Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Maryland at North Carolina: 3 things to watch

No. 6 North Carolina hosts Maryland tonight (7 p.m., ESPN) at the Smith Center, where the Tar Heels will be celebrating senior night. A victory would enable the Tar Heels to keep pace with Duke atop the ACC standings, and it would set up a regular-season finale in Cameron Indoor Stadium to decide the regular season championship.

But first things first. Some things to watch between the Heels and Terrapins:

How sharp will UNC be? Roy Williams criticized his team’s execution on both offense and defense after the Tar Heels’ 54-51 victory at Virginia on Saturday. The Cavaliers play a slow-it-down pace and they’re an excellent defense team.

Even so, Williams didn’t like the way his team executed on offense, and he didn’t like the way it defended – even though Virginia scored just 51 points. The Tar Heels are a heavy favorite tonight – the line is around 18.5 points, depending on which service you want to cite – and the final result shouldn’t be in doubt.

But simply winning the game won’t be enough for Williams to be satisfied, and another sloppy effort would cause concern heading into the regular season finale on Saturday at Duke. Given it’s senior night at the Smith Center, UNC shouldn’t lack for motivation or intensity.

But will those things translate into sound execution?

Tyler Zeller. Many UNC fans in attendance tonight will likely be seeing Zeller for the final time in person. Along with four other seniors – Justin Watts, Stewart Cooper, Patrick Crouch and David Dupont – Zeller will play his final home game tonight.

Zeller encountered foul trouble in UNC’s first game against Maryland earlier this month, and he played only 22 minutes. But he made the most of them, and finished with a team-high 22 points. He also added seven rebounds.

Zeller is a lock for first-team All-ACC honors, but he’s also a favorite to win player of the year, too. With a strong performance tonight, Zeller could further distance himself from a field of player of the year candidates that includes Virginia’s Mike Scott and UNC teammates John Henson and Harrison Barnes.

Kendall Marshall’s pursuit of history. Marshall enters tonight with 281 assists this season, and he needs three assists to tie Ed Cota’s single-season record of 284, which Cota set during the 1999-00 season.

It’s a near certainty that Marshall will set a school record tonight. He has had at least four assists in every game this season and, in fact, his season-low in assists is four – which he had in that 90-57 loss at Florida State on Jan. 14.

The question isn’t if Marshall sets a school record tonight, but when he will set it. No one would be surprised to see it happen in the first five or 10 minutes of the game.

-- Andrew Carter

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tweets: Bubba Cunningham's 128-team NCAA nuts

Bubba Cunningham
North Carolina athletics director Bubba Cunningham said this week he supports a 128-team NCAA basketball tournament.

The response from media on Twitter has been almost universally negative. A sampling of Tweets:

Michael DeCourcy @tsnmike:  If I'm a UNC fan, I'm hoping Bubba Cunningham's plans for Tar Heels are better than his idea for a 128-team NCAAT. Horrendous.

Michael DeCourcy ‏ @tsnmike:  If you look at this college basketball season and decide it needs a 128 team tournament, I must seriously question your judgment.

Dave Telep @DaveTelep: ‏ Imagine being a BCS level coach and you miss a 128-team NCAA Tournament. Careful what you wish for.

Jeff Rabjohns  ‏ @JeffRabjohns: ‏ In the Mock Selection, we had a tough time finding 37 teams truly deserving of an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. 128-team field? Please.

Jason Anderson ‏ @J680Anderson: If there was a 128-team NCAA tournament this year Seth Greenberg would still be on the bubble.

Pete DiPrimio ‏ @pdiprimio:   North Carolina AD likes a 128-team NCAA tourney field. Lot of people say this is stupid. Some say it's brilliant. We're too tired to choose.

Matthew Stevens ‏ @matthewcstevens:   Note to new North Carolina athletics director Bubba Cunningham: IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE HARD TO MAKE NCAA TOURNAMENT!

David Teel ‏ @DavidTeelatDP:  Thankfully #UNC AD Bubba Cunningham, proponent of 128-team tournament, is not on selection committee.

Ben Kercheval ‏ @CFTBenKerch:   Can someone remind Bubba Cunningham that he's at North Carolina, not Tulsa? You know, where he's going to make the tournament every year.

Larry Williams ‏ @LarryWilliams: UNC AD likes the idea of a 128-team field in NCAA Tournament. And you think the regular season is boring now?

N.C. State's tournament hopes flickering, but alive

What N.C. State needs the most to revive its fading NCAA tournament hopes is to do what it hasn't since Feb. 9 — win a basketball game.

The Wolfpack, 18-11 overall and 7-7 in the ACC, has lost four straight games. The possibility of reaching its preseason goal of 11 conference wins is gone, with only Wednesday's home game with Miami and a trip to Virginia Tech on Sunday, left on the schedule. But the Pack's flickering tournament hopes are still alive as coach Mark Gottfried pointed out on Monday.

"It's not smoke and mirrors," Gottfried said Monday on the ACC's weekly teleconference when asked about the NCAA tournament. "It's a real simple equation. … You have to earn your way in by winning games."

N.C. State hasn't won since beating Georgia Tech on Feb. 9 and since the last time it saw Miami on Jan. 22, it's just 3-6 in ACC play, with Saturday's 72-69 overtime loss at Clemson as the latest, but not final dagger.

The Wolfpack gets a chance to improve its record against the top 50 teams of the RPI with Wednesday's home finale against the Hurricanes. State's 78-73 win at Miami on Jan. 22 qualifies as its best of the season, according to the RPI, one of the measures the selection committee uses to determine which at-large teams make the field of 68.

Miami is No. 48 in the RPI after Sunday's win over Florida State. The Hurricanes are the only team in the top 50 that the Pack, at No. 72, has beaten. State is 1-8 vs. the top 50 and 4-8 against the top 100.
Miami, which has signature wins over Duke, No. 3 in the RPI and FSU, No. 26, but is 2-7 against the top 50 and 3-9 against the top 100.

The two teams have gone in opposite directions since they met in a half-empty BankUnited Center in January. State was 4-1 in the ACC after the road win and Miami was 1-3.

The Pack is 3-6 since then and the Canes are 7-3, despite playing Sunday's rivalry game without forward Reggie Johnson, who has been suspended by the NCAA because one of his family members accepted improper benefits from a former assistant coach.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga said Monday there was no update on Johnson's status.

"He has been very upbeat," Larranaga said. "Hopefully we'll get Reggie back soon."

Johnson is one of the main reasons for Miami's improvement, Gottfried said. The big forward from Winston-Salem missed the first nine games of the season recovering from a knee injury. Gottfried also attributed Miami's improved play to forward Kenny Kadji, who is averaging 15.5 points in ACC play, and emergence of freshman point guard Shane Larkin.

"They have played very well since our game," Gottfried said.

-- J.P. Giglio

Senior Night: UNC to start 3 walk-ons vs. Maryland

North Carolina coach Roy Williams remembers with fondness the final time he played a basketball game at home in high school. He remembers his mom walking out on the court to meet him before the game, and he remembers the emotions that came along with the moment.

Those memories, in part, are why Williams believes senior days are special. The Tar Heels will host their senior day on Wednesday, when Maryland visits the Smith Center for a 7 p.m. game. It will be the final home game for UNC seniors Tyler Zeller and Justin Watts, and for walk-ons Stewart Cooper, Patrick Crouch and David Dupont.

As is the tradition at UNC, all five seniors will start on Wednesday night.

“You know, I’m corny,” Williams said on Monday during his weekly portion of the ACC teleconference. “And you’ve  heard me say that many, many times. And I think that playing in the Smith Center, the last time in front of those fans that have supported you for four years, is extremely important.”
Williams described the festivities that come with senior day as “good stuff” and said, “We don’t emphasize the good stuff enough in college athletics.”

“I think that being able to walk over there and give your mom a rose and hug your mom and dad and walk out on the court and have those fans be able to say thank you and for you to be able to say thank you for the way that those fans make you feel for four years – all that is good stuff,” Williams said.

Other notables from Williams’ teleconference:

--Asked specifically what he hoped senior day would mean for Watts, Williams said, “I hope it means a heck of a lot to him, I really do. Because he’s meant a heck of a lot to our basketball team – so much more than someone would interpret just by looking at numbers. So I’m hoping it’ll be a special moment for J-Watts. And he’s done so much for us.” Watts has averaged 1.2 points per game in about six minutes of playing time per game this season, but he has been an important leader for the Tar Heels.

--Williams, of course, is pleased that the Tar Heels have a chance to win the ACC regular-season championship, which they would win if they beat Maryland on Wednesday and Duke on Saturday. “It’s all I ask for,” Williams said of being in this position with two games to play. “You’ve put yourself in position to be in the NCAA tournament. You’ve also put yourself in a position to get a fairly good seed in the NCAA tournament. So if you take care of your business against the teams in your league, you’ve put yourself in a good position.”

--Williams said Virginia “really made us look bad at times” during the Tar Heels’ 54-51 victory in Charlottesville on Saturday. “We didn’t get very good shots except for Z’s dunk down the stretch,” Williams said. “So we’ve got to get better in late-game situations. But Virginia exposed us I thought defensively. We weren’t tough enough, or patient enough to guard for the 35 seconds. And then we’ve got to do a better job with our motion and our screening and our execution of our set stuff on the offensive end.”

-- Andrew Carter

Monday, February 27, 2012

Duke's Hairston to miss Wake Forest game

Josh Hairston will not play for Duke when it travels to Wake Forest on Tuesday for a 9 p.m. game against the Demon Deacons.

The Blue Devils’ forward suffered a laceration under his right eye when he was hit hard by the elbow of one of Virginia Tech’s playersearly in Saturday’s Duke win. Hairston didn’t return to the bench after leaving to get treatment.

