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Signings and Seniors

What a fun few days this has been. A chill in the air causes me to go to ground, coming up long enough to take in some of the sports scene. One takes the bad with the good.

It was quite the chill that enveloped the air in my neck of the woods. It has been doggone cold. While the dire forecasts of snow, sleet, large dogs, battery acid and whatever else popped into the fevered minds of local weather forecasters never fell from the sky, those portions of the news that promised cold temperatures did.

This usually will cause those of us who do what I do to immediately head to some of the less-desirable sections of town and begin negotiating crawl spaces to determine that pipes are still wrapped and any openings that might allow the outside arctic air to penetrate are plugged. About the only activities I enjoy more are most all of them.

It was certainly interesting to spend hours crawling around under frigid houses and then return home to read and watch news reports claiming that global warming will soon kill us all that have not already frozen to death or contracted fatal pneumonia. Those members of the Warm Earth Society claiming that disaster will soon befall us unless all economic activity is brought to a screeching halt should have torn themselves away from the delights of Paris and spent a little time with me.

The occasions of being engaged slithering around two-foot crawl spaces on frozen ground have me sniffling like a Carolina fan following the State game. Their week got a lot better Wednesday night while mine continues to involve blankets and hot tea.

The sports highlight of the week, at least for some, was the new national holiday known as Signing Day. This annual exercise in goofiness seems to grow by the year as the so-called recruiting ‘gurus’ for a fee, of course, will pompously declare which of the colleges and universities playing Division I football have accumulated the best collection of high school senior football players.

That it would seem well-nigh impossible to determine whether a running back in Florida was slightly better than one in Texas would seem impossible to determine, especially when the so-called gurus have seen neither. That certainly does not deter them one iota, however. The hawkers of the recruiting sites claim, apparently through some secret method of divination, to be able to tell which prospect is the 17th best in the country, as opposed to the 18th. They will impart this knowledge to the subscriber, naturally, for a fee.

This seems a scam on a par with those run by the rent-to-own companies whose many tags I noticed while spending times in and around my rentals, where the tenants proudly inform me that the weekly cost of that brand spanking new television means they will eventually own a $300 set for the discounted price of $2500, provided they can juggle the pay-day loans long enough to pay it off. But, both the recruiting services and rent-to-own places seem to be prospering.

I would pay the closest attention to those recruiting services who could demonstrate that four and five years ago they were claiming that Jim Grobe had brought in a high enough level of talent to win an ACC football championship. I suspect the number would be small.

The Signing Day foolishness gave way to the first of this year’s basketball battles between Duke and Carolina . This was a contest where the winner was determined by the scoreboard rather than the fax machine.

It is not often both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils come into any of these games off a loss, or, as was the case with Duke, off of two straight. This was not exactly a vintage Duke team taking the floor in Cameron.

The athleticism that has been leeching out of the Duke program since the arrival of the slow-footed JJ Redick has now become most notable by its absence, both the athleticism and now JJ. This looks to be the worst Duke team Coach K has fielded in quite a while.

That certainly didn’t stop them from providing a gritty effort against the more talented and much deeper Carolina team before fatigue caused them to be overwhelmed by Ol’ Roy’s numbers. It marked the second straight win for Carolina in a series that Coach K had flat dominated for the last decade or so, winning twenty of the last twenty-four, now twenty-five. The pendulum has now swung back to the light blue side of 15-501, at least for the time being.

Coach K will address both the lack of numbers and limited athleticism with a very highly-regarded recruiting class, provided the recruiting services are any more proficient with basketball recruiting than they were with those football rankings that year after year declared Wake’s football classes to be one of the worst in the ACC.

Of Duke’s nine scholarship players, there are no seniors and only one junior. Provided sophomore big man Josh McRoberts does not decide to join JJ at the end of an NBA bench, Duke should be back very soon with a vengeance.

At Carolina , Ol’ Roy has assembled a group that the Carolina-centric media continues to claim is the best ever. They are a terrific team, although at times it would appear that the players spend too much time reading the gushing accolades in the good old N&O.

For the second straight game, both against major rivals, the Tar Heels, much to the chagrin of Ol’ Roy, have failed to match the intensity of their opponent. If Carolina cannot get up for NC State or Duke, one wonders who would pique their interest.

