their charter for Friday morning.

But, wow, Miami is staying. Duke is going. N.C. State is staying. Duke is going. Florida State is staying. Duke is going.

That's Clemson's traditional role.
The Blue Devils had won seven of the last eight ACC tournaments. They were as automatic as Mike Krzyzewski commericials at tournament time.
But this is not a superior Duke team. It has trouble scoring and, if other Duke teams have been artistic, this one does grunt work.

There's reason to believe the Blue Devils will be fire-breathers again next year if recruiting chatter is close to accurate. But Duke doesn't play for next season. The Blue Devils play for now, for March, for cutting down nets.
But not this week. -- Ron Green Jr.

The Gary Williams sideline show

Some shows never get old.
Like watching Gary Williams work the Maryland sideline. He works it the way a jackhammer works on a sidewalk.

Then there are days like Thursday when Williams’ Terps looked like they wanted to be anyplace but inside the St. Pete Times Forum playing Miami. They redefined flat, ragged and disinterested, at least in the first half.
For a time, Williams was okay. Then, like lava in the ground too long, the frustration came spewing out.

The best moment may have been when D.J. Strawberry threw a 200-mile per hour pass that zinged off a teammate and out of bounds. Williams did a quick pirouette in front of the bench then the rare triple-stomp as he raged against all the injustice in the world, especially unforced turnovers.
Then Williams crouched down and kept raging, his face the color of his Maryland red tie.

Three minutes later, Strawberry was dribbling upcourt when, unguarded, he bounced the ball off his foot and out of bounds.

It was too much for Williams. He just stood there, hands on his hips, the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he sighed.
He was just resting. The show wasn’t over. It never is.
-- Ron Green Jr.

ACC Game 1: FSU vs. Clemson

As Charlotte’s K.C. Rivers bumped chests with Clemson teammate James Mays during pregame introductions, his apparel and shoes were adorned with no fewer than eight logos for the company Michael Jordan’s endorsements helped transform into a sneaker powerhouse.

It’s said that NASCAR drivers are the most proficient sporting figures when it comes to turning themselves into human billboards. But as Thursday’s ACC tournament opener illustrated, the sports marketing industry also is firmly entrenched in college athletics.

The logos of the teams and the ACC were everywhere, of course. Advertising at the St. Pete Times Forum (named after a local newspaper at a reported cost of at least $2.1 million per year for 12 years) included a car company, a hotel chain, an airline, the ACC’s three basketball television partners, two home builders, a grocery store, two soft drink companies, a power company, a food manufacturer, a local radio station and an automobile company.

At least the NASCAR drivers get paid for the logos they wear. Rivers’ take from all that sponsorship – the price of his scholarship – doesn’t change, regardless of the ads they place on his jersey.

– Ken Tysiac

Empty seats not a sign of apocalypse

There is a curious fascination in North Carolina this week about the level of interest – or disinterest – in the ACC tournament being played here in Tampa.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that people within easy driving distance of Tobacco Road are offended that the ACC would take its prize possession to the land of spring training and sunshine.

Whether the tournament is in Greensboro, Charlotte or Tibet, the overwhelming majority of fans who care aren’t going anyway. They’re going to watch on TV where every game looks the same.

It doesn’t matter where the tournament is played to most people.

Sure, there are plenty of empty seats today for the Clemson-Florida State game, just like there were empty seats in Washington two years ago and in Greensboro last year. There will be empty seats in Charlotte on Thursday next year, too.

Understandably, not as many North Carolina-area fans made the trip to Tampa this time, choosing to let others go to the tournament this year. The tickets were sold, in fact there was a waiting list among Tampa locals who scraped up the few hundred tickets the schools returned.

The tournament should move around. It’s in Tampa this year where everything is beautiful. The only question some of us have is this – when it’s coming back to Tampa?

-- Ron Green Jr.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Wake's Ish Smith must be consistent

The message from Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser to Ishmael Smith was consistent all season.
Even when Smith committed eight turnovers at Duke, Prosser backed the freshman point guard from Concord. The message?
“You’re my guy.”