“He’s doing well, but he’s still not 100 percent, so we’re keeping him out for the game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday morning. “Everyone else should be ready to go.”

Krzyzewski said he wasn’t sure if Hairston had a concussion or not.

“He just got hit pretty hard,” Krzyzewski said. “Once you get hit in the head, you’ve got to be careful with these kids. He’s feeling better, but he’s still not ready to go.”

Without Hairston, Krzyzewski said Duke freshman Mike Gbinije may see more minutes at power forward if the Blue Devils opt to go small.

-- Jack Daly

Chicken wing adds to Mike Scott's bad game

After North Carolina’s 54-51 victory over Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was adamant that the Cavaliers’ forward Mike Scott did indeed commit a foul when he was called for his fourth with 12 minutes remaining.

On the play, both Scott and Tar Heels forward John Henson were going for a rebound. Scott turned his body, going for the ball, and it appeared in live motion that he elbowed Henson, who whipped his head back as if he’d been struck.

The officials convened to decide whether Scott had thrown an elbow, though a slow-motion replay showed the contact to be minimal. Henson, however, sold the play well.

“He threw a chicken wing out there,” Henson said afterward, “and fortunately for me he got his fourth foul.”

At the time, Virginia led 41-37. Scott played one of his worst games of the season, making just three of his 13 field goal attempts and to finish with six points, so it wouldn’t be completely accurate to say his foul trouble caused Virginia to lose. But if nothing else, the moment when he picked up his fourth foul turned out to be a turning point.

In the next minute, P.J. Hairston made a lay-up and then made a 3 to give the Heels a 42-41 lead.

-- Andrew Carter

UNC AD wants 128-team NCAA tournament

New UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham is among those in favor of a 128-team NCAA Tournament for basketball.

During a recent interview, Cunningham said he has “generally been a proponent” of a 128-team field for several years.

“I think the first 64 games should be played at on-campus sites, but I think it could come about eventually,” Cunningham said.

“When you have 348 teams trying to get what is now 68 places in the tournament, the odds are pretty long for a lot of teams. There are teams that don’t have a great deal of hope.”

Roughly 19.5 percent of the Division I teams wind up with NCAA bids.

By comparison, 16 of 30 teams in the NHL and NBA qualify for the playoffs. That’s 53 percent. In Major League Baseball, eight of 30 teams (26 percent) reach the playoffs. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams (37.5 percent) qualify. And in college football, more teams wind up playing in bowl games than don’t.

So if you go by the comparative landscape, the 128 idea is more in line with the equity standards. If 128 teams started the tournament, the participating percentage would increase from 19.5 to roughly 37 percent. But each year, more and more teams make the jump from NCAA Division II to Division I.

Among the first coaches to suggest a 128 field was UCLA’s John Wooden in the 1960s. Wooden’s basketball roots were in Indiana, which had an open postseason prep tournament that included each high school in the state in a completely open event.

Until 1985, when the field was expanded from 48 to 64 teams, an NCAA bid was ridiculously difficult to land mathematically.

From 1953 through 1974, the field was limited to 22 qualifiers at a time when about 225 teams were eligible. That’s 9.7 percent.

During most of those years, MLB had 16 teams and only the National and American League champs played on after the final regular season games. That still comes out 12.5 percent.

The popular theory is that an expansion to 128 teams would wipe out postseason conference tournaments. Cunningham doesn’t entirely agree.

“There are lot of models that would have to be considered,” he said.

One possibility would be to eliminate one of two regular-season games from the early schedule, then start conference regular-season schedules earlier.

Coaches generally have favored a 128 field for years. A survey by the NCAA in 2005 showed that roughly 65 percent of coaches backed the idea.

So far, however, there’s not been significant support for the 128 format by college presidents and -- more importantly -- the television networks.

But if the networks suddenly decided that it would be good business, odds are the 128 field would come about much faster than it took to go from 32 teams in 1978 to 64 teams in 1985.

-- Caulton Tudor

UNC's Zeller is ACC player-of-year favorite

With two games to play in the regular season, North Carolina's Tyler Zeller has emerged as the clear favorite to win ACC Player of the Year honors. He already has been named the men’s basketball academic All-American of the Year by one organization.

In conference games only, Zeller is fourth in the league in scoring (17.6 points per game) and second in rebounding (9.8 rebounds per game). He also leads the ACC in offensive rebounds per game (3.9).

Zeller has been the most well-rounded and consistent of all the players who have emerged as player of the year candidates. Mike Scott, the senior forward at Virginia, will rightfully receive some attention for the award, but Virginia’s recent slide – the Cavaliers are 3-4 in their past seven games – hurts his cause.

-- Andrew Carter

UNC-Duke likely to be for the ACC title

As has been the case more than a time or two before, it seems likely that North Carolina and Duke will meet on Saturday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium to decide the ACC’s regular-season championship. For it to happen, UNC will need to defeat Maryland at the Smith Center on Wednesday night, and Duke would need to defeat Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Tuesday night.

Assuming those two things happen, and it’s likely they will, then the end of this regular season would mirror the end of last season, when the final game between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils also decided the regular season champion. UNC won that game, at the Smith Center, but Duke defeated UNC in a rematch in the ACC tournament.

A victory against Maryland, by the way, would guarantee that UNC enters the ACC tournament with no worse than the No. 2 seed. The top seed in the tournament plays a week from Friday at noon, against either the No. 8 or No. 9 seed. The No. 2 seed plays at 7 p.m., against either the No. 7 or No. 10 seed.

Either way, the regular season appears to be headed toward a predictable – yet exciting – ending.

-- Andrew Carter

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is Harrison Barnes a NPOY candidate, or not worthy of All-ACC first team? The debate rages

Harrison Barnes, National Player of the Year Candidate? Teammate John Henson says yes, but some ACC media members don't see it. Robert Willett photo.
Last night UNC junior forward John Henson, whose Twitter handle (@_john_henson_) makes an impressive use of the underscore, tweeted this: “Still waiting on people to show HB some NPOY love... I mean do y'all see what he's doing as of late?? The boy is going to work!”

The funny thing about that is there’s a large segment of media members and fans who think that Harrison Barnes wouldn’t be worthy of a spot on the All-ACC first-team, let alone deserve to be in the national player of the year discussion.

Barnes was on my mid-season All-ACC team – the first team – and I engaged in some healthy debate with other members of the ACC press corps who didn’t believe he was deserving of first team. The knock on Barnes is that he’s not an overly impressive defender and that no one area of his game stands out as much as his scoring.

Still, I’d find it extremely difficult to leave him off my first team if I had a vote (and, for the record, I don’t). Barnes has scored at least 20 points in seven of UNC’s 12 conference games, and he has most often done his best work in the second half, when the Heels need his contributions the most.

Barnes was clutch in the second halves of victories at Virginia Tech, at Maryland and at Miami – and UNC trailed in the second half in all of them – and if not for Austin Rivers’ 3 and Duke’s improbable comeback in Chapel Hill, it would  have been Barnes’ 19 second-half points on a gimpy left ankle that would have created headlines the next day (that was my story until the final minutes happened).

-- Andrew Carter

Buzzer beaters for Duke opponents at Cameron have been few and far between

Michael Snaer's buzzer beater set off an FSU celebration.
When Florida State’s Michael Snaer hit a game-winning 3-pointer to lift the Seminoles to a 76-73 win on Jan. 21, he became the first opponent to win a game at the buzzer at Cameron Indoor Stadium since Joe Smith propelled Maryland to a dramatic victory with a last-gasp tip-in on Jan. 28, 1995.

The rematch of that game is tonight in Tallahassee, at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

“I think about it a lot,” Snaer said of his big moment. “It was a big shot for us and a special moment for me.”

In between Snaer and Smith’s shots, opposing teams have had some dramatic wins at Cameron, just not quite as time expired. Here are some of the more memorable victories for opponents at Cameron in the last 17 years:

* Jan. 28, 1995 – With Pete Gaudet coaching Duke and Billy Hahn coaching Maryland instead of an ill Gary Williams, Smith gave the Terrapins a 74-72 win with a tip-in at the buzzer. It put the finishing touches on Smith’s 40-point, 18-rebound effort.

* Dec. 8, 1996 – Michigan’s Robert Traylor scores on a dunk with 3 seconds left to lift the Wolverines to a 62-61 win over the Blue Devils.

* Feb. 1, 2001 – In Matt Doherty’s first game coaching against Duke, the Blue Devils’ Shane Battier fouled North Carolina’s Brendan Haywood with 1.2 seconds remaining. Haywood, who was a 48 percent free-throw shooter on the season, made both to give UNC an 85-83 win over Duke.

* Jan. 21, 2012 – After Duke’s Austin Rivers ties the score with 4.9 seconds left, Florida State gets the ball upcourt quickly, finding Snaer for a wide-open 3-pointer from the wing at the buzzer. Florida State wins 76-73.

