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.
3/25/2007 10:20:00 PM
A Hoya Revival at the Meadowlands
Georgetown is back in the Final Four for the first time in 22 years.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
John Thompson III (top) hoisted the East Region title trophy, while Patrick Ewing (bottom) played the role of proud father in East Rutherford.
Getty Images, AP
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Once the reality had set in, that Georgetown had erased a nine-point deficit to top-seeded North Carolina in the final six minutes of an NCAA tournament epic, sent the game to overtime on a clutch three by Jonathan Wallace, and gone on a 14-0 run there to seal its first Final Four trip since 1985, the scene on the floor at Continental Airlines Arena turned surreal.
First there was Patrick Ewing -- not the sophomore forward who grabbed the clutch rebound on North Carolina's final shot of regulation, a missed 3-pointer by Wayne Ellington, but the famed center who led the Hoyas to a national title in 1984 -- holding court with reporters in front of the Georgetown bench. His eyes glistening, and his elaborate, multi-dog-tag-bling necklace glimmering in the stadium lights, he said, "I feel like I just won!"
Then there was the stream of Georgetown players walking over to the scorer's table to exchange hugs with one of CBS' radio announcers after winning 96-84. The man in the headset happened to be Big John Thompson Jr., who had brought the program to prominence in the 1980s, making three Final Four trips and winning one national championship, in 1984. Here, while the Hoyas shot a jaw-dropping 57.6 percent from the field, and 57.1 percent from three-point land, to keep up with a Tar Heels attack that many said would leave them in the dust, the elder Thompson had provided the nation with blow-by-blow analysis.
Then there was Big John's son, John Thompson III -- or Little John, as Tar Heels coach Roy Williams called him Saturday -- morphing out of his reserved persona into that of a showman, grabbing the microphone on the podium at midcourt and repeatedly yelling "WE ARE," with his rooting section responding en masse, "GEORGETOWN!"
And last, there was the Easter Bunny -- or at least a Georgetown football player named Andrew Rehwinkel profusely sweating through an Easter Bunny costume -- in the first row of the stands. He had run down there from the upper deck to congratulate players like Jeff Green, the junior who had 22 points and was named the East Region's Most Outstanding Player, and freshman DaJuan Summers, who came up huge with 20 points and six rebounds, as they left the floor. "Easter came early, baby!" yelled Rehwinkel, who bought the costume that day at a local Target. He called it "the best $50 I've spent in my life."
About 15 minutes earlier, after UNC's Ellington misfired a 3-pointer with 1:24 left in overtime -- the Tar Heels' seventh straight miss to open the extra period -- the game finally looked in hand for Georgetown, whose fans couldn't control their emotions in the stands. I glanced toward the nosebleed sections behind the Hoyas' bench, where GU's massive student section had been unfairly relegated for both contests in East Rutherford, and saw Rehwinkel holding both of his hands up to his head in disbelief. A victory had once seemed doubtful, with UNC killing Georgetown on the offensive glass in the first half (by a 10-4 margin), Thompson getting T'ed up for arguing a call, and the Heels playing at their pace to take a 50-44 lead into the break. Now, with the win in hand, even the Easter Bunny was in a state of shock.
The most level head I could find amid the chaos was that of Wallace, the 6-foot-1 junior guard with a very un-Georgetown like background. He was raised on an 80-acre cattle farm in rural Alabama, and was the student government president at Sparkman High School in Huntsville, before coming to Washington DC to lead the Hoyas back to prominence. Green, in his postgame interviews, recalled a trip he and Tyler Crawford took two summers ago to the Wallace farm, where "one big, tan-and-white cow that had a loose, dangling horn and just stared at me and Tyler."
The odd man on the Hoyas' mostly urban roster, though, had hit the biggest shot of the day, losing Lawson beneath a screen and drilling a three from the left wing to tie the game at 81-81 with 31.2 seconds left. Before telling his cow tale, Green had affectionately called Wallace, who averaged 11.0 points on the season but had 19 on 7-of-11 shooting on Sunday, "the best player on the team, to me."
