Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/24/2007 01:37:00 AM
Closer Look: North Carolina-USC
Marcus Ginyard ignited the Tar Heels' 18-0 run with three baskets from offensive rebounds.
Michael Heiman/Getty Images
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On their locker-room whiteboard during the NCAA tournament, North Carolina coaches have been in the habit of drawing a large box in blue marker, and then writing a number inside. You could even call it a superstition. When reporters were allowed inside after the top-seeded Tar Heels' 74-64 comeback win over fifth-seeded USC early Saturday morning, the box contained a giant and ominous "8".
Eight, as in, eight teams left in the dance, and we're one of them, courtesy of a furious 18-0 run that buried the Trojans midway through the second half. "If we win, we chop the number down," explained point guard Tywon Lawson, who had a cold shooting night (2-of-10, four points) but outraced fatigued USC late in the game. There was, however, one complication with the box at the outset of the evening: UNC forgot to draw it before tipoff. And at halftime, said Lawson, "some guys were blaming our bad start on us not ever putting up the 16."
That's right: The Heels are superstitious enough to actually blame their nine-point halftime deficit -- to a USC team that was not only matching but surpassing Carolina's athleticism -- on the absence of digits on a markerboard. That should serve as an example of just how fragile life can be for a No. 1 seed in the tournament, even if all four have advanced to the Elite Eight. Ohio State went down to the wire with Tennessee. Kansas survived a dogfight with Southern Illinois. Florida trailed Butler in the second half before winning. And Carolina, without the all-important "16" in its head, played a passionless first 25 minutes against USC and had Roy Williams worrying that his golf season might begin early this year.
"We feel very fortunate," Williams said of the comeback. "Please understand it was not any great coaching strategy; we just got kids that did give us the effort in the second half. We had a lot saved up because we didn't use very much of it in the first half."
As the Trojans' Taj Gibson dominated inside (12 points, nine boards in the first half) and guards Nick Young (11 in the first half) and Gabe Pruitt (nine) lit up the scoreboard with an array of slashing moves early on, UNC looked almost helpless. It wasn't pushing the pace, and its unmasked star, Tyler Hansbrough, was invisible. He had only two points in the first half and five in the game.
"We knew, coming in, that we were going to be able to get what we wanted," said Pruitt. "We took advantage of penetration and got the ball Taj in the lane, but they just played bigger down the stretch, especially on the glass."
The leader of the Tar Heels' put-back parade was unheralded sophomore guard Marcus Ginyard, who ignited their epic run -- which lasted from 11:03 to 4:28 in the second half -- with not one, not two, but three follow-up buckets. The third, with 7:38 left, cut the USC lead to one at 59-58 and all but deflated the Trojans' hopes of holding back the flood. Ginyard, the player who had publicly questioned Carolina's toughness during its pre-ACC tournament malaise, came from the left baseline for a one-handed tip-in of a Wayne Ellington miss, and then let out a scream that was audible over the roar of the crowd. After three more minutes of the Heels' high-paced onslaught, USC was completely submerged.
"Those extra-effort plays are the ones that get everybody's emotions high," Ginyard said. "That gave this team the energy and the spark to play better defensively and get going on offense."
Ginyard and the Heels found the spark just in time to set up a 1-vs.-2 duel with Georgetown on Sunday. Before that showdown begins, one assumes, the whiteboard number will be prominently posted.
Player Who Impressed: Brandan Wright, UNC. Wright was underwhelming against Michigan State, getting pushed around by the tougher Spartans and held to just three points while playing limited minutes. He looked soft again in the first half against USC, as the more active Taj Gibson (who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds) worked him inside. Just when we were starting to write UNC's obituary, though -- with Wright's ineffectiveness as part of the cause of death -- he came up huge in the second half. Once Gibson got into foul trouble, the 6-foot-9 Wright used his length to elevate over the Trojans, and scored 13 second-half points to finish with 21. Roy Williams likes to use Tiger Woods references when talking about Wright, and on Friday he said this:
"Yesterday again, Tiger shot 71, last week he shot 76 in the final round; but he's still Tiger," Williams said. "Today he shot 66. So Brandan shot 76 the other night but he shot 66 today. He doesn't know what the heck I'm talking about, so I can say anything I want about golf."
Courtside Confidential: UNC's media relations staff distributed a sobering press release late in Friday's game. It stated that the team's mascot for the past three years, senior Jason Ray, had been hit by a car outside a hotel in Fort Lee, N.J., that afternoon. He was listed in critical condition at the Hackensack Medical Center. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was informed of the situation just seconds before his opening press-conference remarks. "It sort of makes everything else pale in comparison," Williams said. "It's nerve-wracking right now to think about that." ... There was one celebrity sighting other than ol' Pat Ewing in East Rutherford: Giants quarterback Eli Manning. ... USC's players were mostly sporting closely shaved heads for Friday's game -- a big change from the wild cuts they wore to Thursday's practice. Said Nick Young, who had mini-frohawk with intricate designs shaved into the sides during that workout, "Coach had a talk with us and he thought it would be better if we go out there looking the same -- so everybody on the team's got bald heads."
