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End of the Road


It was a short Final Four for Carolina. A funny thing happened to this Tar Heels team on their way to adding their own banner to the seemingly dozens of championship ones draped around the rafters of Dean’s Dome.

Specifically, Kansas happened. Yikes! My bracket picks of Carolina meeting UCLA in the Final Two certainly looks inspired.

Carolina came out against Kansas Saturday night displaying a catatonic state not seen since they spent most of their ACC Tournament semi-final game sleepwalking against Virginia Tech. This time around, they were up against a much tougher team than the Hokies, which 40-12 made quickly apparent. The Carolina team that had spent the NCAA Tournament steam-rolling opposition, barely breaking a sweat en route to their Final Four birthright was nowhere to be found. They did gamely make a game of it in the Second Half, but there are reasons why twenty-eight point leads are rarely blown. It is too high of a mountain and was for Carolina. Maryland’s twenty- one point blown lead against Duke remains the Final Four standard.

There were repercussions following the loss. Many came from the good old N&O. The newspaper had spent the season proclaiming the invincibility of this year’s Carolina team with all the journalistic fervor on display when it declared the Duke lacrosse players guilty or John Edwards a lock for the Democratic presidential nomination. It reached a fever pitch in the week leading up to the Final Four, culminating in columnist Caulton Tudor assuring the paper’s dwindling group of readers that there was no way Carolina could lose and Ol’ Roy was without reasonable doubt the second-best coach in the history of basketball.

A day later a snarling Tudor was setting the tone for the Caroloons, blaming Ol’ Roy for everything from not having his team prepared for the game’s biggest stage to the Triangle water shortage to all of the governmental scandals afflicting the Old North State.

According to Tudor, it was a miracle Dean managed to win all of those games with the self-imposed handicap of Ol’ Roy on his staff. Add another to those angry that Ol’ Roy left Kansas for the Carolina throne.

The whole Ol’ Roy-Kansas-Carolina thing was entirely overblown. It is highly doubtful that Bill Self was thinking about getting revenge for Ol’ Roy bolting Lawrence, thereby opening one of the game’s glamour jobs for him. Self likely gave much more thought as to how a win over the Heels, coupled with a judicious firing at alma mater Oklahoma State, would give him serious leverage with which to Frank the Kansas AD.

Self’s game plan correctly identified the weakness in the Carolina defense, that being Tyler the Good. When Ol’ Roy is chatting up his NBA contacts over the next few weeks concerning the potential pro goodness of Tyler, the name ‘Cole Aldrich’ will likely come up a time or two. Tyler will see much better than that on a regular basis in the pro game. He certainly did not in the ACC.

Carolina’s in-state romp to Final Four disaster had partially obscured that the ACC simply wasn’t a very good basketball conference this year. There had been much griping from the league when only four teams received NCAA bids. By the end of the first tournament weekend, three were gone, indicating that the ACC probably didn’t deserve as many as four. It also showed that while Carolina was indeed a very good team, they perhaps were not as dominant as their record would suggest, given the overall mediocrity of the league.

Many, including virtually all sports columnists from North Carolina, blamed expansion for watering down once proud ACC basketball. Looking at the standings, it would seem that some of the old-line ACC programs had done a much better job of watering themselves down.

There is Maryland, once a Top 10 mainstay and Final Four participant, now stumbling along as Gary Williams meanders towards retirement. Nobody much fears the hoops turtle anymore.

Then there is Duke. For those contemplating life after Coach K, a clue is now at hand. With the head Devil having developed outside interests ranging from teaching a class at Duke to moonlighting with the USA national team, he has turned large chunks of his day job over to Johnny Dawkins. The inevitable seems to be happening. Lackey Joe has certainly let us know what he thinks will happen at Duke just as soon as Coach K surpasses Dean’s win total [speaking of now-former Duke AD Lackey Joe, you really have to wonder if LSU is tired of all of that football success and decided to do something about it].

The Duke program has suffered mightily over the last few years from star players leaving early for the NBA. Now, they no longer bother to show up in the first place. That is glaringly apparent when studying the height of the Duke roster. There is none and won’t be anytime soon. Once again, Coach K/ Dawkins have completely whiffed on recruiting big men.

With the decline of these two longtime ACC powers, the conference is clearly no longer what it once was. Throw in the great difficulty keeping star players around by Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt and you have a league whose gaudy RPI was propped up by one team, that being Carolina.

League strength is cyclical and indications are the ACC will bounce back. There were numerous very young teams in the conference this year and a ton of talent should be returning if the pro agents can be kept at bay. A glance at the rosters of the McDonald’s game shows that the ACC’s talent level will receive an infusion next year to go with all of that youth. The league should be better, although the monster team that Wake Forest has on paper may be tempered by some of that paper having an arrest report printed on it.

Finally, Carolina’s Final Four meltdown shows the problems of great expectations. There are entirely too many Caroloons bitching about an outstanding 36-3 season, roughly the same number as those irate Tech loons following the Orange Bowl. Expecting and demanding national championships does little more than set people who should know better up for great disappointment. It also seems to prevent many from enjoying great seasons,…. And the ride.

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