And so it was Wallace who, when describing that shot, did not yell or spin a yarn about envisioning it in a dream. He simply said that it came, like most of the Hoyas' other clutch shots down the stretch, within the flow of their offense. "That's a practice shot," he said. "I shoot that shot every day."
Indeed, the story of the second-half comeback that sent Georgetown to the Final Four is not one of individual heroics, but merely that of a team trusting in the offense -- Thompson's modified Princeton attack -- that got them to East Rutherford. Down eight, at 73-65, with 7:51 left in the game, Thompson entered the huddle smiling during a media timeout and said (according to Green), "We're fine -- just keep running the offense, getting rebounds, and making stops."
"It was not a big plan to come in chuckling," said Thompson, "but I felt good about where we were."
Thompson's move was eerily similar to one found in a story Williams had told Saturday about the meeting between Georgetown and North Carolina in the hallowed 1982 national title game. During a timeout with 32 seconds left and UNC down by one, Dean Smith addressed the team one last time before Michael Jordan's storybook shot. According to Williams:
"There was not one time during the Final Four that I had he ever thought about that we could possibly lose. When those guys came over to the bench, the look on their face just shocked me because I saw a negative look. We kneeled down in front of the bench like coaches do, and Coach Smith said, "we're in great shape." He said, "I'd much rather be in our shoes than theirs. We are exactly where we want to be."
The rest -- MJ's jumper and James Worthy's steal -- was history. So, little did we know, while it looked like Georgetown was on the ropes, JTIII was channeling Smith and the Hoyas believed themselves to be in better shape than anyone else imagined. Three straight field goals in the paint by Sapp, Green and Hibbert -- the last a resounding dunk on a baseline spin -- cut UNC's lead to three at the 4:22 mark. The two teams battled back and forth for the next four minutes until it was time for Wallace to have his Jordan moment.
Williams called a timeout seven seconds later, removed his glasses, put them in the breast pocket of his suit, and entered the huddle to call a play for the final shot. Ellington's 3 -- which was, somewhat to the coach's dismay, not the first option -- was off, bringing about overtime. The final five minutes were a one-sided affair, beginning with a quintessential backcut-for-layup by Wallace, and ending with the Tar Heels' title hopes buried under a 12-point deficit.
In the tunnel afterward, Wallace made his way toward the Arena's exit without as much as a whoop or a holler, carrying his duffel bag and happily wearing his Final Four hat. Big John, who was waiting for his son to emerge, stopped Wallace and asked him, why, in the postgame press conference, he hadn't told the reporters, "I've been hitting big shots like that all year!"
Wallace shrugged his shoulders, and offered a hushed reply that seemed to appease the iconic former coach. Such boasting would have been uncharacteristic for the steady pilot of the Hoyas' unstoppable offense. And besides, he had more pressing things to do than bragging -- like catching the team bus outside, returning to DC, and preparing for the madness that awaits in Atlanta.
Before and after: Georgetown switched from gray kicks to white.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Talent alone will not get you to the Final Four. Everyone knows that the recipe also requires a little bit of luck, whether it be in the form of a fortunate bounce or a favorable whistle at just the right time. And this is why so many otherwise level-headed hoopsters turn superstitious in the crucible of the NCAA tournament.
If you look out on the floor at Continental Airlines Arena on Sunday and see most of Georgetown's players wearing white-and-blue Jordan B'Loyal shoes against North Carolina, note that this color-coordination is not random. The Hoyas are sponsored by Jumpman, the label owned by the jump shooter who killed them in the 1982 national championship game. They wore those white Jordans for the first 35 games of this season. Early last week, however, in honor of their trip to the Sweet 16, a fresh shipment of custom, gray-and-blue Jordan XX2s arrived, complete with Georgetown's "G" logo on the back.
