Let me introduce you to Joe Rexrode. Mr. Rexrode is a beat writer in East Lansing, MI who had someone at Yahoo Sports afford him the gift of writing a special article about Saturday night’s 2nd Round East Regional game between UNC and Michigan State. What an absolute shame he wasted it with such an asinine article. Here are some of the “highlights”
But it’s going to take more than the raw horsepower of the Tar Heels’ lineup. It’s going to take some intangibles – attention to detail, attention to opponent, toughness – that aren’t as apparent with this young team as are its physical gifts.
Things that apply more to a team like, oh, let’s see here … Georgetown, for example. In a quirk of the “pod” system, the East Regional’s No. 1 and No. 2 seeds both played here this weekend, giving everyone in Lawrence Joel Coliseum a peek at what could be a splendid regional final.
Both teams advanced Saturday. The No. 2-seed Hoyas went forward with a gutsy 62-55 comeback over No. 7-seed Boston College. The top-seeded Tar Heels rallied for an 81-67 win over ninth-seeded Michigan State that was closer than the score indicated and brought up some familiar questions. Namely, can North Carolina defend well enough to get out of East Rutherford and to Atlanta?
What the heck? First of all Georgetown is a good team though it should be noted that UNC had a much easier time with BC a week ago than the Hoyas did last night. Secondly, what exactly did UNC do or not do last night which makes you think they cannot play defense? Michigan State shot 37% from the floor and for all of the love being poured out on Drew Neitzel, he was 9 for 27 from the floor which is a horrid shooting percentage. UNC also out rebounded the Spartans 37-27 and 13-11 on the offensive boards.
You can say UNC won it all two years ago playing much the same way and that it is depth and size and multiple offensive weapons that win this time of year. And you wouldn’t be wrong.
But Michigan State made an impression even in a losing effort. This is probably Tom Izzo’s least-talented group in the past 10 years, yet he got them into the tournament, past Marquette and into the Tar Heels’ heads for a good portion of Saturday night.
“I thought anybody that was a Spartan tonight should have been proud of their effort, and I don’t say that very often,” Izzo said.
Do we really need to spend the time to discuss the almost innumerable times in the past three decades of seeded play that a high seed has been taken to the brink by a lower seed and still managed to win the national title? UNC has had close shaves and far tougher games than this one in their history prior to going to the Final Four. And excuse me, but I am calling out Rexrode right here for not only dropping a backhanded insult in UNC’s direction but doing so at the expense of his hometown team who he basically implied as not a very good team that barely made it into the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans led with 6:54 left, but the Heels finished on a 23-8 burst to run away. The Spartans, particularly shooting guard Drew Neitzel (26 points), were beat. Talent, not necessarily toughness, prevailed. Depending on who you ask.
“We are as happy as we can possibly be, we showed a tremendous amount of toughness tonight,” Roy Williams said.
“I think we’re a tough team,” UNC’s Wes Miller said. “People have been questioning that all year, but the guys in our locker room know we’re tough. Maybe we haven’t shown it all year, but we are now.”
This would have been the teams’ third meeting in three tournaments, including UNC’s 87-71 win in the 2005 Final Four, but for the fact that both got stuck in George Mason’s pod a year ago. MSU brings back everyone from this team, along with three highly-ranked, much-needed perimeter recruits, making it very possible the Tar Heels and Spartans will meet much later in this event in 2008.
Williams’ group might be defending a national title by then. But for that to happen, they’ll need to shed their air that suggests, “All we have to do is show up, avoid tripping on each other and we’ll be fine.”
It didn’t cost them a win over the offensively limited Spartans. But it won’t get them past Texas or USC or Georgetown.