“I feel very, very comfortable when he has the ball,” Prosser said. “Chris Paul went through rough times. Not to compare him to Chris Paul. But that happens. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that we’ve had some really good players as freshmen that can be very mercurial.”

Smith leads the ACC with 5.9 assists per game, and Prosser said he has done it despite having teammates who aren’t great at scoring even after Smith gets them the ball in the right spots.

The rough times, as Prosser referred to them, led to a 14-15 record and a No. 11 seed at the ACC tournament as Wake Forest prepares to meet No. 6 seed Georgia Tech (20-10) in a first-round game Thursday. But Smith remains upbeat.

“It’s been all I expected and more,” Smith said. “It’s been fun. It’s been a great ride. And we don’t want it to end.”

Smith’s performance against Georgia Tech freshman point guard Javaris Crittenton will go a long way toward deciding the game. Smith is five inches shorter than Crittenton, who is 6-foot-4 and has averaged 18 points and 6.2 assists over his last nine games.

Prosser said Smith needs to use his quickness to disrupt Crittenton before he gets to the lane and shoots over Smith. And on defense, the Yellow Jackets will see if they can rattle Smith, who has committed at least six turnovers four times this season.

“This is a team that’s really going to challenge Ish,” Prosser said. “They’re going to put pressure on him. They’re going to squeeze the orange to find out what’s inside, and I’m curious to see how it plays out.” - Ken Tysiac

Four games in four days a tough road

In an unforgettable performance in New York last season, Syracuse won four games in four days to win the Big East tournament.

The Orange also might have depleted their energy and used up their emotion during that run. They lost to Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Maryland coach Gary Williams is using just the first part of Syracuse’s experience as an example of what the Terrapins could do this postseason. The hottest team in the ACC, Maryland has won seven in a row but is the No. 5 seed for the ACC tournament.

Before last year, a No. 5 seed would have earned a first-round bye to the tournament. But with the ACC expanded from nine teams to 12, the No. 5 seed must play in the first round and win four games instead of three to be the ACC champion.

“When you’re in a 12-team league, that’s the way it works, and you can’t complain about it, because the league decided to expand,” Williams said Wednesday. “Syracuse last year won four games and won a Big East championship. So it’s doable.”

Williams said his team has more depth than Syracuse did last year, when senior guard Gerry McNamara put on an incredible show for the Orange that won’t soon be forgotten at Madison Square Garden but was counted on for a lot of scoring.

He rejected the idea that it would be good for Maryland to win a game or two and then bow out in a close game.

“This time of year, you’re in great shape,” Williams said. “Everyone seems to be healthy. I wouldn’t mind playing four games in four days.”

Maryland senior guard Mike Jones said he hasn’t played four games in four days since the summer after his senior year of high school. But he said his team isn’t lacking for stamina.
Freshman guard Greivis Vasquez sets the tempo for the Terrapins, who seem to gain strength the more they run the court.

“That’s one of the best things we have,” Jones said, “our energy level and how we come out.”

– Ken Tysiac

Continuing the Clemson Conspiracy

Conspiracy buffs, get to your chat rooms.

The bus that was supposed to take Clemson to the St. Pete Times Forum for Wednesday morning’s shoot-around practice got a flat tire. As a result, the Tigers arrived at the arena about 15 minutes into the one hour they are allotted to get used to the rims and environment in a new building.

Coach Oliver Purnell looked calm anyway after the shoot-around.

“What are you going to do?” Purnell said. “Don’t stress about things you can’t control.”

Purnell has endured enough mishaps to fuel talk of an anti-Clemson basketball conspiracy. Faulty clock operation gave Duke two extra seconds for a winning play against the Tigers in a 68-66 Blue Devil victory in Durham.

Three days later, Purnell wanted a traveling call against Virginia’s Sean Singletary when he crashed to the floor after grabbing a rebound. No travel was called, and the Cavaliers scored the winning basket seconds later in a 64-63 decision.

But Purnell doesn’t play the conspiracy game. He was asked if the ACC would have adjusted the clock to give Clemson more time if a bus had showed up late to pick up a different team.
“No,” he said curtly.

