(NOTE: This post probably won’t make any sense unless you’ve read this article. Even after you read that, it might not make a lot of sense, but I won’t have any excuses. And if you don’t know who the Black Falcon is, well, this site isn’t for you.)
SCENE: INSIDE THE UNC LOCKER ROOM, 30 MINUTES BEFORE THE KANSAS GAME
The room is packed, but silent. Tape, socks, and warm-ups are strewn across the floor. Each player is seated in front of his locker, listening to music, studying the playbook, or staring at the last-minute notes Roy Williams has managed to print on the whiteboard. Each player, that is, except for one…
BLACK FALCON: Hey, Kendall.
MARSHALL: (headphones in, focused on the last minute pointers he’s about to give to backup PG Stilman White)
BLACK FALCON: Kendall. Kendall!
MARSHALL: (still listening to music)
It started in the summer with the news that Leslie MacDonald, a role player from last year and the Tar Heels’ best returning 3-point shooter, would miss the year with a torn ACL. We winced, but knew this was a glancing blow. The Heels were supposed to be a juggernaut, and juggernauts don’t flinch when someone cuts off a finger. We would be fine. Students lined up for (not)Late Night With Roy at 4pm. We eagerly read along as ESPN launched a blog just for UNC on its basketball homepage. We soaked up commentary. Optimism reigned supreme.
The season began with great fanfare, highlighted by UNC’s annual pasting of Michigan State in a new, fancy venue – this time, an aircraft carrier. Even when UNC lost to UNLV and then Kentucky, we knew March was when it really mattered. As ACC play rolled around we started to get a sense of the team: they were nice kids. Off the court they loved hanging out together, communicating on Twitter so we could all feel part of their goofy lifestyle. Henson was the class clown, Barnes the businessman, Watts the elder statesman, with Kendall Marshall at the center of it all. This was, after all, the team that played outdoor pick-up against us mere mortals (sometimes spotting teams 9 points in a game to 11). On the court, they occasionally coasted on talent against inferior opponents. They won, mostly, but sometimes seemed uninspired. The Heels went through a lengthy, multi-game shooting slump where they developed a gritty defensive identity. Things started coming together.
Posted in UNC
Tagged basketball, Carolina, Dexter Strickland, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, Leslie Mcdonald, Nate Friedman, NCAA Tournament, Tar Heels, Tyler Zeller, UNC
As Duke fans will remember from three weeks ago, the joy of winning a rivalry game is much sweeter when the game is away. On top of the extra satisfaction of overcoming the opponent’s home court advantage, the best part about rivalry road wins are getting to see the priceless expressions of disbelief and disgust on the faces of your enemies. Few fans will ever know what that experience feels like in person, but for one group of UNC students, the dream came true in March 2006. It was, in my estimation, the greatest possible fan experience ever achieved: an unexpected victory on Duke’s senior night, surrounded by 9000 miserable and embarrassed fans.
At that point in the season, Duke had only been ranked only #1 or #2, losing just two games at Georgetown and Florida State. It was almost a storybook season that featured Shelden Williams recording Duke’s first triple double, a much-hyped five man freshmen class, Sean Dockery’s 40-foot buzzer beater against Virginia Tech, and classic lights out 40 point performances from JJ Redick against Texas and Virginia. A month earlier, Duke had beaten UNC at the Smith Center behind 35 points from Redick and a sweet reverse alley-oop from Dockery to McRoberts. On top of all that, it was senior night for fan favorites Dockery and Lee Melchionni (who kissed center-court during introductions), and Duke’s leading career rebounder and mayonnaise sandwich eater (Williams and Redick).
The ACC Tournament is a waste of time.
There. I said it.
Va Tech fans know this Thinker pose well.
Now, before you get all pissy: if you’re a Clemson or Florida State fan or, God help you, a Virginia fan, then the ACC Tournament is a valuable tool to enhance your seeding or your resume for the tournament. Actually, if you’re one of those fans, why are you reading this? And if you’re a Maryland fan, I’m still not over the fact that Greivis Vasquez played for you, so you get no love from me.