-- Jack Daly

Wolfpack beat Tar Heels on the stat sheet

A couple lingering thoughts from the North Carolina's 86-74 victory against N.C. State on Tuesday night:

  • Strange victory for the Tar Heels given they abandoned the usual script to win this game – and still won it somewhat convincingly. UNC dominated the lane the first time these teams met, back in January, and especially dominated in offensive rebounding. But the Wolfpack controlled the lane, outscoring UNC 42-22 in the paint, and 16-8 off second-chance points.
  • In fact, if you look at the box score, you see that N.C. State took 13 more shots from the field and outscored UNC in the paint, off of turnovers, on second-chance points, on fast-break points and in points off the bench. The major difference, of course, was 3-point shooting. The Heels made 10 of their 19 attempts, while the Pack made just 3 of 13.
  • This might seem like the dummy statement of the year but it’s so true with the Tar Heels: They’re such a different team when the outside shots are falling. Every team is a better team when it’s making shots, of course, but UNC becomes significantly better because it’s a good team even when the outside shots aren’t falling. UNC has learned this season to get by without much of a perimeter offensive game that when those shots go in, it’s like a bonus.
-- Andrew Carter

Why North Carolina fans have to root for Duke tonight against Florida State, even if it hurts

No. 7 North Carolina has enjoyed a solid day and a half or so alone in first place atop the ACC standings. That will change tonight, when either Duke or Florida State joins the Tar Heels. The Blue Devils and Seminoles play tonight at 7 in Tallahassee in what just might be the most important regular-season college basketball game there in … forever? Probably not. But it has been a long, long time since Florida State hosted a game of this magnitude.

Both Blue Devils and Seminoles have beaten UNC head-to-head, and thus hold a tie-breaker over the Tar Heels. But for North Carolina to keep hope alive of winning the mythical ACC regular season championship, it needs Duke to win tonight in Tallahassee. The reason is obvious enough: UNC will get another chance at Duke. And the Heels will have no such opportunity against Florida State.

Of course, Florida State could win tonight and then stumble at some point in its final three games. The Seminoles go on the road to Miami and Virginia, before finishing the season at home against Clemson. But the most direct path for the Tar Heels to finish with the top seed in the ACC tournament is for Duke to win tonight, for UNC to win its next two – at Virginia and against Maryland at home – and then for the Heels to beat the Blue Devils in Cameron.

Easier said than done. But a Blue Devils victory tonight allows the Tar Heels to control their own destiny.

-- Andrew Carter

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

N.C. State's Gottfried calls ACC reprimand 'weak'

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried had avoided adding commentary to the incident involving two former Wolfpack players and official Karl Hess from Saturday's game until a late Monday night appearance at a student rally on campus.

At the "Ram Roast," aptly near the Freedom of Expression tunnel, Gottfried offered his unfiltered comments about Hess and his decision to eject Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta in the second half of Saturday's game. A student taped the impromptu question-and-answer session and put it first on Facebook and then the video found its way to YouTube.

Gottfried's comments from the video:

"I think it was weak. It was bad and I thought the official was completely out of line 100 percent. I'm disappointed, quite frankly, in the ACC, because not only did he throw out two of N.C. State's greats, he threw out two of the ACC's greats, and the league is supporting an official rather than supporting former great players.

The former great players, in my opinion, were embarrassed and wronged when they shouldn't have been. I don't think you can have rabbit ears like that if you're a referee and start throwing people out. I was disappointed in the whole thing. So they gave a reprimand tonight to the official, but it was pretty weak in my opinion."

The ACC reprimanded Hess on Monday night for his failure to follow the proper protocol in ejecting fans. Hess also wrote in an email to the ACC, which the conference provided for N.C. State, that Corchiani and Gugliotta  were ejected for "excessive demonstration on several calls as they came right up to the scorer’s table."

Corchiani and Gugliotta, who both have their jerseys honored at the RBC Center, will be honored, with the 1988-89 N.C. State team, before tonight's game against the Tar Heels. The '89 team won the regular-season ACC title, the last conference championship by the program.

-- J.P. Giglio

Replay: UNC-NCSU online chat with J.P. Giglio

Here's the replay of today's chat with News and Observer and Charlotte Observer ACC writer J.P. Giglio, previewing tonight's North Carolina-N.C. State matchup and other ACC basketball topics.

Monday, February 20, 2012

UNC's Roy Williams: Wolfpack improved in every phase

North Carolina Roy Williams said earlier today that the N.C. State team the Tar Heels will play on Tuesday night in Raleigh is far different than the one that suffered a 74-55 defeat against UNC at the Smith Center on Jan. 20.

“The more you play together under a new system, I think with each week, you get more accustomed to what the coaching staff wants,” Williams said during his portion of the weekly ACC teleconference.  “You get more accustomed to getting the shots the way that the new style, the new philosophy of play is going to help. And so I think the experience of playing that, every week, you get better and better.”

After losing at UNC, the Wolfpack suffered a 61-60 loss at home against Virginia but then won three consecutive games. N.C. State then led Duke by 20 points with about 11 minutes to play last week before the Blue Devils rallied – sound familiar, Tar Heels fans? – for an improbable 78-73 victory.

The Wolfpack endured perhaps its most disappointing loss of the season on Saturday – a 76-62 defeat against Florida State in which N.C. State appeared to be playing amid an emotional hangover after the loss against the Blue Devils.

Still, Williams on Monday went out of his way to compliment the Pack.

“I just think they’re more experienced in what Mark [Gottfried] and his staff want them to do,” Williams said. “They’ve gotten better defensively. To me, they’re better in every phase of the game. And you know, I hope that we’re better. But I do believe they’re better right now in every phase than at that time.”

Some other notes from Williams’ conference call:

--Both sophomore Harrison Barnes (ankle) and freshman P.J. Hairston (foot) continue to be affected by their lingering injuries. “They’re better,” Williams said. “I think that’s the best way to say it. I think as we talked about the other day, these things just tend to linger unless you’re to have a two-week break. And this of year you don’t have a two-week break.”

--That said, Williams said the Tar Heels had a light practice on Sunday and they’d have another light work day today. This will be UNC’s third game in seven days. After Tuesday, the Tar Heels don’t play again until Saturday at Virginia.

-- Andrew Carter

Kendall Marshall: Stop focusing on Tar Heels' negatives

Didn’t have time to spend a lot of time expounding on this last week, but it’s clear that Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall is a bit annoyed with what he perceives as negativity and criticism directed toward North Carolina. The Tar Heels have been a top-10 team all season, yet the way Marshall sees it, people just want to focus on the negative.

After UNC’s 73-64 victory at Miami last week, I asked Marshall about the team’s shooting woes.

He said: “I mean, it happens. I don’t want to focus on the negatives all the time. I feel like when we win it’s why didn’t we win by more. And when we lose, it’s everything that we did wrong to lose. So I’m just happy that we were able to come into a hostile environment [and win]. … We were able to come in here and play well in the second half and win the game.”

I used part of his quote in the story I wrote and Marshall was asked about his comments on Saturday, after North Carolina's victory against Clemson.

“I’m not here to point fingers,” he said. “It’s just questions all the time. We win a game, and they want to know why we didn’t win by more. You want to look at the positive things that you’re doing well and keep going along in a season and try to progress. It seems like they’re pulling you back on all the negativity. We’re just focused on the players in the locker room and the coaching staff and on each other and trying to get better.”

Asked if the expectations were too high or too much for this team, Marshall said:  “I didn’t say it’s too much. I just made a statement. I feel like I can speak openly about those things and speak my mind about it. But it is. We were given high expectations and we want to meet those expectations as well as everyone else does. At the end of the day, it’s not going to be perfect, yellow brick road to get there. There are going to be bumps in the road, things we’re going to have to get better at. And that only comes with time.”

-- Andrew Carter

Duke's Krzyzewski praises team's will to win

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t want to compare his team’s recent comeback victories against North Carolina and N.C. State. But if those wins have taught him anything about the Blue Devils, it might be this: “I do think our team has shown a great will to win,” Krzyzewski said on Monday during the ACC teleconference.

Asked which rally more impressed him and his staff, Krzyzewski declined to compare. Against North Carolina, Duke rallied from a 10-point deficit with about two minutes to play. Austin Rivers made a long 3 at the buzzer to give the Blue Devils an improbable 85-84 victory.

Against N.C. State, the Devils trailed by 20 with about 11 minutes to play. Duke gradually melted away the lead, and took over the game in the final minutes.

“They’re just big-time wins for our team,” Krzyzewski said. “And I’m really proud of the way they hung in there and were able to win those games.”

Duke this week will play at Florida State in a game that carries significant implications for the regular-season title race. Both the Blue Devils and Seminoles are 10-2 in league play, and Duke has already suffered one loss against Florida State. UNC is also 10-2 in league play.

Tough Duke has shown an impressive ability to come from behind and win, Krzyzewski said “hopefully we won’t have to do much coming back” during the rest of the season.

Some other highlights from Krzyzewski’s portion of the call:

--  Krzyzewski acknowledged that his team likely has a “little bit more incentive” to beat Florida State because of what happened the last times these teams met, when the Seminoles’ Michael Snaer made a 3 at the buzzer to give Florida State a victory in Durham. Krzyzewski said he re-watched that game on the way home from Boston last night and he described the first Duke-FSU game as “just a heck of a game.”

--  Krzyzewski admitted he places a little less emphasis on winning the regular-season championship than he once did. Over the past 20 years or so, he said, he has placed more of a priority on winning the ACC tournament than on finishing first in the regular season. “The regular season is still very important,” he said, “but the tournament takes on a little bit different [feel] – it’s like the showcase event.”

--  Krzyzewski was asked what makes Florida State such a great defensive team. The Seminoles are on track to lead the conference in field goal percentage defense for a record fourth consecutive season. Krzyzewski said, “They have a great combination that you can’t teach of length and quickness. You can’t simulate that in a practice. There's the length that they come at you with. And then they’re quick. They have good athletic ability. And this team is really deep, so they come out you with nine or 10 guys … And then they’re well-coached in their principles.”

-- Andrew Carter

Road to ACC title toughest for Tar Heels

With four conference games remaining, Florida State, Duke and North Carolina have clearly separated themselves at the top of the ACC. All three teams are 10-2, and all will be vying during the next week and a half to secure the top seed in the conference basketball tournament. The Tar Heels, though, have the most difficult road.