It was one definitive word that won’t slow the chat room talk, but should.

– Ken Tysiac

FSU, Thornton could sneak into NCAAs

The words written in black marker on Florida State senior Al Thornton’s sneakers demonstrate the importance of Thursday’s ACC tournament opener.

“NCAA ’07.”

“Whatever it takes.”


“Get it done.”

No. 9 seed Florida State (19-11) and No. 8 seed Clemson (21-9) meet in their first-round ACC tourney game in hopes of enhancing their credentials for an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

Both teams are 7-9 in the ACC and haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1998. Thornton, Florida State’s third first-team All-ACC player in 16 seasons in the conference, returned to school instead of entering the NBA draft last year partly because he wanted to play in the NCAA tournament.

“That’s been our goal all year,” Thornton said. “That’s why you play college basketball.”
Clemson and Florida State both have extenuating circumstances to present to the Division I men’s basketball committee when it considers their credentials. Botched clock operation gave Duke two extra seconds to complete Dave McClure’s winning layup at the end of regulation in a 68-66 defeat of Clemson on Jan. 25 in Durham.

“I believe the NCAA tournament should and will look at that game and the way it ended,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said earlier this week.

The selection committee also is supposed to consider the effects of injuries. Florida State went 1-4 in the five games guard Tony Douglas missed with a fractured right hand before returning to score 13 points in the season finale against Maryland.

Coach Leonard Hamilton said Florida State obviously is better with Douglas, its second-leading scorer. But he won’t speculate on whether the selection committee will take that into account.
“That’s not an excuse we can use Selection Sunday,” Hamilton said. “We just have to go out and win as many games as we can.”

The ACC appears to have seven teams – North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Duke – in excellent shape for NCAA tournament bids. Though both Clemson and Florida State appear to also deserve consideration, it seems unlikely that the ACC could get nine teams into the tournament.

Every time a mid-major conference underdog wins an automatic bid with an upset in its conference tournament (such as Wright State over Butler in the Horizon League), an at-large bid that could have gone to Clemson or Florida State disappears.

And the dreams written in black marker on Thornton’s high tops get more elusive.

– Ken Tysiac

Davidson could be seeded as high as 12th

Numbers and perceptions.

Those two factors will determine where Davidson is seeded in the NCAA tournament when the pairings are released Sunday.

Based on numbers, the Wildcats are all but assured at least a No.13 seed. At least 16 conferences will have champions with lower RPI ratings than Davidson, even if the top seed wins.

That would make Davidson the top-ranked No.13 seed, but the Wildcats could get bumped up to a No.12 unless perception gets in the way.

Davidson also has a higher RPI than Winthrop and Gonzaga, but those two teams have wins against top 50 schools, something Davidson lacks. The Wildcats don’t have a win against a team in the Top 100 of the RPI this season.

But a few factors should also help the Wildcats. Davidson has gone 25-1 since Nov. 25, the best record in the nation. None of Davidson’s losses are to teams outside the RPI top 80. And three of Davidson’s losses came in its first seven games, when the Wildcats – who had the second-most inexperienced lineup in the nation – were still learning to adjust to each other.

That could inch Davidson up to a No.12 seed or higher, if Cinderella teams from big conferences (like Xavier in 2006) win unexpected automatic bids from major conferences. Xavier earned a No.14 seed last season, and teams such as N.C. State and South Carolina could also get seeded below Davidson if they won their conference tournament.

-- Kevin Cary

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

5 ways to tell ACC tournament is in Florida

Five ways to tell the ACC tournament is in Florida this year:
1. Teams will play in flip-flops rather than sneakers.
2. The tournament is officially known as the Ron-Jon Surf Shop ACC tournament.
3. Instead of barbecue, concession stands are selling sunscreen.
4. Tyler Hansbrough qualifies as a hill.
5. The champion gets a trip to Margaritaville.
-- Ron Green Jr.

Have another sure way to tell the ACC tournament is in Florida? Click on "Post a comment" below and post yours.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Hansbrough: Physical play sometimes frustrating

North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough didn’t know he would be foreshadowing Sunday’s game when he talked Friday about the physical beating he has absorbed from opponents this season.

