I really shouldn’t write this because it is just one guy’s opinion of what may happen and we all know he is entitled to it. And by no means am I expecting everyone to have UNC in their Final Four but when I read a second article from a national outlet basically telling us the Heels will not survive the penultimate weekend of the NCAA Tournament I feel compelled to respond. After all that is what makes blogging so great, the little voice calling the mainstream media out. Today’s featured piece comes from Luke Winn at SI.com who informs us that not only will Georgetown win the East Regional but UNC is the most vulnerable team left of the four teams heading to East Rutherford.
Looking vulnerable: North Carolina
There are reasons to be optimistic about the Tar Heels, such as the fact that once Tyler Hansbrough de-Plexiglassed his face, he turned into an offensive beast, scoring 33 points against Michigan State. There are reasons to doubt UNC as well, such as the fact that it let a rather average Spartans team hang around for 30-plus minutes in Winston-Salem. I’m throwing Roy Williams’ boys into the vulnerable category, though, mainly because they’re running into an opponent, USC, that was quietly the most impressive team in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels have the nation’s most efficient offense, but the Trojans’ D suffocated a Texas attack that was ranked fifth nationally, and the film of Gabe Pruitt’s lockdown effort on speedy point guard D.J. Augustin could be giving normally care-free floor general Tywon Lawson nightmares.
Notice that his issue with UNC does not concern anything to do with the way UNC has played, outside of the fact the played tight with Michigan State. And while we are on that let me just say that all I have heard all season was how much parity there is in college basketball and how the gap between the top and bottom of college basketball has closed. If that is the case, how in the heck do you surmise UNC winning(and they did win) a tough game against MSU as being a sign of weakness? I took the way UNC played that game as a sign of their maturity and toughness. As a UNC fan I came away with greater confidence in their ability to handle the next opponent which is USC and someone Luke Winn thinks is capable shutting UNC down because they did it to Texas. Let me clue Winn in one something: UNC is not Texas. UNC has significant interior offensive weapons and UNC will also play much better defense than Texas did. Is USC going to be tough? Absolutely, but Winn makes it sound like just because USC shutdown Texas then the same thing is going to happen despite the fact that UNC’s supporting case is a whole lot better than the one surrounding Kevin Durant.
Home cooking: Georgetown
Georgetown is seeded No. 2 but ranked No. 1 in proximity — East Rutherford is 227 miles from D.C. — and also has one of the more dedicated student sections in the country, so the Hoyas should have an advantage in fan support. North Carolina fans travel well, though, and a Tar Heels-Hoyas final could be played before a 30-percent powder blue, 30-percent gray, 40-percent curious-and-unaffiliated crowd. Those locals will be the crowd’s swing voters.
What Winn does not realize is the number of UNC fans found in the New York area is pretty decent. In fact UNC was well represented at the NIT during the preseason and this should be no different. And it is interesting Winn says that the Hoyas have one of the more dedicated student sections in the country because the school only has 12,000 students total. The Continental Airlines Arena seats 20,000 total which means half the student population from Georgetown would have to make the 227 mile trip. I think we can safely assume this is not going to be the case. My point? There is no home cooking for Georgetown based on fan support. In fact Georgetown might enjoy some support for being the lower seed and a general air of the ABC mentality but aside from that this will be as neutral as a site can get.
The pick: Georgetown
Unlike the rest of their slow-down, Princetonian brethren, the Hoyas have the athletes to match up with Carolina and therefore won’t be helpless on defense in transition. The key factor here won’t be speed, but rather Georgetown’s work on the offensive glass. The last two times the Tar Heels lost, to Maryland (on Feb. 25) and Georgia Tech (on March 1), it was because they allowed the Terps to grab a disastrous 45.8 percent of available offensive rebounds and the Yellow Jackets to get 39.7 percent, according to kenpom.com. The Hoyas happen to be the best offensive rebounding team left in the tournament, averaging 40.4 percent on the season. If Green and Hibbert can out-tough Hansbrough and Brandan Wright in that department, it’s on to the Final Four.
I do not necessarily begrudge Winn for picking Georgetown. I do not understand where all the love is coming from, but it is his opinion. The interesting part of his logic is that he uses the losses to Maryland and Georgia Tech as signs that UNC could have difficulty in terms of offensive rebounds. The issue you have there is you are referring to a pair of games UNC played on the road versus two teams fighting hard for NCAA Tournament life. In other words if this were a court I would object based on relevance. How UNC played at that stage is no more relevant than how Florida was playing during the same stretch when they got smacked by LSU(sans Glen Davis), Vanderbilt, and Tennessee. As for the rebounding issue, how about using some more relevant statistics such as the fact UNC outrebounded Michigan State who happens to be ranked ninth in the nation in rebounding margin. The other interesting part of citing kenpom is that Winn neglects to mention that UNC’s offensive rebounding percentage is at 39.5% on the offensive end only slightly lower than the 40.4% he boasts about for the Hoyas which essentially makes it a wash. Also, Michigan State is right behind the Hoyas in this category at 40.2% for the season. In the 2nd round game Michigan State only managed 22% of the rebounds while on the offensive end. UNC routinely surrenders 29.6% while on defense and when playing one of the better rebounding teams in the nation they actually improved on this stat. It also should be noted Georgetown is 161th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage allowed by their defense. In other words, if you are going to talk stats, tell the whole story and the whole story is UNC acquits itself quite well statistically in the rebounding category. Of course Winn ends the article by stating(conditionally) that it will come down to Georgetown out toughing Hansbrough and Wright. Of course everyone knows UNC is soft and can be out toughed, it is just a matter of doing it right?
So, in one respect I do not think the guy is totally nuts. USC is going to be a difficult game much like playing Villanova was in 2005. A Georgetown matchup is chalked full of all sorts of historical feeling from 1982 and will undoubtedly be a battle. However I think declaring UNC to be vulnerable and carrying on as though they have little chance to overcome USC much less Georgetown is just a tad disingenuous.