A look at the remaining schedules for each team:

  • UNC: at N.C. State, at Virginia, Maryland, at Duke
  • Duke: at Florida State, Virginia Tech, at Wake Forest, UNC
  • Florida State: Duke, at Miami, at Virginia, Clemson
As you can see, the Tar Heels are the only team among these three that will go on the road three times over the final four games. All of those road games will be challenging, and Maryland played the Heels tough in College Park earlier this month.

The “easiest” way for North Carolina to win the regular-season title: Duke beats Florida State on Thursday, and then defeats the Hokies and Demon Deacons. Then UNC wins its next three, setting up a Duke-UNC regular-season finale for first place. It’d be fun.

-- Andrew Carter

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bizarre fan removal overshadows lackluster Wolfpack performance

Three Points from N.C. State's 76-62 loss to Florida State on Saturday:

1) Reloading the gun

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried compared the timing of the turnaround from Thursday's loss at Duke to Saturday's game with Florida State to the setup of the NCAA tournament.

One problem with that comparison: You don't have to play again after a loss in the NCAA tournament.

It's tough to reload the gun that quickly, even under normal circumstances, and this did not qualify as normal. Emotionally, almost all of the N.C. State players hadn't recovered from Thursday's gut-punch at Duke, a game which the Wolfpack led by 20 points in the second half (with the notable exception of forward C.J. Leslie, who finished with 21 points and nine bards and continued his march to the first round of the NBA draft).

Compounding the "turnaround" issue was the "Florida State" issue. FSU is an athletic team with experience and also a point to prove after nearly losing at home to a bad Virginia Tech team on Thursday and losing its previous road game to a bad Boston College team on Feb. 8.

FSU's size and athletic ability is a bad matchup for just about everybody (except, apparently, Ivy League teams) and especially a flat, N.C. State team which couldn't hit water from a boat.

"We just didn't have it," senior C.J. Williams said.

His summation was dead on. The Pack was just 6 of 29 in the first half and fell behind by 11, 37-26, at the break. Against FSU's defense 11 points is like 33, there's no coming back without a 3-point explosion. Such a a flurry never happened for the Pack, which finished 3 of 12 from beyond the arc.

And Gottfried didn't like how his team responded after a slow start.

"We just seemed to accept our fate," Gottfried said. "I did not like that. This team has not done that this year."

2) Running out of time

N.C. State has four more games before the ACC tournament starts, two of the teams are ranked in the top 50 of the RPI (UNC, Miami) and State has to play the other two games on the road (Clemson, Virginia Tech).

As Gottfried pointed out before the trip to Duke, that's a difficult closing path for his team. A win in either of the previous two games — at Duke, No. 2 in the RPI, and vs. FSU, No. 28 in the RPI — would have dramatically improved N.C. State's NCAA tournament chances. As would a win over North Carolina, No. 8, on Tuesday.

Gottfried has argued about the relative significance of this three-game stretch. He has argued that even if the team loses all three games, it's not eliminated from the NCAA tournament conversation.

His preference is for his team to focus "one game at a time" and also to be judged on the entirety of the season.

These are both fair points and one a coach should make. To Gottfried's point, Virginia Tech beat Duke last year and everyone from coach Seth Greenberg to Dick Vitale had proclaimed the Hokies were in but Selection Sunday rolled around and the Hokies were out.

Clemson, meanwhile, was winless in four games against Duke and Carolina, but found its way into the field of 68. (Clemson also had a head-to-head win over VT)

And while Gottfried is right, that doesn't discount the external value we (media, fans) have placed on the Duke-FSU-UNC stretch. Games against the top 25, and top 50, of the RPI matter. They just do.

Going back to Virginia Tech's example, the Hokies only top 50 win last year was against Duke. The NCAA was telling them, they needed more than just one win (which is Gottfried's point).

I had an animated exchange with Gottfried after the game on the topic of being judged on three games versus the entire season. He offered some funny, and insightful, comments about his experience as an ESPN analyst.

"I worked for ESPN. I was told to be an expert," Gottfried said. "I was told to stand up there and for sure say, 'This is the law.'

"Hell, I didn't know but I'm not going to get on TV and say, 'I really don't know what they got to do.' "

And Gottfried continued, admitting the value of the Duke-FSU-UNC stretch.

"Sure, it would be nice if we would have swept right through, you know all that, but if you don't, that doesn't mean you are eliminated," Gottfried said. "Some things still happen. You never know with this."

3) About Corch, Gugs and Hess (and the officials)

In 10 years, no one will remember Saturday's game because N.C. State couldn't get over the Duke loss or that it shot poorly but everyone will remember that Wolfpack greats Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta were ejected with 6:40 left in the game by referee Karl Hess.

Corchiani, who regularly attends games, and Gugliotta, who was visiting from Atlanta, were sitting behind the scorers' table and by their own admission, protesting a series of calls during the game. According to Corchiani, and at least two officials at the table, Corchiani did not use any profanity or threaten Hess.

"We were just fans, cheering and yelling like everybody else," Corchiani said.

Hess refused to offer an explanation to the Associated Press seeking comment after the game.

The ACC has admitted that Hess did not follow the proper NCAA protocol, which is to confer with the school's game management official before having the fan(s) removed, but it did not offer an explanation for why the former players were asked to leave their seats.

The NCAA rule says the game official has the authority to eject "unruly fans" who exhibit "extreme or excessive" behavior. By Corchiani's account, their behavior did not qualify as either extreme or excessive.

At minimum, Hess and the ACC should provide a thorough explanation, not the weak e-mail response the conference flimisly provided Saturday night at 9:32 p.m. (four hours after it was originally requested by the media).

If Hess' account for what happened matches Corchiani's, there should also be an apology. And that's not because of who Corchiani and Gugliotta are but because any fan, regardless if their jersey hangs in the arena or not, has the right to protest calls within the limits of civility. To suggest otherwise would mean Duke and Maryland (to just name two hostile environments) would have to play in front of a sea of empty seats.

Hess is a good official who is having a bad year. He was also involved in the no-call on a goaltending at the end of West Virginia's loss 63-61 loss at Syracuse on Jan. 28. Hess and the ACC should provide the proper contrition and let everyone move on. Their paying constituents are owed as much.

As for the actual in-game officiating, ironically, there were no issues, at least not for N.C. State. FSU was probably not happy that the Pack was in the free-throw bonus 8 minutes into the first half and attempted 31 free throws for the game.

The free throws (18 in the first half for State, four for FSU), and ostensibly the officiating, actually kept N.C. State in the game in the first half, when Leslie made five field goals and the rest of the team combined for one.

Forward Richard Howell fouled out for the fifth time in the past eight ACC games but Howell is his own worst enemy. No amount of complaining on Twitter is going to change that. He has to play smarter. He's playing noticeably harder this year but that also leads to touch fouls.

His first foul on Saturday happened about 75 feet from N.C. State's basket. There's no reason for that.

Brian Dorsey made a bad call on Howell's fifth foul, a clean block of Michael Snaer, but Howell put himself in foul trouble by picking up fouls early that could have been avoided, without sacrificing his hustle or defense.

The bigger issue, going back to the Duke game, is N.C. State needs to let its fans — and in the case of Hess, its AD — worry about the officials. The players need to regroup and finish out the season knowing they gave their best effort. I don't think that was the case on Saturday, no matter how surreal the circumstances.

--J.P. Giglio

Friday, February 17, 2012

Heroic effort by Seth Curry was key for Duke

DURHAM -- One of the more important moments in Duke’s comeback against N.C. State on Thursday night came in the first half, just as the Wolfpack was building a commanding early lead.
Seth Curry went up for a loose ball and came down awkwardly. When he got up, he put weight on his ankle to see if he could continue.The grimace on his face suggested Curry’s return was far from certain.

“When he went out, I thought he was gone,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Jose (Fonseca), our trainer, was just telling me that Seth said, ‘Man, I don’t know if I can go,’ and Jose said, ‘You have to go.’ Seth said, ‘It hurts,’ and Jose said, ‘I’ll give you a shot.’”

Bolstered by the shot and a re-taping of his ankle, Curry returned to Duke’s 78-73 win over the Wolfpack, scoring 26 points to key Duke’s rally from a 20-point second half deficit. The Blue Devils junior scored 21 of those points in the second half, and Curry was at his best as Duke tightened the screws against the reeling Wolfpack.

Curry scored 14 of the Blue Devils’ 30 points during the stretch when Duke turned a 61-41 deficit into a 72-71 advantage.

“That was a heroic performance by Seth,” Krzyzewski said.

Matched up against Scott Wood for much of the Duke run, Curry was able to drive to the basket with impunity and score most of his points in the lane as Wood struggled to keep up defensively. Curry’s only 3-pointer during the stretch was a shot that brought the fifth-ranked Blue Devils (22-4, 9-2) within two, 71-69, with 3:18 remaining.

“I thought I had matchups where I could take them off the dribble, and I did just that,” Curry said.

The 26 points were a career-high for Curry. Through the combination of making all five of his free throws and having N.C. State’s Scott Wood miss three of his, Curry now leads the ACC in free-throw shooting, hitting 87.2 percent of his attempts on the season.

That’s not the conference race Curry is most interested in, of course.

By rallying against the Wolfpack, Duke is still in the midst of a three-team battle for the ACC regular season championship along with UNC and Florida State.

“We’ve got to win at home to (win the conference),” Curry said. “It would’ve hurt a lot of we had lost this game.”
--Jack Daly

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gottfried says Duke is among top 3 teams

Mark Gottfried and Mike Krzyzewski are in a mutual admiration society, at least before Thursday's game between their ACC teams in Durham.

Krzyzewski complimented Gottfried's N.C. State team earlier in the week, calling them an NCAA tournament team, and Gottfried returned the favor on Wednesday, calling Duke one of the "two or three best teams" in the country.

