Monday, March 28, 2005

Majerus hearts Judd

It was only a season ago that Sean May had trouble touching the net during the second half of games because of being out of shape, but given the way he's been playing lately it seems like a distant memory. May again put the Heels on his back as he dominated the game from start to finish, and thanks to Robots McCants hitting a big three down the stretch and Ray Felton doing what he does, the Tarheels are going to the Final Four for the first time since 2000.

You remember 2000, right? That was Matt Doherty's first season in Chapel Hill as the head coach and he had All-American Joe Forte lighting up opponents and Julius Peppers scaring the crap out of them. Both would end up being first round picks, albeit in different sports, but that's where their professional career paths diverge. Forte was last seen playing the Asheville's professional basketball team and Peppers makes a living terrorizing unsuspecting QBs.

2000 seems like ten years ago primarily because so much has happened between then and now. Who would've guessed that Carolina would implode in 2001, partly because Forte left early, partly because Doherty was stuck with Coach Guthridge's mediocre recruits, and partly because of Doherty's coaching style. Fast forward a couple of seasons and players and parents are complaining to the AD as Doherty is eventually run out of town. Enter Roy Williams (who probably had third and fourth thoughts about returning to his alma mater after the 2003-04 season), and after two seasons in Chapel Hill he's got this team back in the Final Four.

Pretty easy, huh? Honestly, I couldn't be happier for Jackie Manuel, Jawad Williams and Melvin Scott. These guys have seen it all in their four years at UNC and they probably deserve medals too. I'm also glad for the juniors -- who also got to experience much of the turmoil surrounding the whole Doherty meltdown-leads-to-resigning-when-he-was-actually-fired saga that was about as much fun to watch as a "Gigli" marathon.

OK, now that I've finished crying, reminiscing, and crying some more, here are some random thoughts from the game:

... I'm a little puzzled about how Carolina seems to run their offense. In most circles I'm considered a simpleton, but bear with me here. It seems like when UNC gets Sean May the ball good things happen; either he scores, he scores and is fouled or is fouled and gets to the line. After May scored on several trips down the court it seemed Carolina decided to deviate from that game plan and just start chucking threes instead. Predictably they were off target and Wisconsin would come down the court and score. Of course it all became moot when McCants actually started draining threes late in the game, but I still found it a bit curious.

... I'm also puzzled by the fact that UNC loves playing 1-3-1 zone while letting standstill shooters light them up from the 3-point line. It happened Friday night and it happened against Wisconsin. But like I said, I'm a simpleton so what do I know.

... Speaking of McCants, it's amazing how quickly he can turn on his game and even more astounding how quickly he can turn it off. In the first 15 minutes of the game he was virtually unstoppable, and then for long stretches in the second half he seemed to disappear missing wide open jumpers, only to reappear at the end of the game to seal the victory. Don't get me wrong, he was second only to May in terms of great performances, but I'd love to see go bonkers for an entire 40 minutes -- just to see how much damage he could do.

... The way to beat the Tarheels is to apparently slow the game down to a crawl. Villanova did it and should've won, and Wisconsin tried it with not quite the same results. Part of the reason the Badgers might have been at a disadvantage is because the Heels basically got to practice against that scheme Friday night against a more athletic, better rebounding team. Carolina will see more of the same against Michigan State expect that team would win the rebound battle against five grizzly bears.

... It was good to see Quentin Thomas get some quality minutes against Wisconsin after his 15 second performance Friday night. Depending on what happens with Felton and the NBA, Thomas could play a very important role next season -- especially when you consider that Roy doesn't have any point guards coming in.

... Funniest thing I heard Sunday: Rick Majerus was on ESPN talking about UNC and Sean May in particular. He referred to him as the "Mailman" a la Karl Malone. Majerus mentioned that the only thing May needs to do to be as dominant as Malone is to sculpt his body, lose some weight and ride the bike. There's nothing funnier than a really fat guy talking about how riding a bike and getting sculpted can help take your game to the next level. Of course it's not as funny as when he mentioned that he was trying to find Ashley Judd in the stands during the Tennessee-Kentucky game earlier this season so he wouldn't have to look at porn when he got back to his hotel room, but it's certainly a distant second.