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Shootout on Tobacco Road

logo-accIt was a game that seemed to belong to a different era. Sunday night’s Carolina- Wake game was a throwback, bringing to mind a time when the ACC was a much different league than it is today. It was also seriously-good basketball.

The Tar Heels and Deacons staged an old-fashioned Tobacco Road barnburner in the Joel Coliseum. To say that the ACC’s two oldest rivals got after each other is to dramatically understate. It was a classic.

There was a time when these games were routine. That was the time when the four best ACC basketball teams were invariably the four from the Old North State. They forged the ACC’s basketball reputation with games such as this. There also were a lot more of them than today’s post-expansion unbalanced schedule delivers. If Carolina and Wake and Duke and NC State are no longer going to play each other twice a year, maybe they should bring back the old Big Four Tournament, which used to tip off each season, at least it did until the coaches involved decided they could do without the three extra losses they hung on each other.

There was even an excellent atmosphere for the game. Joel’s first sellout in years [if Wake keeps playing like that there will be many more] made noise and impacted the game. In these days of sterile basketball palaces, the crowd was a nod to that time when these shootouts were held in cramped pits named Carmichael Auditorium and the Winston-Salem Coliseum. About the only thing missing was the cloud of cigarette smoke that used to hang over the floor at Winston’s old coliseum, back when Wake was basically a subsidiary of the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company.

As for the game, well, those young Deacs are going to be pretty good when they grow up. They ain’t bad now. Wake has the blend of size and athleticism that can be scary come tournament time. The questions had been as to whether they had the maturity for the big time and could Dino Gaudio handle coaching at this level. So far, at least, the answers have been in the affirmative.

As for the Heels, well, they have certainly grabbed hold of last place in the conference with a vengeance. 0-2 in the league was probably not what the good old N&O had in mind when it spent October praising Carolina as the greatest assemblage of basketball talent ever and Ol’ Roy as the finest basketball mind since You-Know-Who.

The reaction to these developments from the Heel-worshipping good old N&O has been amusing. The most comical comes from Caulton Tudor. The guy who last April claimed that is was a physical impossibility for Carolina to lose to Kansas and last October that there was little point in even playing the season since nobody was going to come within 30 points of the Heels is not happy.

He responded with a snarling column blaming Ol’ Roy for the losses, the financial crisis, global warming, war, disease, famine, endangered species, there still being a handful of Republicans holding elective office, few continuing to read newspapers and even fewer still reading the good old N&O, the plight of the polar bear and anything else he could come up with, including Ol’ Roy making him [Tudor] look stupid.

Only in North Carolina do the worst of the message board loons hold titles of ‘Sports Columnist,’ reinforced Sunday morning in the Charlotte Observer. Did the Panthers stink of what?

Despite all of the bile generated in Tudor’s stomach, the Heels will be fine. This is still a very good team and Ol’ Roy is too good a coach not to get things back on track.

That said, there are a few problems with the team that opposing coaches will note. The most glaring is that a Marcus Ginyard sitting at the end of the bench in street clothes nursing an injury is not a Marcus Ginyard locking down the opponent’s top scorer. In both losses, Carolina has been lit up by a guard. Both Rice and Teague would have been held down a bit by Ginyard. It was apparent that Ty Lawson couldn’t defend them.

The other little item one notices about the Tar Heels is that Tyler the Good tends to turn into Tyler the Mediocre when the other guy has a legitimate big man. Tyler has faced few in the ACC during his time in Blue Heaven, much less the waves of quality ones Gaudio threw at him. The ACC is now loading up on good big men most everywhere except in Blacksburg.

Speaking of which, Saturday’s top game, at least from this perch, saw Tech continue its recent dominance of the Hoos. Hoo AD Craig ‘Geez, Tubby, can’t we beat them in anything?’ Littlepage should have hired Fallback Dave years ago.

Tech’s win was not exactly a thing of beauty. We watched as Tech stood by observing a furious late-game comeback by what was widely viewed as the ACC’s worst team, at least until Georgia Tech took the floor. As the Hoos shot it back to one possession, the specter of again enduring what has become a Tech specialty under Seth, the last-second loss, began to rear itself.

The situation was saved when senior AD Vassallo scored Tech’s last 6 points, keeping the Hoos at bay. It was very good to see Vassallo asserting himself in critical late-game situations. He has had a tendency to disappear at crunch time.

Despite the win and it is always great fun to beat the Jeffersons, this Tech team has some problems. They are undersized in a league now teeming with quality big men, Seth’s ‘Recruit the sewers’ policy has made a mess out of guard depth and the team’s purported star player apparently flips a coin in the locker room before game time to determine whether he will put forth much effort. Vassallo and the superb Malcolm Delaney can’t carry this team through the rigors of an ACC schedule by themselves.

Still, a win is a win is a win. Tech got one. It ain’t too often in ACC basketball that Carolina can look at Tech’s record with envy. Cheer up, Heels. A glance at the schedule reveals the Hoos are up next. They certainly were the perfect tonic for Tech after the Duke debacle.

Chances are, Tyler the Good won’t experience the same problems with Sene he had with McFarland, Woods, et. al., and Lawson should find life a bit easier. Zeglinski’s one discernible talent seems to be for running full-tilt into screens and then dropping to the floor like a sack of potatoes, not lighting up opposing backcourts.

What we won’t see for a while, as an irked Carolina team heads to Hooville and Tech readies for an OOC yawner with Richmond, is the Tobacco Road shootout that was held Sunday night in Winston. The next one is not scheduled until 1/28, when Duke tries its hand at knocking off Wake. It’s a pity, as this Hokie cut his eye teeth watching those exciting games and misses them not being held as often as before.

And, before I am inundated with the usual ‘I hate Carolina’ e-mails that always show up when I talk about the Heels, bear in mind that quite a few Tar Heels read these missives and my experience is that they are very good people.

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