"They're a terrific team and they've had a great year. I really like their team," Gottfried said. "They're certainly one of the two or three best teams in the country, in my opinion."

Duke's 8-2, tied for first in the ACC, and 21-4 overall. The Blue Devils are ranked fifth in the AP poll this week.

The Blue Devils lost two first-round picks to the NBA, in guards Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving, and a two-time All-ACC player in forward Kyle Singler, off of last year's ACC title team. Gottfried is impressed with how Krzyzewski has adjusted and continued to excel with new personnel.

"Think of who they lost and think of where they are," Gottfried said.

State has lost 13 straight at Duke and hasn't beaten Krzyzewski in Durham since 1988. Gottfried said that isn't one of his concerns for Thursday's game.

"There's a lot of streaks that we've inherited that need to change," Gottfried said. "Some already have, some haven't."

--J.P. Giglio

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

UNC at Miami: Three things to watch

SOUTH FLORIDA — Welcome to lovely Plantation, Fla., where in just a few hours I’ll be making my way to Coral Gables for No. 8 North Carolina’s game tonight at Miami. Three things to watch while the Tar Heels and Hurricanes meet for a second time:

First …
The Tar Heels’ bench. As I wrote here in this story in the paper this morning, depth was the least of Roy Williams’ concerns earlier this season. Now the bench is among the biggest question marks for UNC with six games to play in the regular season.

Dexter Strickland’s season-ending injury at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19, of course, forced former sixth-man Reggie Bullock into the starting lineup. Since then no one has emerged to take over that role of dependable sixth-man, though freshman James Michael McAdoo has made strides.

Fellow freshman P.J. Hairston, meanwhile, is questionable for the game tonight. He sat out the Heels’ 70-52 victory against Virginia on Saturday while he rested his sore left foot. Hairston has been limited in practice this week, though he did practice more on Tuesday than he did on Wednesday. Whether he plays tonight will depend a lot on how he feels going through warm-ups.

Bottom line, though, is this: The Tar Heels need more production from their bench. That production doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of points, Williams said earlier this week, but UNC’s reserves have to provide something when they’re out there. McAdoo, Justin Watts and Stilman White were solid against Virginia, and they’ll need to continue that upward trend.

Second …
UNC’s perimeter defense against Miami’s shooters. The Hurricanes made just 3 of their 16 3-point attempts the first time these teams played, but Miami remains one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the ACC. They rank fourth in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (35.6 percent) and third in 3-point attempts and 3-pointers made.

The three Miami players who have attempted the most 3-pointers on the team are all shooting at least 34.2 percent from 3-point range. And that doesn’t include 6-foot-11 forward Kenny Kadji, who has made 45.2 percent of his 3’s (19-for-42).

The Hurricanes’ shooting ability wasn’t a factor the first time these teams played, but Miami will need it to be tonight to have a chance of pulling off the upset. In fact, that loss earlier this season against the Heels represented Miami’s lowest point-per-possession output of the season.

The Hurricanes scored a season-low .79 points per possession, and they also turned it over on 23.9 percent of their possessions – also a season-worst.

Third …
The battle in the middle. One could make a sound argument that no one in the ACC has played as well as North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller has during conference play. He is averaging 19 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in league games, and he has been UNC’s most consistently dominant player since the start of conference play.

But Zeller will be challenged by Miami’s Reggie Johnson, who’s a different player than the one who came through the Smith Center earlier this season. At that point, Johnson was still recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of Miami’s first nine games.

It was clear during the first meeting between UNC and Miami that Johnson was still working his way back into shape, and even then he finished with a respectable 12 points and nine rebounds. Since then, though, Johnson’s stamina has improved, as has his production.

Johnson scored 27 points and had 12 rebounds in the Hurricanes’ surprising victory against Duke, and he’s a physical challenge for anyone who steps in his way. Zeller has gone a long way recently toward shedding the perception that he’s soft, but he’ll face a difficult test tonight.

--Andrew Carter

Monday, February 13, 2012

Krzyzewski likes Wolfpack's NCAA chances

Mike Krzyzewski thinks N.C. State is an NCAA tournament team, so does ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried is not as sure.

"Without question, we have a long way to go," Gottfried said Monday on the weekly ACC teleconference.
N.C. State's 18-7 overall and 7-3 in the ACC with its biggest three-game stretch of the season approaching. The Pack plays Krzyzewski's Duke team on Thursday, in Durham, followed by a visit from FSU on Saturday and the return game with North Carolina on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Those three teams are tied for the ACC lead at 8-2 and each one of those three games represents a chance for the Pack to notch a resume-building, if not clinching win.

Lunardi, who handles ESPN's weekly tournament projections, has the Wolfpack as one of the last four teams in the 68-team field, which would put them in Dayton, Ohio for the "First Four."

Gottfried, who worked at ESPN the previous two seasons before taking the State job in last April, said he noticed Lunardi's projection but didn't think much of it.

"As a former member of the media, one thing I do know, Joey Brackets — who I love — his list will change at least 100 times between now and Selection Sunday," Gottfried said.

"There's a lot of chatter about who's in and who's out but the only way you get into the tournament is to win games."

N.C. State has won three straight in the conference to improve to 7-3 in the ACC but all of its wins are over teams behind them in the league standings.

N.C. State goes to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday where it hasn't won since 1995 and hasn't beaten Krzyzewski since 1988.

Krzyzewski spoke highly of Gottfried's first team, which has already surpassed the conference win total of the previous five State teams.

"I think they've earned everything that they've gotten," Krzyzewski said. "I think they're an NCAA team and I think they will be tough down the stretch for a lot of people."

Duke throttled State last year at Cameron, 76-52, and won in Raleigh, 92-78. Since State's last win at Duke in '95, the Blue Devils have gone 29-5 against the Wolfpack.

-- J.P. Giglio

Krzyzewski: Blue Devils searching for consistency

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has a sore throat and his voice was more raspy than usual Monday on the ACC teleconference.

Nonetheless, he stressed that a lot has gone right for this year’s Blue Devil team, even if  they are not quite as consistent as he’d like. Heading into Thursday’s home game against N.C. State, Duke is 21-4 and 8-2 in the ACC, balancing perplexing efforts against Miami and St. John's with strong wins over North Carolina and Maryland.

“You’d rather have it more stable,” Krzyzewski said. “But every team in the country is somewhat inconsistent. That’s why every team in the country loses games. Even some of the great players in our country have a bad game.”

Miles Plumlee was the latest Duke to have his moment in the spotlight, grabbing 22 rebounds in the Blue Devils’ win over Maryland on Saturday. That was the most rebounds a Duke player has had since Krzyzewski arrived and the ninth-highest total in program history. 

In the game before, Austin Rivers was the star, scoring a career-high 29 points in Duke’s win over North Carolina.

“With our team, we’re lucky enough that enough guys have done a good job – and then we’ve done a good job in parts of enough games to produce the record we have with the schedule we have,” Krzyzewski said.

“Really, overall, I think these kids have done an unbelievable job. Coming from the base that they had – none of them were star players for us last year.”

-- Jack Daly

Guard depth an issue for Tar Heels

North Carolina coach Roy Williams might have figured before the season that the Tar Heels’ depth would be the least of his concerns. But as injuries have mounted he said on Monday that the Heels’ depth is “not quite what we hoped it would be.”

Leslie McDonald, a junior guard, hasn’t played at all this season while recovering from a knee injury he suffered during the summer. Then Dexter Strickland suffered a season-ending knee injury in a victory at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19. And then, on Saturday, P.J. Hairston sat out the Heels’ victory against Virginia with a foot injury.

Hairston, a freshman, became the third UNC shooting guard to miss a game because of an injury this season. Williams said today during his portion of the weekly ACC teleconference that UNC’s medical staff would evaluate Hairston’s injured left foot and determine how much – if any – he can participate in practice.
Hairston’s status for the Heels’ game against Miami on Wednesday night is unknown, Williams said.

Meanwhile, Harrison Barnes’ left ankle, which he sprained in a victory at Wake Forest on Jan. 31, continues to improve, Williams said. Barnes suffered some swelling after the victory against Virginia, but Williams said Barnes’ ankle felt stronger than it did the previous week after a victory at Maryland.

-- Andrew Carter

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Duke carries momentum forward

DURHAM – No. 10 Duke had a strong second half Saturday afternoon, maintaining its momentum from Wednesday’s win over North Carolina with a 73-55 victory against Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

From Miles Plumlee’s monster effort on the glass (22 rebounds, an all-time high for a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team) to Seth Curry’s steady offensive performance, there were a lot of things the Blue Devils had to like about the win.

Here are three of the more encouraging things Duke can take from the victory:

1. Miles Plumlee morphs into Brian Zoubek

Of all the things Duke had to like about Saturday, the possibility of Plumlee assuming Zoubek’s mantle has to be the highest on the list. Against Maryland two seasons ago, Zoubek kicked off a robust conclusion to his senior campaign by scoring 16 points and grabbing 17 rebounds, becoming a force down low over the final six weeks to help lead the Blue Devils to the NCAA title.

Whether Plumlee’s effort was a one-game thing or something more, Krzyzewski was nonetheless encouraged by Plumlee’s response to the coaching staff showing the team highlights of Zoubek’s game against Maryland.

“We showed what that team two years ago did on this weekend against Maryland, which kind of pushed us in a really good direction where a youngster went from being good to being great,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not going to put that on Miles, but he was great today. I don’t know if he can keep doing that, but the fact that he’s done it is a nice turn.

“It’s not like he’s played poorly – he’s done a really good job, just like Brian had done a good job. From that day on, Zoubek was great and we won a national championship.”

