UNC-Ohio State: Big Time Game, Big Time Win

November 30, 2006

unc-osu-scoreboard.jpg

The scene was set perfectly. 21,750 screaming fans in the house that Dean built. The big lights and big hype of ESPN. A top 10 showdown. Inside the Dome, the atmosphere was electric, with all of us hoping that November 29th would be the date of yet another Carolina victory over a #1 ranked opponent.

And then, Ohio State couldn’t miss. It’s a familiar refrain for long-time Carolina fans. How many times has it happened that teams shoot lights out against Carolina? On Wednesday night, Ohio State was raining three pointers from every angle on the court. They were driving and dishing for open looks, and when UNC defenders jumped out to begin contesting the shots, the Buckeyes simply drove by the unbalanced defense for easy layups.

All of a sudden, the atmosphere didn’t feel so perfect. Down by 12, Carolina needed an answer. Someone who would step up and do whatever was necessary to stop the guys in red and kickstart the Carolina team.

In other words, Carolina needed a sophomore.

On a team loaded with fabulous freshmen, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the sophomore class of Tarheels is the real barometer of success and failure. Led by the uber-agressive Tyler Hansbrough, any of the of the second year Tarheels is capable of carrying the team on a given night.

With all due respect to Hansbrough’s monster stats and Frasor’s clutch outside shooting, the man of the evening was do-whatever-you-need guard Marcus Ginyard.

Need tough, in your shirt defense on those torrid Buckeye shooters? Ginyard had you covered. How about a tip in, follow up, or key defensive board? Again, Marcus was your man.

It was a consummate glue-guy performance by Ginyard, one that allowed Carolina to quietly close the Ohio State lead to just four points by halftime. As Eric Montross put it after the game, “We were leaking bad, and Marcus came through a put his finger in the dike.”

And then, in the second half, it all came together. For the first time all season, the talented collection of Carolina cagers played with a purpose and flow that we’d all dreamed about when reading the preseason prognostications. From the opening seconds of the second stanza, the Tarheels showed the necessary intensity required to win against a high level opponent, and the fruits of the hard work were countless displays of basketball beauty by a host of sublimely talented players.

cool-wayne-ellington.jpg

Everyone, it seems, got in on the act; the bright lights of primeime suited Carolina’s freshmen just fine. There was cool Wayne Ellington, stopping on a dime and dropping perfectly parabolic jump shots through the net. And jet-quick Ty Lawson showing that he has plenty of poise and passion in spades as well. Then there was Brandan Wright showcased jump hooks galore, and freshman center Deon Thompson playing his best game to date.

But in the midst of it all, one thing remained the same – Marcus Ginyard. Up until the final whistle, Ginyard was relentless, and continued to get every tip in, steal, and deflection necessary for victory. As Ginyard and Hansbrough’s trapping defense in the final two minutes led to a Wayne Ellington layup and foul, it was clear that we’d seen this sort of thing before. Ginyard’s play was undoubtedly Lynch-esque, and the leader of Carolina’s 1993 championship team was in the Dean Dome to see it.

As the final seconds rolled off the clock, a positively giddy Ty Lawson jumped up and down in front of the Carolina bench and it was obvious from the expressions on the other players’ faces that this was no ordinary win. This team wanted badly to bounce back from the disappointing experience in New York, and it needed a clutch performance to build some confidence for a long season yet to come.

The core of this team, after all, is made up of young men who are not yet twenty years of age. And for the fabulous class of freshmen, this was the first taste of big time college basketball success.

From the looks of things, they liked the taste – and that can only mean good things if you’re a Carolina fan.

Advertisements

Nintendo Power

November 29, 2006

Nintendo is making a big push back into the console market – as my buddy Eller so astutely alluded to in a previous post.

It seems that even if consumers can’t pronounce the name of the new console, they’re happy to buy it. Nintendo has sold more than 600,000 consoles in the first 8 days of release in the Americas. Sets are being sold on eBay for 3-4 times the MSRP. And Nintendo has its supply chain in order and will be able to ship more consoles for the holiday rush than rival Sony.

Priced at less than half the price of the new PlayStation3, the Wii is banking on its unique motion sensitive controllers that allow users to become a part of the games. For a guy who grew up on the 8-bit Nintendo with it’s directional pad and two buttons, the idea of trading in an XBox or PS3 controller and it’s endless amounts of buttons for a motion sensitive controller is appealing. I saw a commercial this morning and would love to try it out.

It will be fun to watch the console wars play out over the next year.


Screamin’ for the Deacons

November 28, 2006

Sorry for the lack of posts during the Thanksgiving break. I guess I’m not a “real” blogger yet, since I wasn’t able to find the time or inspiration to write any posts while enjoying some time away from work.

Perhaps the reason I wasn’t able to post is because I was so busy taking in a cornucopia of sporting events – enough sports to make a pilgrim puke. Luckily, I’ve prepared myself over the years for this annual rite of autumn passage, and was able to enjoy the games immensely.