Perhaps the NBA. Branden Wright is a superbly-gifted athlete who at times gives the impression that college basketball bores him to tears. If he could put forth the effort on a consistent basis that he saw from opponents such as David McClure or Gavin Grant, Carolina would be an even bigger load to handle than they already are. Wright is capable of dominating games but too often appears to be just marking time at Carolina due to that annoying new NBA age requirement.

Lots of basketball observers think that Wright is one and done at Carolina . He may be joined at the outskirts of Blue Heaven by Tyler the Good, as speculation continues that Carolina’s main man will turn pro at the end of the year and head to either the NBA or WWE.

Unlike Wright, Ol’ Roy rarely has reason to question the effort of Tyler the Good. Indeed, the Carolina Hurricanes could learn a thing or two about body-checking from the Tar Heels’ big guy. There will be concerns voiced from Vince McMahon and NBA scouts about the ability of Tyler the Good to hold his emotions in check. Decisions by players from both State and Duke to push back when Tyler the Good began throwing his weight around in the lane produced some very interesting responses from Carolina’s Golden Boy that included a technical foul during the State game.

As good as Carolina is right now, if Ol’ Roy’s inside game is not depleted by the early departures of his inside game coupled with no incoming recruits, Carolina will be even better next year. That will happen in large part due to the maturation of freshman guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. As good as they are, and they are really good, they are still freshmen and often act like it.

Both of Carolina ’s ACC losses have come when Lawson and Ellington were schooled by experienced senior guards. That would be State’s Engin Atsur and Virginia Tech’s Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon. Having experienced seniors still counts for a lot, which should be considered by those recruiting junkies who have already begun braying about how much better will be their football teams when all of the new freshmen hit the field. But it won’t.

Carolina had shown that the inexperience of Lawson and Ellington meant that if they weren’t blowing somebody out by thirty they were losing a close game, as happened against Tech and State. The Hokies and Pack have senior guards, while Duke did not. Unlike Tech and State, Duke lost. Experience is so important, a hard lesson that just might be learned by Carolina in March.

With the exception of a couple of teams, it is a very young ACC that is plying its basketball trade this year, not unlike the football side of things. A lot of teams are going to be a lot better next year. Two that will not will be wrapping up Rivalry Week this Saturday in Cassell Coliseum. That would be Virginia Tech and the Hoos.

It was recently suggested in this space that despite the big wins already garnered by Tech over the ACC’s blue standard of Duke and Carolina , the team’s toughest games might lie ahead. That appears to have been understatement on a par with claiming that this week’s weather in the mid-Atlantic would be slightly cooler.

Tech had a very tough week. Seth Greenberg is riding his senior backcourt duo of Gordon and Dowdell for all they are worth. It would seem the ride is considerably less bumpy when the other guy has freshmen guards on the floor, as was the case against the Devils and Heels as well as Georgia Tech and Maryland . When the opponent can come close to matching Tech’s experience at guard, as could State and Fredo, the results are not quite as promising. That certainly does not bode well for the Hoo game.

When one is talking quality experienced guard tandems, it doesn’t get much better than what Fallback Dave has in Sean Singletary and JR Reynolds. Fallback Dave has a frontcourt that resembles that of a rec league team, but has ridden his outstanding guards to the top of the ACC standings, at least for the time being. Guards as good as the Hoos’ can carry a team quite a ways in March, certainly farther than Petey ever got.

Saturday’s game is a very important one for Tech. If the season that began in such promising fashion, at least the ACC portion of it, is to be gotten back on track, the Hoos need to be beaten. It would be a very good time for Tech to prove it can beat somebody who also has an experienced quality backcourt. So far they have not.

The Old Dominion contribution of Rivalry Week follows up that of the Old North State . It won’t carry the cachet of the Duke-Carolina game or even the Tech-Hoo football one, but is still a pretty big deal. The Heels and Devils will have moved on to the next game. No doubt there will still be those consumed with the results of Signing Day and will be consigning Sean Glennon to football oblivion in the shadow of Tyrod, all available football and basketball evidence this season to the contrary. Also by Saturday, hopefully I will have thawed out.

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