2. Austin Rivers plays within himself

Compared to his spectacular effort against the Tar Heels on Wednesday, Duke’s freshman guard was quiet against the Terrapins, scoring 11 points.

After his career night against UNC, it may have been easy for Rivers to assert himself offensively and show that he is the star of the Blue Devils’ offense. Instead, Rivers didn’t force the issue, seeming to realize he wasn’t especially sharp while allowing his teammates attack the Terrapins.

That’s noteworthy because three weeks ago Rivers likely would have taken a couple of ill-advised shots or driven into the teeth of the Maryland defense in an effort to get himself going. There was little of that Saturday, which, in a sense, is almost as encouraging for Duke as Rivers' performance on Wednesday night.

“I talked to him briefly after the game and just said you played well defensively and rebounding wise,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s really difficult to come back after doing that and the whole world is talking about your shot.”

3. The Blue Devils played well in consecutive games

It’s been since the early part of January that Duke have strung together two solid efforts that have resulted in a win.

Given the unpredictable nature of this team, it wouldn’t have been a complete shock had the Blue Devils struggled against the Terrapins. Instead, they put together a second half that ranks as one of their better 20 minutes of the year.

“I would like to think we could take a step up after these two games,” Krzyzewski said.

Added Rivers, “I think it shows maturity as a team. For us to win against North Carolina – a less mature team would play loose and lose the game. For us to come in here and play a team that really needed a win … that shows maturity as a team and is a big momentum thing for us right now. We’ve got to ride this in a positive direction.”

--Jack Daly

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Video: Highlights from UNC's win against Virginia

Virginia vs. North Carolina post-game analysis

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jeff Capel can empathize with Austin Rivers' emotions

As Austin Rivers comes down from his adrenaline rush of a Wednesday night, the person who may have the best idea of how Rivers' one shot will affect his Duke legacy is Jeff Capel.

It's conceivable that Rivers' game-winning 3-pointer was the Blue Devils' most memorable shot in the series with North Carolina since Capel hit a running 30-footer at the end of the first overtime of the teams' Feb. 2, 1995 game.

There are differences between the two buzzer-beaters, with the most notable being that Capel's effort didn't win the game for Duke - North Carolina ended up outlasting Duke 102-100 in double overtime.

So in that sense, Rivers' heroics were even more magical for the Blue Devils.

"It's something that he'll be able to tell his kids about it," said Capel, who is now an assistant coach for the Blue Devils. "It's something that his team will always remember, too - everyone that was associated with it.

"The game will probably be known as the 'Rivers shot.' "

The Capel shot game has taken on a life of its own and become something of an urban legend. Many people, Capel said, have only seen highlights of his shot and do not realize it only tied the game.

That doesn't bother Capel so much as the final score still irritates. With Mike Krzyzewski on leave with an ailing back, that was the season everything went wrong for the Blue Devils. In some ways, the loss to UNC encapsulated the entire season.

"It would have meant more to me and would mean more to me know if we would have won the game, especially if that would have been the game-winner," Capel said.

Nonetheless, Capel enjoys his place in Duke-North Carolina lore.

Capel said he still gets asked about the shot - with the Tar Heels up three, Serge Zwikker missed a free throw before Cherokee Parks rebounded the ball and passed it to Capel, who dribbled twice and took two steps before letting fly from a spot halfway between the top of the 3-point arc and the half-court line - all the time.

"For a kid that really understands this rivalry, to have a moment that will always be remembered in this historic rivalry - it's something that's very special to me," Capel said. "I know Austin didn't grow up in this state, but Austin's a student of the game. I know it's always going to mean something to him and for him to always have a moment like that.

"He'll always have this moment and it's always something that people will remember and identify him with. Hopefully, there are many moments like that for him. But certainly around here and in college basketball, people will always remember that."

Tar Heels' Hairston to miss Virginia game

P.J. Hairston, the North Carolina freshman guard who has averaged 6.6 points per game, will sit out the Tar Heels’ college basketball game against Virginia on Saturday because of a sore left foot, according to a statement UNC released on Friday.

Hairston played 10 minutes and did not score in UNC’s 85-84 loss against Duke on Wednesday night. Hairston, who is wearing a protective boot on his left foot, will not practice today.

During the early part of the season, Hairston was UNC’s most reliable 3-point shooter. But he has been mired in a shooting slump since the start of ACC play last month. He has made just 6 of his 34 3-point attempts since the start of conference play.

The absence of Hairston makes UNC’s already-thin bench even thinner. Only one other reserve, fellow freshman James Michael McAdoo, is averaging more than five minutes of playing time per game. McAdoo and Hairston have both averaged about 13 minutes of playing time.

Hairston is UNC’s third guard who will miss a game this season because of injury. Dexter Strickland, a junior, started UNC’s first 19 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury in a victory against Virginia Tech on Jan. 19. Junior guard Leslie McDonald, meanwhile, is sitting out the season while he recovers from a knee injury.

-- Andrew Carter

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Duke at the buzzer! The sports front

UNC's weaknesses exposed in loss to Duke

About 12 hours after one of the wildest finishes in the history of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry left the Blue Devils with an 85-84 victory, some thoughts from a UNC perspective …

First …

The Tar Heels haven’t yet developed a consistent killer instinct. It’s one of the oldest clich├ęs in sports, this notion of having a “killer instinct.” And yet it’s so important, too. The best teams put opponents away when they have the opportunity.

And UNC on Wednesday night had plenty of opportunities to put Duke away. The Heels led by 13 with 15:08 to play, by 12 with 7:20 to play, by 11 with 4:59 to play, by 10 with 2:38 to play. And then that’s when Duke began a 13-2 run it used to close the game and steal the victory.

Against lesser opponents, UNC has at times this season played well down the stretch. Once the Heels opened up a double-digit lead against N.C. State, for instance, that game was over. And in the final minutes at Maryland on Saturday, UNC made some clutch plays and pulled away.

Against Duke, the Heels had so many chances to put the game away. But they let the Blue Devils hang around, and hang around, and hang around. Credit goes to Duke, too, of course. The Devils were at their best in the final couple of minutes. They made improbable shots. They forced turnovers.

Even so, UNC had this game in its grasp. And let it slip away.

Second …

UNC’s weaknesses were exposed, again. As good as the Tar Heels have been defensively for much of the season, perimeter defense has remained a concern. As has suspect free-throw shooting. And bench production.

All three of those things hurt UNC on Wednesday night. It was no secret that Duke was going to shoot a lot of 3’s and, still, the Heels often left Duke open on the perimeter. The shot that Austin Rivers made to win it at the buzzer was contested (by Tyler Zeller, who switched to guarding Rivers after Duke set a screen for him), but several of the Devils’ other 36 3-point attempts weren’t.

Then there was the free-throw shooting. UNC has been the worst free-throw shooting team in the ACC this season, yet the Heels were 13 of 15 from the line during the first half. The law of averages caught up, though, and UNC made only 8 of its 15 free throws during the second half. Two of the misses came from Zeller in the final minute.

And then there was bench production. The Heels bench combined to produce 6 points and four rebounds. Reserves not named James Michael McAdoo produced zero points and one rebound.

Third …

The Tar Heels failed to play to their strengths. Neither of these teams matched up particularly well with the other. Duke entered the game as a strong perimeter shooting team that wasn’t known for rebounding or defense.

UNC, meanwhile, entered as one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country – and as one of the best transition teams in the country. The Tar Heels wanted to score as quickly as possible, and also wanted to take advantage of second-chance opportunities.

But they did neither. UNC forced 10 Duke turnovers but the Tar Heels had just six fast-break points. After missed shots and turnovers, both, the Heels rarely generated easy scoring opportunities. They also failed to turn offensive rebounds into points.

UNC had 15 offensive rebounds, but scored just 12 points off of those. Duke had fewer offensive rebounds (12) but turned those into more points (17).

So to put this another way, Duke was better at maximizing its strength (3-point shooting) and hiding its weakness (rebounding and defense) than UNC was at maximizing its strengths. The Heels needed to score in transition and they needed to take advantage of second-chance opportunities, but they couldn’t – or didn’t.

-- Andrew Carter

VIDEO: Highlights from Duke's rally to beat UNC

Highlights from the Duke-UNC basketball game Thursday night, including an interview with Austin Rivers, who made the winning three-pointer at the buzzer:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Duke-UNC: Three keys for Devils in tonight's ACC clash

Duke's problems with consistency and intensity were on display in its 78-74 overtime loss to Miami on Sunday, when the Blue Devils fell behind by double digits in the first half against the Hurricanes and couldn't quite come all the way back for the victory.

It would be a surprise if either was an issue tonight against the Tar Heels.

In a sense, the rivalry game comes at a perfect time for the No. 10 Blue Devils (19-4, 6-2), who have needed multiple shots in the arm this season. With UNC on the docket, motivation shouldn't be an issue.

Of course, there's the question of the team's confidence after the loss to Miami. But the Blue Devils have proven to a pretty solid team this year when they're locked in. Assuming they don't misplace their motivation, here are three keys for tonight's game (9 p.m. WBTV, ESPN):

1. Win the Rivers vs. Barnes matchup

One would expect the two touted recruits would guard each other at some point of the festivities and perhaps for a majority of the time.

Harrison Barnes' height - he's 6-foot-8 - will certainly pose problems for the 6-foot-4 Austin Rivers. But Rivers speed could challenge the hobbled Barnes, who has said he will play despite the ankle injury he suffered against Maryland.

It's hard to see many paths to victory for Duke if this matchup breaks UNC's way in a decisive manner.

2. Wear down Kendall Marshall

In Marshall, UNC has one of the top point guards in the country.