The Big Picture: Both Carolina and Georgetown overcame miserable starts to reach the East Region final. But while the Hoyas seemed more upbeat about overtaking Vandy -- perhaps it was the last-second nature in which they won -- some Tar Heels were still expressing concern over their early sluggishness. "We can't keep doing this," said Ginyard. "It's tough to say that, but it's even tougher to do that. We've really got to start playing 40-minute games, and from this point on we have to get tougher."
Much of the pressure to step up will fall on Hansbrough, who had one of his worst performances of the season on Friday but said, "I always play better after I've played poorly." Whether or not he wins the star battle with Georgetown's versatile Jeff Green will go a long way in deciding the game. While Kansas-UCLA is considered by many to be the tournament's marquee regional final, is there really anything bigger than UNC-Georgetown? It'll be a classic contrast of styles, pitting the Hoyas' methodically efficient halfcourt scheme against the Heels' relentless up-tempo attack. "We don't feel like anyone can run with us for 40 minutes," said Hansbrough. The Hoyas aren't interested in running, though. They just want to pick UNC apart.
So apparently rumors are already flying and writers are already asking about Billy Donovan possibly going to Kentucky.
Does anyone remember how pissed off Roy Williams got a few years ago when someone asked him whether he was going to take the UNC job right after he had just lost the national championship? Let these people finish their seasons!!! I really don't think its going to bother too many Kentucky fans if they find out they're getting whoever a week or so after the tournament, rather than in the middle of the elite 8. I haven't seen so much of a story on SI.com, but others are already asking. Have some respect.
You know, it's difficult to figure out some of the No. 1's. I mean, UNC seemed a little weak until TH took of the mask, and became beastman for a night. OSU escapes a major upset because of a fluffed call on an obvious lineman block. Florida gets by skweek after skweek too. Kansas struggles against the same sort of tenacious long-limbed D they like to play. But, they all survived; they all advanced. So, which is the flakiest; the weakest? OSU keeps underperforming in the first half, and each time it seems to come back to the brink, and I'm betting that this won't work any more for them. Even if they show up in the first half, I've been watching Oden and he's not got the stamina to hang with a team like FL, UCLA, or KU. So even if they survive the explosive speed, outside shooting and tenacity of Memphis, I bet they falter first. FL has been having the same symptoms; getting in a hole and then having to play exceptionally well to climb out. More so than UNC, which only recently suffered this spasm in the big dance. As much as I'd love to see all No. 1's make it to the Final Four, I'm betting that OSU falls to the Tigers of Memphis, and FL goes down in their game against No. 3 Oregon, while UNC makes a mockery of the legendary GT toughness and KU scrabbles out another tough defensive slugfest against the Bruins. That's right - I'm betting that mighty Casey (Fl) will strike out in the pursuit of back to back titles. This time Monday look for it to be 1 vs 2 on both sides of the Four, and look for the final to be the stuff of media blah blah legends, as Roy's new) boys go against Bill's boys and Roy gets to shed double tears for powder blue AND crimson and blue (you know he would, and...Roy? God speed, man. Sorry 'bout your Mom...really).
"westcoast213" = "Dude who doesn't know much about HOOPS"
Tyler Hansbrough is NO MARK MADSON. I think you'll be eating your "overrated" comments if this kid wins a National Player of the Year Award in the future.
Also, I don't recall Madson even being an All-American player. Although until last year I hadn't followed college hoops that closely for years. So, I'm not 100% sure.
However, I am confident that Hansbrough even he is if not an All-America player this year, that he will be before he finishes his career in Chapel Hill.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not even a Carolina Fan by any stretch of the imagination. My school (VA Tech) actually beat the Heels TWICE this year. However, Hansbrough is the REAL DEAL, as is PG Ty Lawson.
Sure, I could be wrong about these guys but hey, that's what blogging is all about :-)
The best part of the tournament was watching USC's guard steal an inbound pass, then, with the scrappy UNC guard Pi**ed off and trying to get the rock back, the USC guard dunked on him. I'll never forget that, as well as how USC, the football powerhouse, just reamed UNC for 80% of the basketball game. March Madness Rocks !
Nice! You really understand basketball. Please let me know when they crown the "80% of the National Champion" Winner. Does CBS stop the game at that point to Crown the 80% Winner?
So did you win your "80% of Completed Games" Office Pool?
So what if the dude got pissed off and subsequently got dunked on. Which team advanced to the next round.
That's why they CROWN the NATIONAL CHAMPION after the teams FINISH PLAYING 100% of the Games!
I'm sure you'll come back with some crap about Carolina getting beat by G-Town in the next round anyway . . . but who cares? They beat your USC team at the END of that game, NOT the "80% Point of the Game."
Oh well, it takes all types . . . READ a book on hoops, will ya!