Tag Archives: basketball

Eight Only Mostly Baseless Predictions for the Rest of the 2012 UNC Basketball Season

A month is just enough time for me to begin disguising non-empirical and kneejerk opinions as thoughtful observations, so here goes…

1. James Michael McAdoo will play great basketball all year, but because of who his is and where he plays and when he plays there this will be a great disappointment to everyone.

J.M.M. entered this season as the latest Tar Heel to have unreasonable expectations thrust upon him, which thrusting we were somehow all ok with even after what happened with our expectations re: Harrison Barnes.

We justified it thusly: 1. We had seen McAdoo play actual college basketball

2. We do not learn from our mistakes.

This year, McAdoo has looked dominant at times, serviceable at others (he accomplished periods of both looks against Indiana, in addition to a third, “like his hands had been frozen in Carbonite,” which better never show up again), averaging out to great, but never inhumanly good, which is what we all felt like we were justified in expecting. I am not blameless in this, either: I have found myself more than once wondering if he had the flu while he cruised to a double-double right in front of me.

McAdoo will be one of the many, many great basketball players to not be the national player of the year, but because he won’t have played like one of the Monstars from “Space Jam,” entitled UNC fans like myself will still look back and think about what might (could, should) have been.

2. James Michael McAdoo will play at an outrageously high level during the ACC and NCAA tournaments and will move on to the NBA.

We’ll call this an inverse-Barnes, who melted during last year’s NCAA tournament, but went pro anyway before anyone could realize that this was an indication of what his game is like without an elite point guard there creating his shots for him, rather than a fluke.

I have nothing to base this on besides his excellent play in the same circumstances last year, but I predict that J.M.M. will erupt in late April/early March. With the emergence of Joel James and Brice James as forces in the frontcourt, and next year’s arrival of soft-handed big man/snuggle bear Kennedy Meeks, he’ll declare for the draft this year rather than let a smaller role diminish his draft stock.

3. P.J. Hairston will not become J.J. Redick, but will be the most beloved Tar Heel at the end of the year.

J.J. was the dominant villain during my formative years as a Tar Heel fan, so my memories of him and the statistics of his actual performance might not match up. In my mind, he shot like 94% from beyond the arc, and would, rather than run the court after playing defense (“playing defense”), blink briefly out of reality and only reappear when a pass was thrown to the spot of the court where he was destined to make his next shot from. Whatever the numbers actually were, he was exactly 100% at shooting cold knives into my heart, and I’ve been waiting and waiting on a Carolina player to duplicate his exact skill set.

After a year and a month of saying “when a few more of these shots start falling, Peaches (my nickname for Hairston, it will catch on if we let it) is going to be a terror,” I’m realizing that he might not be that player. That said, Peaches has done at least one unquantifiable and awesome thing in every outing (the halftime buzzer beater, a play against UAB where he straight bossed a fellow around near half-court to receive a pass, he seems also to be legitimately interested in playing defense), and there’s no indication that this behavior will stop.

He’s also had some fantastic plays driving to the basket, and is becoming this team’s emotional epicenter. He is developing himself into a complete player, not simply an oft-errant sniper. It’s really exciting and I expect Peaches to be eliciting the loudest Dean Dome cheers by the end of the year. Sadly, though, it won’t be because he’s draining threes at a rate and frequency that justify introducing him over Garbage’s “Only Happy When it Rains.”

4. P.J. Hairston and J.P. Tokoto will sadly not establish a sufficient enough relationship to justify my “PJJP Palindrome Parejas” nickname that I really wanted to bust out.

Just something I’d been looking forward to all summer, not a big deal.

5. Brice Johnson will be the ACC Rookie of the year, or if not, there will be a legitimate case to be made that he deserves it.

The glut of young, unproven talent in Chapel Hill this year is Johnson’s biggest obstacle here. On a shallower team he’d be getting more minutes, and we’d all be speaking about him in hushed tones, silently working out what we’d be willing to give up to the Lord in a bargain that would keep him in powder blue for the next three years.