In Tyler Thornton, Quinn Cook and Seth Curry, Duke has a point guard rotation that is dictated by the matchup and who is playing well. With Marshall not having much in the way of a serviceable backup, the Blue Devils' best hope will be to try and wear Marshall down as best they can.

Otherwise, Marshall's incisive passes into the post or to teammates in transition could be the death of the Blue Devils.

3. Come up with its defensive effort of the year

UNC and Duke lead the ACC in scoring offense. The problem for the Blue Devils is that the Tar Heels' defense (second in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense, and 14th in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defense ranking) is significantly better than Duke's (last in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense and 91st in the KenPom rankings).

Duke has shown it can defend in stretches this season. Most of the time, those stretches have come after prolonged periods when opposing teams have had free reign to run their offense. But if the Blue Devils can pay attention to detail for 40 minutes, not get lost on screens and remember to help every time, perhaps they can flip this storyline.

If not, someone's going to have to hit a lot of 3-pointers.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tudor: A few UNC-Duke hoops moments to remember

There's almost never a Duke vs. UNC basketball game that comes up short on memories. Here are just a few of the many rivalry meetings that are worth noting:

Mar. 1, 1957: Lennie Rosenbluth's final Duke-UNC game. He had 40 points and 12 rebounds to lead an 86-72 UNC win in Durham. The Heels went on to finish 32-0.

Mar. 4, 1960: Duke's 71-69 win in the ACC Tournament semifinals at Raleigh keyed Harold Bradley's team to an unlikely league title. Duke beat Wake Forest in the title game after 6-6 center Carroll Youngkin's 30 points sank UNC.

Feb. 4, 1961: The brawl in Cameron erupted when Duke's Art Heyman and UNC's Larry Brown swapped licks under the UNC basket late in the game. The Devils won 81-77 and Heyman finished with 36 points.

Mar. 2, 1968: Fred Lind came off the Duke bench to score 16 points, grab nine rebounds and block three shots in the Blue Devils' 87-86 triple-overtime win.

Mar. 2, 1974: The famous eight points/17 seconds Tar Heel rally in Chapel Hill. Walter Davis hit the 30-foot jumper to force an overtime and the eventual UNC 96-92 win.

Dec. 5, 1980: The final Big Four event in Greensboro ended with a 78-76 UNC win. It was the first UNC-Duke game for Mike Krzyzewski. James Worthy had 26 points and nine rebounds in the win.

Feb. 28, 1981: Mike Krzyzewski's first Duke team won only 17 games but Gene Banks and Kenny Dennard made their Senior Night special with a 66-65 overtime win over the 11th-ranked Tar Heels.

Mar. 3, 1984: Final home game for UNC's Sam Perkins, junior Michael Jordan and Matt Doherty went to two overtimes before UNC escaped 96-93.

Jan. 18, 1989: Duke fans chanted "J.R. Can't Reid!" repeatedly during warm-up drills. Dean Smith was livid and Reid responded with 13 points and 10 rebounds as UNC stunned the top-ranked Devils, 91-71.

Feb. 5, 1992: Eric Montross left some blood on the Smith Center playing court but the Heels got a 75-73 win over top-ranked Duke.

Feb. 2, 1995: Duke's Jeff Capel hit one of the most amazing shots in rivalry history but after two overtimes, the second-ranked Heels escaped Durham with a 102-100 win.

Feb. 28, 1998: Top-ranked Duke got a 77-75 win over the 3rd-ranked Heels in Cameron for Krzyzewski's 500th career win.

Mar. 11, 2001: A 79-53 Duke romp in the ACC championship game at Atlanta marked the beginning of the end for Matt Doherty as UNC coach.

Feb. 5, 2004: In the series first game after Roy Williams left Kansas, the top-ranked Devils won in overtime, 83-81, at the Smith Center.

Feb. 7, 2006: J.J. Redick led an 87-83 Duke win in Chapel Hill with a stunning 35-point outburst. The senior guard scored 22 in the second half.

Mar. 8, 2008: UNC scored the game's final 10 points for a 76-68 win. Danny Green's 18 points led the offense. Tyler Hansbrough added 16 points and 15 rebounds for the top-ranked Heels.

Mar. 13, 2011: When they last met, the ACC championship was again on the line and the Devils made it look easy in Greensboro. Nolan Smith scored 20 points and dished out 10 assists to pace 75-58 win.

-- Caulton Tudor

At ACC midpoint, what Tar Heels have taught us

Halfway through the ACC schedule, No. 5 North Carolina is 7-1 in the conference. Of course, each half of the league schedule isn’t exactly symmetrical. The Tar Heels have yet to play Duke, for instance, and will play the Blue Devils twice among the final eight conference games. The first of those meetings comes Wednesday night at the Smith Center.

Still, the midway point provides a natural opportunity to evaluate where UNC stands as it prepares for the stretch run of the regular season before postseason play begins in about a month. That said, after eight conference games, here are eight things we’ve learned about the Heels to this point:

--This team has responded well to adversity. The first half of the conference schedule provided North Carolina with two major tests: One, how would UNC bounce back from that 33-point loss at Florida State. And, two, how would the Tar Heels compensate for the loss of Dexter Strickland, who suffered a season-ending knee injury at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19. UNC hasn’t lost since that defeat at FSU, and the Heels collectively have raised their level of play – especially on defense – to make up for the loss of Strickland.

--This is a better defensive team than people realize. There’s this perception that UNC is an average – or even below average – of defensive team. That perception, though, is wrong. In ACC games, the Heels are holding opponents to 40.5 percent shooting, which leads the ACC. The Tar Heels are also averaging 7.1 blocks per game in ACC games, which also leads the conference. UNC plays excellent defense, particularly inside the 3-point line (more on this momentarily).

--Reggie Bullock has adequately filled in for Dexter Strickland at shooting guard. No, Bullock isn’t the on-the-ball defender that Strickland is, and he can’t guard opposing point guards the way Strickland did. But Bullock has improved tremendously as a defensive player, and one could argue his help defense – and his disruption in passing lanes – has improved UNC’s team defense. Plus, Bullock’s ability to shoot from the outside has helped open up the offense for some of his teammates.

--Production off the bench is a concern. The loss of Strickland still hurts, however, because Bullock no longer is able to come off the bench. And that leaves the bench especially thin. Especially with P.J. Hairston struggling with his shot the way he has (6-for-33 from 3-point range in ACC games). James Michael McAdoo has become a more confident, productive player, but UNC still lacks a go-to guy off the bench.

UNC does seem to be becoming a more intense, energetic team. Intensity still comes in spurts for the Heels, who are still learning to play with intensity all the time – instead of just some of the time. But since that loss at Florida State, there has been a noticeable difference in the Tar Heels’ attitude. That’s not unexpected, given the difficult practices that coach Roy Williams led in the aftermath of what happened in Tallahassee, Fla.

-- The Heels aren’t as soft on the interior as critics believe. Yes, there are heavier, meaner frontcourts out there (see the one at Florida State, for instance), but UNC has done a lot to shed its soft label during the first half of the league schedule. The Tar Heels have mostly dominated on the interior, and Tyler Zeller has been as aggressive as any player in the ACC. At the halfway point of the conference schedule, Zeller is an obvious first-team All-ACC player, and he’s in the discussion for ACC Player of the Year.

--Teams that shoot well from the outside, and play good defense, can cause UNC problems. Of course, teams that shoot well from the outside and that defend would cause problems for a lot of teams. As good as UNC has been defensively, though, the Heels remain susceptible to good 3-point shooting teams. UNC’s 3-point percentage defense ranks 9th in the ACC, and opposing teams are shooting 34.7 percent from 3-point range.

Free-throw shooting is a liability. UNC is shooting 68.1 percent in conference games from the free-throw line, which ranks 10th in the ACC. Overall, the Heels are shooting 65.1 percent from the line, which ranks last among ACC teams. UNC is bound to find itself in close games, especially in March, and poor free-throw shooting won’t  do the Heels any favors.

-- Andrew Carter

Monday, February 6, 2012

Duke consistently talks about consistency

The watchword at Duke on Monday was "consistency," and no one -- not the players, not coach Mike Krzyzewski -- had an explanation why the Blue Devils have been so inconsistent this year. At least, they were consistent in that respect.

"I don't know, but we have to figure it out," Duke forward Mason Plumlee said, two days before Duke visits North Carolina in the first meeting between the teams.

"This is one of the most different teams I've had," Krzyzewski said. "Overall, they've done a good job, or we wouldn't be 19-4. But different guys have done well and we've done enough to win that many games. But I don't think anyone has had an exceptional year, or for the last month. Again, that doesn't mean they've been bad. That's not usually the case for our team. Usually, we have one or two guys who are all-ACC candidates."

There's no question Duke has players who are capable of playing at that level: Plumlee did it against Maryland. Andre Dawkins did it against Michigan State and Wake Forest. Austin Rivers did it against Miami. Seth Curry should probably do it more often, and Ryan Kelly presents significant matchup problems.

Yet none of them has said, "I'm the go-to guy. I want the ball in my hands right now," on a regular basis, although Rivers in recent days probably comes closest, and Krzyzewski said Plumlee has been Duke's most consistent player, particularly when it comes to rebounding.

"No question it's a different challenge," Krzyzewski said. "No question about that. Every coach would rather have two or three guys all the time, because then you can build better."

Perhaps the most baffling manifestation of Duke's inconsistency is at the defensive end, where defensive intensity has been a part of Duke's DNA for decades.

"It's something that we've shown flashes of being really good at," Kelly said. "I think it just comes down to being consistent, as individuals and as a team. We've improved in areas, and then not done as well in other areas. It has to be a true decision that we're going to be better defensively, and it has to be there every single day."