"It’s frustrating," he said. "Your body takes a beating, especially when you sometimes get hit in the face and things like that. It really hurts."

Two days later, Duke freshman Gerald Henderson broke Hansbrough’s nose with a hard foul with 14.5 seconds remaining in the Tar Heels’ 86-72 win. Hansbrough hasn’t spoken to the media since then, but has suffered a small, non-displaced fracture of his nose.

He also may need a root canal to fix a tooth injured earlier in the game, coach Roy Williams said Monday. Williams said he doesn’t believe Henderson, who was ejected and suspended for Duke’s ACC opener against N.C. State, intended to hurt Hansbrough.

"If I thought he did that intentionally, I would suspend him for longer than a game," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday.

Though Hansbrough previously hadn’t been the victim of an incident as severe as Sunday’s, he said Friday that it’s common for opponents to push and shove him.

"I think that the way teams approach me is physical," he said. "They try to push me out and be really aggressive with me. I think I can handle it well. But at times it’s really frustrating." -- Ken Tysiac

ACC: Final regular-season rankings

North Carolina secured the No. 1 seed for the ACC tournament and remains the conference’s most talented team. But with seven wins in a row and three stable senior starters, Maryland might be the most dangerous team heading into the tournament despite failing to secure a first-round bye.

1. North Carolina
2. Maryland
3. Virginia
4. Virginia Tech
5. Boston College
6. Duke
7. Georgia Tech
8. Clemson
9. Florida State
10. N.C. State
11. Wake Forest
12. Miami

Player of the week: Senior Al Thornton scored 45 points in a game Florida State had to win to keep its at-large NCAA tournament hopes alive. Thornton came up one point short of the school scoring record in a 98-90 overtime win.

Coach of the week: Needing to win twice to have a realistic chance at an at-large NCAA tournament bid, Clemson won in overtime over Miami and by one point at Virginia Tech. Give Oliver Purnell credit for winning two close ones under tremendous pressure.

Play of the week: Duke freshman Gerald Henderson’s hard foul made blood stream from Tyler Hansbrough’s nose, ratcheting up the animosity in a Duke-North Carolina rivalry that has been tame since Roy Williams took over as the Tar Heels’ coach.

Dunk of the week: Henderson drove baseline for a wicked, two-handed, second-half jam that was easily forgotten – along with his 16 points – because of his foul on Hansbrough and subsequent ejection.

On deck: The best game in the first round of the ACC tournament should be No. 8 seed Clemson vs. No. 9 seed Florida State. Both teams finished 7-9 in the ACC and have NCAA tournament hopes that could be bolstered with a first-round win.

- Ken Tysiac

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Senior Day finally here for UNC's Miller

North Carolina guard Wes Miller was a little-used reserve as a sophomore on an NCAA championship team.

He was a starter and the leading 3-point shooter as a junior on a team that was bounced from the NCAA tournament in the second round by George Mason.

Which was the more rewarding experience? Miller said people ask him all the time.

He can’t choose one over the other.

“They were both just amazingly special for me in different ways,” Miller said. “Last year, starting and playing such an integral role on our team and helping us win ballgames, that was satisfying beyond belief.

“Being part of the national championship team, just saying that I was a part of that, that I helped that team practice, that I was on the bench and celebrating with my teammates, it’s a feeling I can’t describe in words, and it’s feelings that I will always cherish for the rest of my life.”

Miller, a Charlotte native who is one of the most inspiring stories in the ACC, will play his final home game at 4 p.m. Sunday against Duke. After spending his freshman season at James Madison, Miller transferred as a walk-on to North Carolina.

His job as a sophomore was to harass starting point guard Raymond Felton throughout practice. Miller watched from the bench as Felton made the clinching free throws in a 75-70 defeat of Illinois in the NCAA title game.

With Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Jawad Williams and Marvin Williams gone the next season, Miller started 16 of 31 games and shot 64-for-145 (44.1 percent) from 3-point range.