Once every game he does something so brilliant that all the colors in the world get brighter all of a sudden. His .630 is the highest field goal percentage for players averaging at least 14 minutes per game, and he’s got a higher average PPG than Dexter Strickland, who has the benefit of an average of ten more minutes per game. Granted, a lot of Dexter’s time is coming at point guard, a position not known for lighting up the scoreboard in Daggum Roy’s system, but still. He’s also becoming Marcus Paige’s favorite dish target when they’re in at the same time.

By the end of this season we will have stopped thinking of Johnson as a hyper-talented freshman and will begin to think of him as the future of Carolina basketball. Dovetailing with this…

6. Brice Johnson will begin next season with unreasonable expectations thrust upon him, and the grand cycle of hubris and entitlement will continue unbroken

Obviously.

7. UNC will win a game they have no business winning because of their outside shooting.

I have a friend who is excellent at reverse-jinxing Duke to greatness. His favorite thing to say about last year’s Duke team was that he had little confidence in them since they could win or lose any game they played, because they relied so much on outside shooting, and then I was in his kitchen, cursing his name and his family and smashing my head against his wall trying to concuss myself after Austin Rivers’ shot while he giggled or something, or was high-fiving Satan in the corner, or whatever it is Duke fans do to celebrate making the world a worse place.

I feel essentially the same way about the UNC this year, and say it as often as I can, which I guess makes me a hypocrite.

Leading candidates for this are against this year’s thoroughly terrifying Duke team at Cameron, and a game against a higher seed in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, this is a coin that inevitably flips both ways, so…

8. UNC will lose a game they have no business losing because of their outside shooting.

I don’t want to talk about it now, and I won’t want to talk about it then, but it will happen, and probably it will be Clemson, because that would be the absolute worst.

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What Could Have Been

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.

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A Different Feel

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!”*

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UNC-Duke II: Vengeance.

(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.

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My Best Friend is a Duke Fan

(Ed’s Note: Don’t miss the first Tobacco Road Blues podcast, previewing tonight’s game.)

“My best friend is a Duke fan.”

Shudder.

About twice a year (sometimes three), I think these words to myself and physically recoil. How could I be associated with such a being? How could I justify my fandom as a Tar Heel when treason runs so close to home?

In short? I rationalize. Sam and I were friends before I went off to UNC and he went off to Duke. We shared social circles, experiences, friends. We’ve traveled abroad together. Once, we almost got murdered in a Greek soccer riot (true story). We are both hyper-competitive people: Sam crushed his ex in mini-golf on their first date. I once forced my dad to drink a “Cup of Shame” of milk and lemon juice from a sippy cup because I had just defeated him in a game of chess. We are very similar.

Yet twice a year, I mentally lump Sam in with the rest of… those dark blue people. Sam becomes an dookie. I dredge up my anemic highlight reel of dookies fulfilling their stereotype:

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The Season Finale: Duke – UNC

What a crazy weekend in sports we just had. Three NFL games on Thanksgiving Day, including a victory by my beloved Ravens in the first-ever meeting of sibling head coaches. A slew of rivalry games, including an awesome game between Denard Robinson and Ohio State that ended with Michigan breaking its absurdly long string of losses to its rival. The NBA lockout ended as both the players and owners realized that until after the Super Bowl, 95% of America really couldn’t give less of a shit about the NBA. They ended the lockout specifically at 3 am after watching enough compelling NCAA basketball to realize that until after March Madness, 75% of America still won’t care about the NBA even when football ends.

The best part? UNC beat Duke in its annual slamfest. The last time Duke beat UNC was seven years ago. Since I matriculated at UNC from 2006-2010,  I literally don’t know what the Victory Bell looks like painted any color other than Carolina blue. The silver lining for Duke fans is that there are only about nine of you that care about football at all.

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