Saturday, April 02, 2005

Dear Jawad Williams

I'm an idiot. Not as big an idiot as Clark Kellogg (I'll get to that later), but I still don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Last fall I had to write a similar "Dear athlete on one of my favorite teams I'm sorry I questioned your ability" letter (that one was to Mark Bellhorn) and tonight I'll be penning that letter to Jawad Williams.

Up until the Villanova game, I had shied away from giving Williams the business. But after becoming almost invisible in that game, I couldn't keep my yap shut any longer. Without actually reliving my dopey comments, suffice it to say that I misspoke (this is an understatement along the lines of saying that Paris Hilton is "kinda slutty"), but apparently there's nothing wrong with Jawad.

Whatever the case, Williams was my MVP in this game, even though CBS gave their award to Sean May. Let's see, Jawad was 9/13 (2/5 from three), 9 rebounds and 20 points. Not bad for a guy who had all but disappeared for the previous month of the season. Anyway, here are some random thoughts from the game:

... Um, whoever said the Big Ten is a one-team league is a dope. Wisconsin gave UNC all they could handle and Michigan State, even though they ended up losing by 16 points, is a really good team. The fact that they pulled a Pedro in the first half (they were UNC's daddy on the boards), was all the convincing I needed to see. I know Tom Izzo says this team doesn't have one superstar, and I tend to agree with him; but they have about 10 athletes who can make plays and battle for rebounds.

Often when I'm watching UNC games, it takes about two minutes for me to figure out which player on the opposing team I'm going to focus on as "the guy I really, really hate" because he's (a) draining threes from ridiculous spots on the court, (b) is throwing up shots that miraculously go in while getting fouled, or (c) is playing great defense while drawing charges every other time down the court. Anyway, my point is this: Michigan State didn't have any such player -- they had about four or five of them. They're a good team, and if UNC didn't decide to start rebounding in the 2nd half, the Spartans probably would've won.

... Hey, Quentin Thomas got in the game (and I'm not talking about garbage time with the rest of the Blue team) and he played very well. He was in control, pushed the ball up the court, made good decisions and played solid defense. Any positive minutes are good minutes for Thomas, because next year he could be running the show.

... Rashad McCants is crazy. That's about as newsworthy as saying Michael Jackson likes sleepovers, but it still bears repeating. He'll come down the court and drain a three, and the next time down he'll take a player four inches taller than him to the hoop for two. Later in the game he'll act like he just woke up from a nap and choose not to hustle after a loose ball, and then minutes later he'll knock down another three. In his defense, I honestly believe he means well. He just spends a lot of time battling maturity instead of dominating opponents. That said, other than a few mental lapses, he was solid Saturday night.

... I already mentioned Jawad Williams, but the other two seniors, Jackie Manuel and Melvin Scott also had big games. Of course Jackie didn't score a point, but he did his usual solid job on defense. Scott, who for three and a half seasons couldn't bring the ball up the court without doing something crazy, has been steady as not only a shooting guard, but also at relieving Ray Felton at point guard.

... Speaking of picking up the slack, it was good to see Reyshawn Terry on the court. He had a great dunk on a feed from Sean May that helped keep UNC close in the first half. Whatever happens between now and the start of the 2005-06 season, Terry's going to be a big part of next year's team.

... Oh yeah, that Clark Kellogg guy. Anytime a former player gets called out by a nerdy basketball writer, it's worth noting. Just like Sean Salisbury gets slapped around by John Clayton, Kellogg got donkey punched by Seth Davis. During halftime, with Carolina down 38-33, Kellogg picked Michigan State to pull out a victory if both teams decided to run the ball in the second half. Davis was equally as emphatic in stating the exact opposite -- namely that if both teams ran, it would favor UNC. Davis:1 Kellogg: 0. Keep up the good work nerds.

... I must admit that I was secretly pulling for Louisville in the first game (actually, I was watching the game at home, so it wasn't really a secret that I wanted Louisville to win, but you get the point). Partly because I like Pitino, and partly because Illinois scares the crap out of me in terms of matchups with UNC.

And let me just go ahead and put this out there: If the Tarheels don't play perimeter defense, they'll get smoked (in the second half, UNC did a really good job on defense against Michigan State, but to be fair, they don't have quite the deep threats that a team like Illinois -- or even Wisconsin -- have). Of course, if the Illini's game plan is to throw up threes all night and they happen to go cold, that would be a good thing for Carolina. The only problem is that the Illini don't seem to slump for too long (just ask Arizona). Still, I like the matchups (like how I contradict myself about the UNC-Illinois matchups in less than a paragraph? what can I say, I"m a flip-flopper). I'd put Rashad (or maybe even Jackie) on Deron Williams and make him work to get the ball up the court. Whoever ends up on Williams, the other can take Luther Head with Ray-Ray on Dee Brown. And inside, I'll take my chances with Jawad/Marvin Williams and Sean May against Roger Powell and James Augustine. Granted, Powell is a Pentecostal minister, so that counts for something, but unless he can do something about Augustine's ability to D up May, it probably won't matter.

Anyway, I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. This was a good win for the Tarheels, especially when you consider that four seasons ago they had been home for a month after putting the finishing touches on an 8-20 season. Good times.

Update: After looking at this morning's papers, here's some more stuff on Jawad's big night (here and here).

Also, for another funny recap of Billy Packer's mastery of the inane, go here (my favorite is Billy's insight at the 9:04 mark).