I was disappointed in Carolina’s loss to Gonzaga, but think it will be good for them in the long run. It’s hard to believe, but during the win vs. Tennessee, the Heels were up by 15 and I was seemingly as nervous as I would have been had the score been reversed. Nothing feels “easy” yet with this team – which I think will make things even sweeter if they’re able to come together during the season.

After watching a bit of the Dolphins giving the Lions their annual Turkey Day thrashing, I polished off two plates of food before logging in quickly to check my fantasy roster. In my salary cap league I had to get rid of Donovan McNabb, and I wanted to pick up a player or two in the late games to make them a little more interesting for me. I decided on Tony Romo, who proceeded to throw for 300+ yards and a Cowboy record 5 touchdowns. Best Fantasy Decision. Ever.

But the real story of the weekend, and the game that I found myself getting most wrapped up in (besides Heels basketball, of course) was the ACC Semifinal between Wake Forest and Maryland. Wake Forest is an enigma of sorts in the factious world that is ACC fandom. Nestled within shouting distance of the Triangle’s big 3, Wake has always found a way to be everyone’s “second favorite team”. Maybe it’s because they have the 3rd smallest undergraduate populations of any school playing Division I football. Maybe it’s because they’ve traditionally only challenged the powers in basketball and Olympic sports. Or because when they’ve had stars like Duncan or Paul, they’ve provided a spice to the ACC hierarchy but always have fizzled at tourney time. Whatever the reason, Wake Forest has always been the somewhat lovable, always ignorable little school from Winston-Salem; or as Mark Packer calls them – Switzerland.

However, Wake has hardly been ignorable this year on the gridiron, and on Saturday night I found that they were more than somewhat lovable. There was no neutrality on my part while watching – I was pulling for the Deacs with a gusto I normally reserve for teams with ‘Carolina’ in their name. But how can you not pull for this Wake Forest team? They lost their starting quarterback in the first game of the season. They replaced him with a redshirt frosh named Riley Skinner, who looks more like the frat guy who rolled in late to your Econ class than the quarterback of a 10-2 football team.

Surely, Jim Grobe’s plan was to play things close to the vest and run the ball through All-ACC back Micah Andrews all year. That would have been a perfect plan, had Andrews not suffered a season-ending injury only a few games into the season. Instead of giving up, Grobe has stuck to his guns and continues to run the ball every way he can – with reverses, counters, misdirection galore. Every play is an intricate display of teamwork and precision, with downfield blocking reigning supreme, and ol’ Riley leading the way. Then, just when you think that you should crowd the line and make the Deacs pay, they’ll pop one deep on you and all of a sudden your spirit is broken.

If that weren’t enough, the Wake defense is solid as well, with playmakers lining the corners and ball hawking at all times. John Abbate is the emotional leader of the defense (and team). As I heard the story again of how Abbate’s younger brother passed away in a car accident last Valentine’s Day and how Abbate wears #5 in remembrance of his fallen family – well, let’s just say – that story of passion and courage never gets old.

And so it was that I found myself pulling for a team that I’ve never really pulled for before. And when 4th and goal came in the 4th quarter with less than 4 minutes to play and the wonderfully personable Jim Grobe chose to go for it – I, along with the rest of Deacon and adopted Deacon nation out there, stared in disbelief at the screen wondering why you don’t take the points and sit on the lead.

Of course, Richard Belton found a way to sneak in the end zone, and the Deacons are now playing for the ACC Championship. How weird does that sound? Impossibly weird, for sure, but at the same time so sweet. Here’s to the Deacs, winners already in my book, but with tons of uncharted ground yet to cover. Make us proud, Switzerland. We’re counting on you.


I can’t write close to 600 words about Wake Forest and not mention the Butch Davis hiring yesterday for UNC. I heard Coach Davis on the radio after the official press conference and I have to say that I’m tickled to death with the choice that UNC made. During a ten minute interview, it was very apparent that Davis is smart, a visionary, and will bring a dynamic leadership style to Kenan Stadium. Some of his past players and colleagues have provided quotes to Tarheelblue.com, with the cream of the crop being this one from former Miami star Edgerrin James.

“Coach Davis is really good with players. I think he will build a really nice program there.”

In other news, Edgerrin thinks that water is wet, the sun is warm, and that Peyton Manning is good at quarterback.


NFL Picks: Week 12

November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving kept me from getting these out earlier.  For the record, I picked the Turkey Day games before they were played (see comment section on Eller’s blog).  No comments this week, just the facts.

Dolphins (-2.5) over LIONS
Bucs (+11) over COWBOYS
CHIEFS (+1) over Broncos
Jaguars (-3) over BILLS
Texans (+6) over JETS
RAVENS (-3) over Steelers
Bengals (-3) over BROWNS
Cardinals (+6.5) over VIKINGS
49ers (+6) over RAMS
FALCONS (-3) over Saints
Panthers (-4.5) over REDSKINS
PATRIOTS (-3) over Bears
COLTS (-9) over Eagles
Giants (-3) over TENNESSEE
CHARGERS (-13.5) over Raiders
SEAHAWKS (-9) over Green Bay


Feast Week

November 22, 2006

The Worldwide Leader is drumming up the hype machine again: it’s Feast Week for college basketball.