I am not sure if Rexrode was actually watching the game but during that 23-8 run a senior name Reyshawn Terry scored 12 of those points. It is interesting to note that Terry had played a horrible 33 minutes of basketball up to that point owed in part to the fact he had been sick with flu symptoms and a migraine headache all day. So before you go around questioning the toughness of a team, maybe you should consider all the circumstances. Tyler Hansbrough is the very definition of toughness and he scored 33 points because Brandan Wright was in foul trouble and largely ineffective. Tywon Lawson had as big a game as a freshman point guard could have. And let’s not even get started with the defensive effort Wes Miller and Marcus Ginyard put in trying to slow down Neitzel.
I would also point out that some beat writer from Michigan should do a little research before he makes a statement so stupid I feel less intelligent having read it. That statement is the assertion UNC walks around with some sort of expectation that they can win the title by just showing up. Coming from someone who has watched and wrote about this team all season let me just say we are way past this team having that attitude. And rest assured it will not show up in the coming games.
A lot of eyebrows were raised Friday when UNC freshman point guard Ty Lawson was asked about his primary defender in this game, MSU’s Travis Walton, who was a Big Ten all-defensive honoree this season.
“I really haven’t watched him too much. I haven’t watched too many games,” Lawson said. “People say he is a good defender and gets a lot of steals but I haven’t seen him play too much so I wouldn’t know.”
Meanwhile, Walton had studied so much tape of Lawson by then, he knew Lawson sweats more profusely in his left armpit than his right.
Well apparently not since Lawson lit Walton up for 20 points and eight assists.
Asked basic questions about MSU’s strengths and weaknesses, here’s how senior Reyshawn Terry and sophomore Tyler Hansbrough responded.
Terry: “I really haven’t seen a lot of them, but all around I think their defense is pretty aggressive.”
Hansbrough: “I’m sure we’ll get into that tonight.”
Hey, some coaches don’t want to overload their teams with information in these short-prep situations. But a mention of the opponent’s name might have been nice, one day before tipoff.
A little more attention from these tremendously gifted players might have prevented MSU guard Drew Neitzel from getting more wide-open shots than he saw in all of February in the Big Ten. He was 9-of-27 from the field. Maybe three of those were contested. Had Neitzel shot the way he did in a lot of games this season, he would have dropped 40 and the Spartans might have dropped the Tar Heels.
I really should start recording games so I can go back and certify someone else is insane. I am pretty sure there are more than three which were contested. However I think most coaches will tell you that you will not contest every shot and I am pretty sure there were a few cases where Neitzel got an open look off an offensive rebound when the defense was out of position. Rexrode also fails to mention four turnovers Neitzel committed and the fact he lit up Ohio State for 24 and 29 points in their two meetings this season which tells me the kid is just a prolific scorer. And while I have OSU on the table, how come no one is writing articles telling us how the Buckeyes are short on what it takes to win the title? It seems to be they were far less impressive in almost losing to Xavier in OT than UNC was in handling the Spartans.
And a little more toughness would serve North Carolina well in future rounds. Hansbrough has it, now that his dalliance with mask-related timidity is over. He shed the mask and burned the Spartans for 33 points. Lawson is “a tough little nut,” Williams said, who bulled his way to 20 points against the Spartans. With UNC clinging to a five-point lead in the final two minutes, Terry showed some mental fortitude with a pair of jumpers.
But these guys won’t have home crowds and overmatched opponents available in East Rutherford, N.J.
“As a coach you’d love to have a team that is diving on the floor, pulling nails out of the floor, slobbering and spitting and taking charges 40 minutes a game,” Williams acknowledged.
Georgetown does that stuff. It would be nice to see North Carolina do it more. Roy Williams has himself a talent mine, and that would be a terrible thing to waste.
First of all let’s get a definition of toughness on the table and in my view it is handling a pesky team who is pushing you to the brink and you are able to push back on your way to a win. That is what UNC did last night and the “home crowds” had not a darn thing to do with that. Secondly, I also think space on Yahoo Sports is a terrible thing to waste for tripe like this.
And yes, Joe Rexrode just made the list.
Hat tip to reader, Dr. Suess