- Luke DeCock

Wolfpack faces must-win game vs. Georgia Tech

While many Triangle fans will spend most of this week immersed in the build up for the first UNC vs. Duke game of the basketball season, N.C. State is in more of a must-win situation.

At Georgia Tech on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPNU), the Wolfpack (17-7, 6-3 ACC) almost has to avenge a Jan. 11 82-71 loss to the Yellow Jackets (9-14, 2-7) in the RBC Center.

Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried on Monday didn’t even attempt to deny that landing an NCAA Tournament is on the minds of his players and the coaching staff. Two losses to Georgia Tech could be an NCAA resume buster. After the trip to Atlanta, the Pack will not  play again until Feb. 16 at Duke, followed two days later by a game against Florida State.

“You always (think about the NCAA),” the first-year Pack coach said. “Anyone tells you they don’t, they’re lying. But it can’t be our emphasis every day. There has to be emphasis on next opponent and how are we going to play in this one game.”

In the January game against the Yellow Jackets, N.C. State lost because of major failures to execute in four areas:

•A slow start left the team down 40-29 at halftime.

•Spotty perimeter defense opened the door for Glen Rice, Jr. to score 22 points in 34 minutes.

•N.C. State missed 14 of its 19 shots behind the 3-point arc.

•C.J. Leslie fouled out while Scott Wood and Rich Howell were called for four personals each.

“Georgia Tech obviously came into Raleigh and beat us, so we have our hands full,” Gottfried said. “I do think we’ve improved -- improved in a lot of areas. Hopefully, we’ll play better.”

Gottfried gave sophomore playmaker Lorenzo Brown much of the credit for leading Saturday’s 87-76 win over Wake Forest. Brown finished with 15 points, eight assists and four rebounds.

“Zo’s play was very encouraging,” Gottfried said. “He had a bounce in his step, which is what our team needed.”

-- Caulton Tudor

UNC's Harrison Barnes: Ankle is better, but ...

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said on Monday morning that he will likely hold Harrison Barnes out of most of the Tar Heels’ practice today to allow Barnes more time to rest after he re-injured his sprained left ankle during UNC’s 83-74 victory against Maryland on Saturday.

The Tar Heels host Duke at the Smith Center on Wednesday night.

Barnes said he felt about 60 percent healthy entering the Maryland game on Saturday, but he finished with 18 points and made two important shots during the second half. His 3-pointer from the left side gave UNC the lead for good with about nine minutes to play. Then Barnes made a jumper with about a minute to play that stretched the Heels’ lead to six.

Barnes said he experienced considerable pain during the game, and said it felt like he’d been shot in the ankle. Even so, he was in better shape following the victory at Maryland than he was after the Heels’ victory at Wake Forest last Tuesday, when Barnes originally suffered the ankle injury.

“He had less swelling and less pain after the [Maryland] game than he did after the Wake Forest game,” Williams said.

UNC didn’t practice on Sunday, so Williams hasn’t had a chance to see Barnes in action since Saturday.
“I’m going to probably hold him out quite a bit of practice today to give him to give him another [rest] day and we hope that will help him out,” Williams said.

Barnes said on Saturday that never thought about sitting out the game against Maryland because of his injury. With Duke coming to Chapel Hill, there’s little doubt that Barnes will play on Wednesday night. What his ankle feels like by then, though, is another question.

-- Andrew Carter

Krzyzewski: Attention to detail will be key vs. UNC

From the state of his current Duke team to the Blue Devils' rivalry with Maryland, Mike Krzyzewski touched on a couple of different topics on Monday’s ACC teleconference.

Here are some of the highlights of what he had to say.

On his team: “Overall, our team has done a good job, being 19-4. In our league, we’re two possessions from being undefeated and we’re two possessions from being 4-4, on the other side. These games, especially in conference, turn out to be attention to detail where you have to make a play. Yesterday’s game still boiled down to you have to hit a free throw. When you win a number of games, sometimes your attention to detail is not where it needs to be. The games where we’re involved in now it will be for the rest of the year.”

On the ACC’s new plan for basketball schedules: “I’m in full agreement with what the league is doing. I think it was a mistake that we made when we added three teams in that we didn’t brand the whole conference. We made up rivalries during that time by having two different partners. I think it showed that two teams were more important than the rest of the other conference. I think that hurt us. I think this way, we keep one traditional rivalry. But there has to be rivalry established with Syracuse and Pitt. I don’t think that was done as well. I think the way they’re going to do it is better for the entire conference. I applaud them for making that decision.”

On the fact Duke and Maryland will only play once: “Every team that plays against us has a rivalry. I respect the heck out of Maryland and Gary (Williams) and what he did there and what Mark (Turgeon) is trying to do in building his own program. But we can’t look at that game as the end-all. We have to look at every game in the conference equally because everyone looks at us that way. That’s the way I felt the entire time.”

On what he’s going to stress to his team about UNC: “The main thing is just to be prepared for playing the most talented team in our conference and maybe the most talented team in the country. … They can be an offensive juggernaut, especially at home. We have to play really good defense in order to have an opportunity to beat them.”

Krzyzewski will speak with the local media this afternoon, and we'll update the blog with what he has to say.

-- Jack Daly

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Three Points from N.C. State's 87-76 win over Wake Forest on Saturday

1) Brown back on track

State guard Lorenzo Brown had 15 points with eight assists in a season-high 38 minutes on Saturday. He even gave a half-smile as he left the locker room after putting an end to his mini-slump.

"It was a little better," Brown said.

Brown, who is his own biggest critic, was pleased with his turnovers, only two -- a low in ACC play for him. He was more aggressive against the Deacs with 11 shots (making six) after only taking five against Boston College on Wednesday, despite an obvious mismatch with Jordan Daniels.

Wake's Tony Chennault wasn't much more of a defensive match for Brown, who did his scoring in the second half in late sets where coach Mark Gottfried went "one high, four low" and let Brown take his man off the dribble.

Brown's assist numbers are better, obviously, when Scott Wood (23 points) and C.J. Williams (18) are shooting well, but it's the way that he played on Saturday -- pushing tempo and directing State's offense -- that makes State the best possible version of itself.

2) Ninety-nine problems but a bench ain't one?

State got two points (forward DeShawn Painter), and five assists (guard Alex Johnson), off its bench on Saturday and it wasn't an issue.

That's because the starters all played so well. Painter played 13 minutes and Johnson played 14, which was enough to intermittently rest C.J. Leslie and C.J. Williams but Brown and Rich Howell (36) both played a season-high in minutes (which isn't a bad thing since State doesn't play again until Thursday and only twice in the next 11 days).

Gottfried says he's comfortable with his bench and both Painter and Johnson have at times given him reason to be, Saturday just wasn't the most productive game for either player.

Johnson, by the way, is in a horrific shooting slump, missing all 11 of his shots in the past three games. The five dimes, to one turnover, was good but State is going to need him to successfully get through its pending Duke-FSU-UNC stretch.

State's "easiest" path to the NCAA tournament at this point would be with a win at Duke (on Feb. 16) and a home win over FSU, which is two days later. State, by the way, hasn't won at Duke against Mike Krzyzewski since Feb. 6, 1988. (The Pack did beat Pete Gaudet's squad in Cameron on Jan. 18, 1995).

Despite of that fact, I still use "easier" to describe that path, because as long as John Henson's eligible, I don't see State beating UNC, even at home on Feb. 21.

3) The Tao of Bzdelik

That was the best I've seen the Deacs play under second-year coach Jeff Bzdelik. They quit in a 76-40 loss earlier this season to State and they were run out of the gym twice by State last season.

Wake had a chance to fold on Saturday, several actually, but to Bzdelik's credit, the players continued to compete for him in the face of certain defeat, which qualifies as progress.

I don't know half as much about basketball as Bzdelik, who worked in the NBA for 16 years as a coach and scout and has been a college head coach or assistant for another 16 years, but for the life of me I can't understand why he doesn't do more to get forward Travis McKie the ball.

McKie, sixth in the ACC in scoring, took nine shots on Saturday and made five, including all three of his 3-pointers. As much trouble as McKie was having guarding Scott Wood, Wood was having checking McKie.

But senior forward Nikita Mescheriakov, the definition of a role player, took eight shots and forward Ty Walker, a shot-blocker, took 10. I just don't get that math.

Bzdelik's logic after the game wasn't much better. His performance in the post-game was as confusing as his designated shots for Mescheriakov.

Dan Collins, the fine Wake beat writer for the Winston-Salem Journal, asked Bzdelik after the game about four different runs that State made during the game.

"You take away those runs and we outscored them by 19," Bzdelik said and he was stone-cold serious.

Why stop there? Take away State's 87 points and you beat them by 76! What kind of logic is that?

But that reasoning was Jeffersonian compared to his wrap-up quote about respect, which in his defense, was prompted by an inane question from a Winston-Salem TV reporter about his team's effort, compared to the 36-point loss to the Wolfpack earlier this season.

And here's Bzdelik's philosophy on respect:

"There's an old saying in the NBA. You give respect by showing no respect. You give respect by showing no respect. And you all can figure out what that phrase really means. But the last time we played N.C. State we did not respect them because we didn't play hard. We didn't compete. That's a heck of a statement for a coach to make, but that's the truth.

"I mean, it's just like I remember Michael Jordan saying one time that he's had some rookies play him where they didn't want to touch him. They just feared him. They didn't even guard him. And Michael said you're not even respecting me because you won't compete against me. But if you get somebody out there who's just battling and giving everything you've got - and still you come up short - you know what? Doesn't your opponent respect you?"

Yes? Maybe? I don't know, coach, but if you take away those runs, you definitely beat them by 19.

--J.P. Giglio