Call me a sucker for the gimmick marketing, but I’m eating it up. There’s simply nothing like the early season college basketball games to get the juices flowing again (especially after the long months of hibernation – er – UNC football).

Last night I feasted upon a good portion of the Georgia Tech – Memphis game while doing some household chores. As lethargic as Georgia Tech looked in the first half, they looked equally athletic and intense in the 2nd. Overcoming a 19 point deficit is not easy, and the Jackets made it look surprisingly simple.

I only got a taste for the UCLA-Kentucky game. The Bruins will be solid again this year, while Kentucky looks to be a team without an identity thus far. The positive for Tubby’s team is that they look like they’ve shed any semblance of arrogance and will be a hard-working squad that could cause problems if they can conjure up the right chemistry. December 2nd at the Dean Dome should be a good game.

Dessert was grand indeed, as I watched Tom Crean’s Marquette team pick apart Duke. Marquette’s guards are fast. Really fast. They were able to blow by Paulus and Scheyer (and surprisingly, Nelson) at will. Duke couldn’t get anything going through McRoberts and the lack of JJ and Shelden was incredibly evident late in the game when there was simply nobody to take the big shots for Coach K.

One thing I will say about both Duke and Marquette is that the intensity in the building was more reminiscent of March than mid-November. Both teams threw the ball around a bit, but there was more diving for loose balls, hustling for rebounds, and pressure D than you normally will see at this time of year. All in all, the game was thoroughly enjoyable to feast upon.

Alas, the feasting has only begun. The main course is tonight when the Heels take on the Zags at the Garden. This will be a true test for Roy’s boys, and I expect them to handle the exam with aplomb. Prediction: UNC 93, Gonzaga 81


Tyler Hansbrough: Bonafide Beast

November 20, 2006

You’ve heard the legends of summer pickup games, WEIGHT ROOM, and pushing SUVs for his summer workouts.

You’ve seen with your own eyes his unrelenting agression, passion and unwillingness to give up.

Just when you thought you’d seen it all, there’s this:

Tyler vs. Bobby – Texas Style.

This is hardly the first time this has been posted on the web. Based on its brilliance, it undoubtedly won’t be the last.

Enjoy the video – is there anything better than the slow motion at the end? And just be glad that he’s on our team, and not someone else’s.

WEIGHT ROOM!!


Nothing Could be Finer…

November 20, 2006

bunting-kiss.jpg Photo: Robert Willett, News and Observer

What a weekend for folks who, like me, cheer for teams called Carolina.

First, the Heels show up at Kenan and put together one final signature performance for Coach Bunting. It was senior day and things couldn’t have gone more perfectly. For all his troubles at UNC, Bunting has proven that he can beat NC State. Coverage of the game has been expansive, with Tar Heel Fan providing great commentary both on the game itself, and the coaching crisis at the agriculture school in Raleigh. The best thing I’ve seen though, is a photo slide show from the N&O site that has a voice over by Robbi Pickeral – check it out if you have time…the pictures are priceless.

One final note on the game and Bunting – for a coach who struggled to win games, Bunting has more than his significant wins. First, you have the obvious “landmark” wins vs. top rated opponents – Florida State in 2001 and Miami in 2003. There’s the Peach Bowl victory vs. Auburn (a team that had a young Jason Campbell at QB, Ronnie Brown in the backfield, and a number of other guys who are now playing on Sundays). He’s also done well against the local rivals, going 4-2 against NCSU and only losing once to Dook (but what an awful loss that was!) I’m 100% convinced that a change was needed, but in reflecting on the Bunting tenure, it’s interesting to see how these wins show just how up and (mostly) down his era has been.

Sunday at 1 pm was a veritable feast of sports on TV. I was mainly watching the Heels thrash an outmanned Gardner Webb squad, but occasionally changed over to the Panthers and watch their equally impressive domination of the St. Louis Rams. UNC looked like the team we all want them to be on Sunday, but a better indication of the team’s progress will come on Wednesday vs. the Zags. I was impressed by the interior passing of our bigs, the play of Ellington and Wright, and was happy to see Quentin with a few nice assists in the first half (Adam Lucas provides a great look at Q, a player who I think will end up playing a big part in at least one or two UNC wins).

Outside of 3 guys on one of my fantasy teams getting hurt on the same Sunday (McNabb, Colston, and Kevin Jones) the weekend was great. Heck, we even got a coffee table for half price from Pottery Barn! (It’s amazing, the things that will excite you as a homeowner.)

Looking back over this post, it’s random indeed. I’ll post again later today or tomorrow with a great video of Psycho T beating up on Bobby.