He made three 3-pointers in a December win at Kentucky and scored a career-high 18 points – all on 3-pointers – in his first start at Florida State.

“The Kentucky game, at Kentucky, I felt like was probably the biggest turning point in my career as a player,” Miller said. “I just felt like I gained so much confidence through a couple of shots, in one game.”

There had been doubts about whether Miller would ever make an impact as a 5-foot-11 walk-on. But his freakish workout regimen turned him into an important performer on a team that finished second in the ACC.

“(He is) mentally as tough and physically as devoted as any player I’ve ever had,” said coach Roy Williams.

Miller and North Carolina don’t come to Senior Day on a high. The Tar Heels (24-6, 10-5 ACC) have lost three of their last five games. A talented group of freshmen and sophomores have relegated Miller to a reserve role more significant than in 2004-05 but less prominent than last season.

His 3-point percentage has slumped to .314 (22-for-70).

“It’s been challenging at times, but my whole career has been challenging at times,” Miller said. “It’s not always supposed to be easy. But that only makes it more satisfying at the end, that you persevere. It’s hard to say about this year yet, because it’s not over yet.”
– Ken Tysiac

Appalachian State coach states NCAA case

Appalachian State’s NCAA hopes took a hit with the Mountaineers’ overtime loss Friday to College of Charleston, but coach Houston Fancher stated his case after the game.
“We were the class of this league. The class of this league resides on the mountaintop,” Fancher said of his team, which went 16-4 against conference opponents. “We had the highest RPI in the league, and we were the only team to beat every team in this league.”
Expect Davidson coach Bob McKillop to use those statements as motivation today. The Wildcats are 19-1 against Southern Conference teams, and they have won 12 straight by an average of 18 points.
Other notes heading into tonight’s championship:
-- College of Charleston guard Dontaye Draper sizzled Friday night, scoring 38 points and making eight 3-pointers. He hasn’t played well against Davidson – shooting 33 percent over two games – but said he isn’t thinking about that now.
“This is a new season,” he said. “I don’t remember those games.”
-- Davidson guard Stephen Curry is getting on the national radar, but his name is definitely not a household one yet. An ESPN announcer referred to him as “Steven” throughout highlights of Curry’s 30-point performance against Furman.
The network will get another chance Saturday to learn that Curry’s first name is pronounced “Steff-in.” ESPN2 will televise the championship game, and Curry is averaging 21 points against the Cougars.
-- College of Charleston won Friday because the Cougars finally made their free throws. Charleston missed 11 of its first 18 free throws, but made 11 of its final 12.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Recent funk bothers Tar Heels

Former North Carolina standout Mike O’Koren recalled his freshman season Friday as he tried to cheer up Tar Heels coach Roy Williams.
O’Koren told Williams about 1976-77, when North Carolina went 1-3 during a difficult stretch in January. Just when O’Koren was beginning to worry, the Tar Heels won 15 games in a row, reaching the NCAA championship game before losing to Marquette.
The current North Carolina team is at one of those worrisome points now, having lost two in a row and three of its past five. Williams joked that he goes home looking for something to kick.
"I don’t have any pets, so I just go home and kick the couch," he said. "The couch isn’t looking so good right now."
The Tar Heels (24-6, 10-5 ACC), who were supposed to be the ACC’s best team, might need a win in their regular-season finale against Duke on Sunday to secure a first-round bye to the ACC tournament.
Despite the slump, Williams called his current players a wonderful group of kids who are extremely gifted.
"My team is hurt," he said. "I think they’re a little shook. I think they’re a little alarmed. But make sure you put the word ‘little’ in front of both of those."
Williams used defending NCAA champion Florida to illustrate that North Carolina can pull out of its skid. The Gators concluded February with three straight losses last season before winning the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
Florida won 17 in a row earlier this season but has lost three of its past four.
"It’s the same kids," Williams said. "It’s the same coach. They didn’t get all dumb that quickly. It’s college basketball. And I’ve got to get our kids to understand it’s college basketball. Those are things that happen. But don’t be willing to say, ‘That’s the only reason.’ Because our poor play contributes to that."

