Yes, I really like those end of year lists. It also nice to sit back and take stock of the year that was and how I covered it as a Tar Heel fan living in North Carolina. So without further ado here are Tar Heel Fan’s top five stories.
#5. J.J. Redick and Duke favored early; choke late
Duke received an exceptional degree of season long hype which was unusual in the sense they did not have the personnel needed to live up to the expectations. Of course J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams were All Americans but with a freshman point guard and unreliable production from other positions it was only matter of time before things fell apart in Durham. It did after Redick became the all time leading scorer in ACC history the fatigue of playing almost 40 minutes a night began to catch up with him and on March 4th UNC went to Cameron Indoor Stadium and shocked the Devils. Duke recovered briefly to win the ACC Tournament and reach the Sweet Sixteen for the nith straight year which ESPN’s Andy Katz said was the same as UCLA winning 10 titles which was perhaps the stupidest thing I have ever read. However, Redick never seemed to find his jumper in the Big Dance and fourth seeded LSU knocked off the Devils in what has been referred to by some in the UNC online community as the “biggest choke ever.”
#4. NC State Changed Coaches in Basketball and Football
It is not often a school makes changes to both major sports in the same calendar year but that was the case in Raleigh. First in April a disgruntled Wolfpack nation made much of displeasure known to the extent that Herb Sendek took a hint and left town for Arizona State. What followed was a somewhat protracted and often times publically orchestrated coaching search which embarassed many in the NC State fan community. Wolfpack AD Lee Fowler did very little to endear himself with each public rejection but finally settled on Sidney Lowe, a former player and NBA assistant coach. The jury is still out on his success but the first report cards on his recruiting and coaching style have been very good. On the football side, Wolfpack nation got tired of Chuck Amato’s bravado and so did the powers that be so he was shown the door after a 3-8 season which included a 3rd straight loss to UNC. Fowler handled this search much better than the last one and hired Tom O’Brien away from Boston College within about 10 days. The hopes are high in Wolfpack nation that O’Brien can bring the on the field accomplishments so sorely lacking under Amato.
#3. Carolina Hurricanes win Stanley Cup
Yes, this is a blog devoted to UNC football and basketball but living in Raleigh I was swept onto the Carolina Hurricans bandwagon as I watched them become the first professional team in North Carolina history to win a title. I know very little about hockey so watching the Canes play was a learning experience as much as anything else. However, the title run had all the elements of drama and intensity that could draw in the most novel sports fan. The other aspect of it was living in the same city with a Game 7 happening twice in the hometown arena had a special feeling all it’s own and was the one uniting factor among UNC, NC State, and Duke fans.
#2. UNC Basketball has surprise season in 05-06; begins 06-07 with high expectations
After losing the top seven players from the 2005 National Championship game UNC came into 05-06 with low expectations riding on sparingly used David Noel and a handful of freshmen. By the time UNC reached late January things were better than expected but a loss to Miami and Boston College in Chapel Hill showed UNC to be a borderline NCAA Tournament team. Then the world caught fire and despite a loss to Duke at home, the Heels, led by ACC Rookie of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, started on a winning streak culminating with the win in Durham. The momentum wore off and the Heels fell victim to the George Mason juggernaut but a Tar Heel star was born in Hansbrough and that set the stage for a 9-1 start in 06-07 plus a #2 ranking. UNC returned Hansbrough and group of sophomores to go along with the best recruiting class in the nation. As UNC starts to gel there are high hopes we could talking about title defense this time next season.
#1. UNC fires John Bunting; hire Butch Davis
The football season started with the hope UNC could win seven games and the John Bunting tenure would show some signs of improvement. By the time UNC lost to Clemson at the end of September, Tar Heel nation began beating the drum….very loudly. The calls for his ouster on crescendoed from there and following an embarassing shutout loss on national TV to Virginia the table was set and Dick Baddour fired John Bunting after he refused to resign. What followed was a coaching search centered on former Miami coach Butch Davis who was considered the best candidate available. In the midst of this pursuit, which took place in almost total silence, this blog advocated heavily for Paul Johnson of Navy but in the end UNC offered Davis, he accepted and I had misgivings. The most intriguing part of the search was the way UNC announced the decision which included a vehement denial of the hire when Inside Carolina and the WSJ had broken the story because the administration wanted to give John Bunting a nice homecoming game. UNC announced the following Monday and at the end of the season a full press conference was accompanied by huge marketing effort. The football season next year will be high anticipated.