The general gist of the anti-tournament argument goes something like this: for the conference royalty, UNC and Duke, seeding for the NCAA tournament is usually pretty set by the time the tournament comes around. The tournament thus serves merely a fatigue machine serving up two, maybe three more games for your star players to risk injury. At the very best, it’s forty to 120 more minutes of wear on already-beaten bodies.
(Don’t miss the Walk-Ons’ ACC Tourney preview podcast here!)
This year has been a strange one in Durham. This team’s performance has given Duke fans plenty to debate about when it comes to the question about whether or not they are any good. If you think they are good you point out the teams they have beaten, their undefeated ACC road record and the fight they show when down double digits. If you think they aren’t very good then you point out their last game against UNC, their struggles at home and the fact that they routinely find themselves down double digits.
What did we learn from this past Duke/UNC game? Besides the fact that *Vegas was handing out free money by favoring Duke by 1.5, I don’t know if we really found out much.
*One of the rules I follow in life is not to bet on Duke/UNC. There is enough on the line that I don’t need to complicate things with a financial wager. I came close to breaking that rule on Saturday considering the absurdity of that line. I understand Duke beat UNC the first time and if I was seeding the NCAA tournament even today I would give them the #1 seed over UNC. Still that doesn’t take away that UNC is a better team than Duke, and for Duke to win many more things have to go right for them than UNC.
It’s not like we just found out that UNC has a lot of top-level talent. Any Duke/UNC fan knew that UNC has four projected 1st round lottery picks. It also wasn’t a surprise that Duke matched up poorly with UNC considering their weaknesses (front line play and defensive rebounding) were Carolina’s strengths. I guess it was a little unexpected that Marshall and Henson would hit so many outside shots considering both are terrible shooters. That was the difference between the game being a 5-10 point loss and the actual result of a blowout.
If you want to be positive as a Duke fan consider that this game will be forgotten. They will be replaying Austin Rivers shot a million more times, but nobody will really think about this random Duke/UNC game. It was a mismatch and those aren’t that appealing to watch on ESPN Classic. Also, it was kind of nice watching the Plumlees play decent basketball. Mason Plumlee specifically seemed to break out of the funk he has been since the Maryland game. He still did some Mason Plumlee like things (why go for a block you can’t get and leave your man to get the offensive rebound?) but still his energy and offensive game were an improvement over recent games. Finally, one positive thought is that this Duke team plays much better away from Cameron and they no longer have to play there this season. I did write that it has been a strange year – right?
If you want to be negative then you might look at Austin Rivers struggles at the free throw line, Coach K’s lack of trust in Andre Dawkins (11 minutes?) or basically every outside shooter being off in the same game. It was certainly a frustrating game to watch, but it doesn’t really change what we knew all along. The logical conclusion to come to after that game is that Duke isn’t that bad, but UNC could be that good. Maybe that is reason enough for Duke fans to be depressed after Saturday’s debacle.
Well, s—. That wasn’t fun.
The pain from a loss like Saturday’s is completely different than from a buzzer-beater loss–not better or worse, just different. A buzzer-beater loss is vivid, exciting, and intense–you can look back to one or two plays and question the team’s strategy: “Why did Andre Dawkins help off of Michael Snaer? Why didn’t Tyler Zeller put his arms up and prevent a 3-pointer?” It’s a brutal, heart-breaking way to lose, but you have that belief in your team right until the final buzzer. The margin between winning and losing is so thin that it’s–literally–awesome, and the final result will, in some way or another, shock you.
But losses like Saturday? There’s no excitement, no sweaty palms, no nail-biting. No joy or belief that your team just needs one play right here to pull out a win. No crushing disappointment at the final buzzer, just gratitude that there’s no coda to drag out your pain further. Losses like that are just pure sadness and anger, wrapped in a bundle of unmet expectations and topped with a bow of rising frustration.
This one had a different feel.
By this one, of course, I mean the Comeback Run That Wasn’t: a five-minute stretch in the middle of the 2nd half where Duke went on a 16-7 run to cut the deficit to just 75-64. Cameron was loud, the spirit fingers that spawned unlimited memes rollicking (see picture), and Duke was hitting threes again.