North Carolina had a harrowing flight home from Atlanta following Thursday night’s 84-77 loss at Georgia Tech.
Winds from the storm system passing through the Southeast hammered the chartered plane until it touched down on the runway. One player – center Tyler Hansbrough, who doesn’t like to fly – opted to return home by bus.
When the plane landed, Williams stood up and declared Hansbrough the smartest guy on the team.
"Some guys were laughing," Williams said of the flight, "and some guys were scared to death, holding on with both hands."

Williams said freshman point guard Tywon Lawson was back in good graces, pending his performance in practice leading up to the Duke game.
Lawson did not start at Georgia Tech because he had practiced poorly.
Wes Miller and Dewey Burke will join regular starter Reyshawn Terry as senior starters on Senior Day.

-- Ken Tysiac

Observations from Charleston

Stray thoughts from soggy Charleston entering tonight’s semifinals:

Davidson looked like the third-best team in this tournament Thursday. Appalachian State and College of Charleston both played better than the Wildcats, but those two teams will play in the second semifinal tonight.
Davidson faces Furman, a team the Wildcats should beat. Furman doesn’t have a quick point guard or dominant post player, so expect Davidson to revert to form today.

Davidson freshman Stephen Curry gets most of the team’s publicity, but point guard Jason Richards is the Wildcat who should take clutch shots. Richards doesn’t shoot a lot unless he senses the team is in trouble. He scored 12 points in the second half Thursday, including two clutch 3-pointers.

A fun matchup tonight will be watching Appalachian State guard D.J. Thompson against College of Charleston guard Dontaye Draper. Those two might be the quickest players in the conference.

Davidson played in front of a sparse, yet friendly crowd Thursday, but that will change tonight. Everyone in the arena – except those wearing red – will be pulling against the Wildcats, because Charleston and Appalachian State fans would rather face Furman. If Furman gets ahead, the crowd will begin to buzz.

Appalachian State reserve Donte Minter has to work on his conditioning. The 6-foot-8 junior is listed at 260 pounds, but he might be closer to 300 now.

Give Davidson coach Bob McKillop credit for some gutsy moves in the second half against Chattanooga. McKillop put in freshmen Bryant Barr and Stephen Rossiter – who rarely played in the second half of games – with Davidson up four with seven minutes left. Neither player scored, but Davidson did not lose ground with them on the court.

Remember this name: Moussa Diagne. The Furman forward can have big games – he scored 34 against Charleston earlier this season – and his play could be a key against Davidson.

Everyone is talking about Davidson and Appalachian State, but don’t forget about College of Charleston. The Cougars have quietly won 21 games this season, and have the most athletic talent in the league.

Appalachian State has one advantage over Davidson and Charleston. The Mountaineers have the deepest bench in the league. The team’s reserves scored 49 points Thursday, and allowed the Mountaineer starters to stay fresh entering tonight’s game.
- Kevin Cary

Scattered NCAA tournament thoughts

With just over a week left until Selection Sunday, a few random NCAA tournament thoughts:

  • Rarely have the possibilities for the No. 1 seeds been so uncertain this close to the tournament. Put UCLA and Ohio State on the top lines - in pen - but you'll have to use a pencil if you're thinking about these other candidates - Kansas, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh or Memphis.

  • Two teams your team doesn't want to face in the tournament: Texas A&M, because of the Aggies' suffocating defense, and Maryland, because the Terps are hot and they have a team composed of veteran players who will be glad to be back in the tournament after two years away.

  • We hear a lot about prominent teams that have gone into late-season swoons -- notably North Carolina and Florida. But what about Oregon? The Ducks were 18-1 and ranked 10th after beating California 92-84 on Jan. 20. Since then, the Ducks have gone 4-6. Not exactly a Clemson-like collapse, but cause for concern in Eugene. Oregon has bounced back, winning two straight, including a 64-59 victory against Washington State on Feb. 22.

  • Aren't student fans diminishing their team's accomplishment by chanting "Overrated" to the opposition? That's what Tennessee's fans did in an upset against Florida and Georgia Tech's did against North Carolina.

-David Scott