Thursday, November 18, 2004

Two weeks, two covers

OK, we're a day away from the start of the Tarheel basketball season and things were looking good -- and then Sports Illustrated goes and puts Rashad McCants on the cover. But like I mentioned last week when Hines Ward got top billing, I ain't worried about any SI jinx. Anyway, SI ranks UNC #1 in their preseason poll and then proceeds to make some curious observations about two of their best players:
"This could finally be the year that notoriously tempestuous Rashad McCants leads Tar Heel Nation to the NCAA title."

"...There was plenty of blame to go around for the Tar Heels's poor D last season, but Felton was one of the worst offenders. It was his man who hit the last-second shot in losses to Duke (Chris Duhon) and Georgia Tech (Jarrett Jack). And Felton was covering Florida State's Todd Galloway when Galloway hit a shot to force overtime, where the Seminoles won handily. Combine that with a decline in his three-point shooting (from 35.8% to 31.2%), and Felton feels as though he has something to prove."
I'm an admitted apologist for Rashad McCants, so maybe I'm overreacting a bit to the "notoriously tempestuous" characterization. Of course I'll still try to rebut it. This would have been fair during his freshman year when then coach Matt Doherty had to bench him for his lackadaisical effort on defense (or his testy relationship with teammates), or even early last year when coach Williams had a few early season run-ins with McCants. But after getting cut from the under-20 USA Team this summer (and learning a valuable lesson as a result), I think these labels are a little unfair.

Of course, no sooner does practice start than McCants hauls off and makes some silly comments likening college to jail, but I attribute that to lack of sleep and a little something I like to call semantics (read: I have no worldly idea why McCants would make such comments, so consequently I deny it). Either way, I think the media should hold off on criticizing McCants' offcourt antics and give him the benefit of the doubt -- at least until he does something as inane as produce a rap album and then asks Williams for time off to rest.

Now, in terms of Felton's tongue-lashing, it seems more than unfair. To say that Felton was responsible for Duhon scoring the winning basket is only telling half the story. As I cited way back on March 13 (stealing from Tony's Tarheel Page):
"...Raymond Felton and David Noel collide and allow Chris Duhon to score the game-winner on an uncontested layup with seconds to play in overtime in a two point loss to Duke."
So there, if you're going to blame Ray, you have to blame David too. I don't remember the specifics of the Georgia Tech game, but I have vivid recollections of the Florida State game -- and in both cases, I don't recall reading or seeing Ray Felton single-handedly give up every point either team scored. My point is that there were four other guys out there probably not playing defense as well. And in the case of Florida State, the Heels were up by 20+ points and went on to lose. Does that mean Felton is responsible for that too?

Again, I'm probably being too sensitive about all the mild criticism, and the bottom line of the SI piece is that because Felton had an off-year, he has something to prove going into 2004-05. I readily agree that Felton seemed to press a bit last season, but I would never blame a loss on his defense. In fact, when he was uncharacteristically turning the ball over, or characteristically missing threes, the one constant was that he was a good defender.

And one last thing, for all of Felton's perceived shortcomings in 2003-04, he was still light years ahead of Chris Duhon. In fact, I don't recall reading any scathing reports of his lackluster performances that took place at various times during his four year career (and believe me, it wasn't from lack of looking -- OK, some jerk did write a few less than complimentary stories). If I'm being truthful, I guess part of this rant is because Ray might be my favorite UNC guy, and part of it probably has something to do with the fact that Tarheel basketball news is pretty slow as of now. Whatever the case, that all should change Friday.

As I mentioned Tuesday, UNC kicks off it's season this Friday against Santa Clara, but they'll be without the services of their all-world point guard Raymond Felton because he played in an offseason league that wasn't sanctioned by the NCAA. Apparently Chavis Summer League has a history of misleading players into thinking it's not a violation to participate:
"Two N.C. State players, guard Tony Bethel and center Jordan Collins, also played in Chavis games but were not required to sit out any games, NCSU said, because it had been provided with a falsified certification document. Diane Sauer of Raleigh's Parks and Recreation Department, which operates the summer league, has denied that it sent any letters claiming NCAA certification."
For what it's worth, Roy Williams promised that Tarheel players won't ever be confused about such things:
"None of my players will ever play in that league again, I guarantee you, I don't care if they have a presidential citation," Williams said Tuesday. "I don't like the fact those people [Chavis officials] said the league was sanctioned when it's not."
Whatever the case, the Tarheels will go into the season without Felton, which means that Williams will look to freshman Quentin Thomas, sophomore transfer Wes Miller,and senior Melvin Scott -- potentially one of the worst point guards in college basketball, but maybe one of the best jumpshooters in the ACC (despite his early season troubles).

Also, Williams expects Rashad McCants (this week's SI coverboy, just in case you missed that big photo at the top of the page) to start despite the fact that he missed UNC's last exhibition game with a sore shoulder.
"McCants still experiences pain, "but it's miraculous he doesn't have pain when he shoots it," Williams mused."
The good news is that this will give Thomas and Miller some much needed experience early in the season, and it'll be against a Santa Clara that finished 16-16 last year.

More good news. Roy Williams actually thinks this team might "be pretty good" based on the preseason practices. He says one of the biggest differences between this year and last is that this team is communicating more, especially on defense. Well, that's certainly good news for me, since I spent a lot of time last season asking why no one was playing any defense (to be fair, I was actually yelling, and it was at the television, which may be why I didn't get a response).

Even more good news. When asked which player has impressed him the most so far, Williams (Roy) noted Williams (Jawad).
"He's taking better shots and making more of them, and being more vocal on the defensive end."
Smokey left a comment Tuesday reminding me of a very important Duke - UNC game taking place this weekend...the Duke - UNC football game.

How I could overlook the most heated rivalry at the Denny's halfway between the two campuses is beyond me. Both football teams are historically awful (Duke more than UNC), although the Tarheels might actually go to a bowl game this year (if this isn't an indictment of the current college football postseason setup, I don't know what is).

As it stands, UNC is 5-5 and Duke is 2-8, and both have big wins to date: the Heels beat Miami and the Blue Devils bested Clemson. But all this will go out the window when these two teams meet to decide who gets bragging rights at the aforementioned Denny's (I think the winner gets control of the jukebox for the next 12 months, but this is unconfirmed). Adding fuel to the fire was UNC center Jason Brown when he made the following comments to the News & Observer:
"I shouldn't say it, but I'll say it anyway. Don't try to make me seem arrogant or cocky...Who wants to lose to Duke? You know, that's like getting beat up by a girl. ...That's like you're in elementary school and you get beat up by a girl and all of your friends just look at you. And you have to walk around the campus that you love so much and where all the people love you, and yet they are looking at you and thinking, 'You got beat up by a girl.' It's not a good feeling."
In case you didn't get the point, Brown repeats himself four times in two sentences. And if you're still unclear, maybe I can simplify it further: IF UNC LOSES TO DUKE -> UNC = GIRLS. And by the way, anytime you preface a statement with, "I shouldn't say this, but I'll say it anyway...," there's a good chance what you're about to say is either inflammatory, offensive, or both. Of course, UNC lost last year's epic battle (you remember, I think it was 435-27; not really -- in fact I have no idea what the score was and am not even inclined to look it up), which (in conjunction with hearing Brown's comments) prompted Duke linebacker Brendan Dewan to note the following:
"Last year's game still speaks. That's what we're planning to do this year. I'm confident we'll win."
See. It always comes back to Denny's.