But it felt different. This time, I never felt more than healthy nervousness. Even when Seth Curry drew a miraculous flopping foul on a 3-point shot (thank you for that little legacy, J.J. Reddick), even when Curry rose for a 3-pointer that would have cut the lead to single digits, blown the roof off of Cameron Hansbrough Indoor Stadium, I still barely twitched. Why?
A minute or two earlier, I had seen John Henson, resting on the bench, stand up and whip his towel to the ground. And yell. Unlike the bench against Duke the first time, where dispirited faces stared glumly at the scoreboard, the sideline was fired up. The message was clear: this was not happening again.
Understand, John Henson is not the fiery type. He’s the kind of player opponents hate because he’s obnoxiously friendly on the court. This is Henson’s M.O.: after dunking on someone (and he’s done that quite a bit this year), he’ll turn to his posterized opponent, smile, and say, “Did you see that? Wow! That was a crazy dunk!”*
(Ed note: don’t miss the Walk-Ons Duke-UNC preview podcast one post below.)
I, Nate Friedman, do solemnly swear that I will not allow myself to reach the heights of emotional investment attained during the first UNC-Duke game. I pledge to watch the game quietly, to restrict my celebrations to guarded fist-pumps and the occasional single clap. I will not throw remotes at the TV or scream swear words when Duke hits sixteen threes. Even if the Heels are winning by ten with two minutes to go, I will not begin gloating. Nor will I allow the outcome of the game to determine my mood for the next week. I make this oath in the interest of maintaining my own mental stability.
I shudder at what's going on out of this shot.
I write these words today because I’m bitterly wary. Have you turned on ESPN this week? Yes? Then you’ve seen The Shot, the first buzzer-beater in the history of the rivalry, approximately 900 times (I categorically refuse to link to it here). You’ve heard Dick Vitale moan over and over like an orgasmic Chewbacca and been forced to watch what in Alabama qualifies as sodomy as the Blue Devils man-humped each other near center court, celebrating.
I speak for a number of my Tar Heel friends when I say there is a certain sense of looming vengeance about this game. One of my friends has been posting on social media every day for the last week, “T-minus X days until dookies cry” (pejorative spelling hers). She’s not alone in the sentiment that Duke stole the game in the Dean Dome, and she’s not alone in seeking just retribution.
It’s time for another edition of:
Before we get down to business, don’t forget that you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. Just click “view in iTunes” once you reach that link, and then ‘subscribe for free.’ Voila. If you’re feeling really generous and benevolent, you could also rate the podcast and write a positive review.
You can also access our podcast RSS feed.
In today’s special Duke-UNC preview edition, Ben and I talk about the big game, investigate the ins and outs of Duke’s credentialing process, get to the bottom of referee bias, untangle the Duke-UNC hype conspiracy, fret about the looming ACC basketball boycott bathe in the wisdom of Bleacher Report, do something called a “lightning round,” and field questions from our listeners and twitter followers. It is an exciting day, my friends. Enjoy the game.
(Time stamps below the media player if you’d like to skip around.)
This week’s show runs over an hour because of the depth of the topics covered; chapters and time markers are added for listener convenience:
0:00 – Introduction
3:00 – Discussion of Grantland credential controversy
13:00 – Discussion of Duke/UNC backlash; ACC bias towards Duke and North Carolina
17:30 – Twitter Q&A #1
23:50 – Duke/UNC referee bias
36:40 – ‘Bleacher Report time’, Duke/UNC preview
42:35 – Our Duke/UNC breakdown
51:00 – Twitter Q&A #2
Ladies and gents, thanks for checking in to our newly named Podcast:
As of RIGHT NOW, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. Just click “view in iTunes” once you reach that link, and then ‘subscribe for free.’ Voila. If you’re feeling really generous and benevolent, you could also rate the podcast and write a positive review. That kind of thing warms our hearts.
You can also access our podcast RSS feed. I’m not sure exactly what an RSS feed does, but some people seem to use it. So there you go.
In today’s episode. Ben and I discuss Duke’s upcoming game against Florida State, revisit Carolina’s win at N.C. State, reflect on which American states have betrayed us by not listening to previous episodes, turn to Bleacher Report for wisdom and solace, and challenge Debbie Yow to a debate.
Thanks very much for listening, and enjoy.