The footwear upgrade was positively received in practice, but when they went into halftime down 32-24 to Vanderbilt on Friday, the Hoyas began wondering if His Airness was indirectly playing the villain again. Naturally, their struggles were not the result of cold shooting (33.3 percent) or lack of emotion (they looked rather lifeless), but rather their brand-new kicks. "To us it was symbolic," said sophomore guard Jessie Sapp. "They were new shoes, so we felt like we were acting like new players. In order for us to go back to our old-school Georgetown basketball that we'd been playing the whole year, we had to go back to our old shoes."
To be loyal to the Hoyas' throwback ethic, the XX2s had to go, and the B'Loyals had to come back. Sapp explained the shoe-switch in depth afterward, but when it actually occurred, it spread through the locker room as a silent wave of superstition.
Junior point guard Jonathan Wallace sparked it, saying later that he wanted to go "back to the bread-and-butter" that got the Hoyas to the Sweet 16. Center Roy Hibbert followed. Jeff Green -- who would go on to hit the game-winning shot -- copied his fellow juniors' wardrobe change, saying, "I didn't want to be the odd character out there." Youngsters Sapp and Pat Ewing Jr. were next. "Pat kind of looked at me," Sapp said, "and we both thought, 'We don't want to be brand new. We want to be ourselves.'"
Of the Georgetown starters, only HugMasterDaJuan Summers -- a freshman, and thus the most new-school of the bunch -- kept his XX2s on in the second half. The rest of the Hoyas' cast found their footing (as well as, coincidentally, their accuracy and intensity) and overtook the Commodores to seal a trip to the Elite Eight. "I don't want to say the shoes caused anything," said Wallace, "but hey, whatever works -- and it worked."
On Sunday, the good-luck war will not automatically won by Georgetown. Its opponent, North Carolina, is just as obsessed with such business. Point guard Tywon Lawsonexplained the "whiteboard box" on Friday night, and said some Heels blamed their slow start against USC on the fact that they neglected to draw the box (with the number 16 in it) before the game. And head coach Roy Williams, when asked on Saturday for his most vivid memories of that '82 final -- for which he was a young assistant on Dean Smith's staff -- told a story about a Snickers bar before even mentioning Jordan's shot:
"I was a little superstitious. I kept a candy bar in my pocket before every game down the stretch and I would always buy it at the arena. Believe it or not, the Superdome in New Orleans in 1982 didn't sell candy, and so I went to one of the gates, walked out and went across the street in New Orleans to buy a candy bar. I came back to the door and the guard that was there had changed and they weren't going to let me come back in. My biggest memory is how doggone scared I am -- I'm helping coach a team in the national championship game and I'm not even going to get into the freaking arena."
Between shoes, boxes, candy, and umpteen other rituals individual Hoyas and Heels are no doubt keeping secret, lest they lose their potency, the basketball portion of the East Region final is only a secondary matter.
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.
Sindey Lowe has his Wolfpack one more upset away from an NCAA berth.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sidney Lowe's Red Coat Express cannot be stopped in the ACC tournament. First an upset of Duke on Thursday. Then Virginia on Friday. And now Saturday's magic, a 72-64 win over Virginia Tech. On what would have been the 61st birthday of late N.C. State coach Jim Valvano, Lowe -- a player on Jimmy V's 1983 national championship team -- has piloted the 10th-seeded Wolfpack to within one win of an automatic NCAA tournament bid. And the fact that he's done it while wearing a red blazer straight out of the Valvano wardrobe, well, that's only made it more special for the N.C. State family.
As heartwarming as this story is -- an 18-14 team making an improbable run in March with historic implications -- it's undoubtedly driving fans of Illinois, Stanford, Drexel, Kansas State, Purdue and Texas Tech nuts. Why? Because Lowe's Wolfpack are on the verge of singlehandedly shrinking the NCAA tournament bubble. Sunday's ACC final is suddenly full of intrigue, with Carolina fighting for a No. 1 seed in the dance and N.C. State potentially playing spoiler for a host of at-large candidates.
Ultimately, what may stick with me the longest from the Wolfpack's run is not the red-coat craze, but rather the pregame speech Lowe gave his team at the outset of the ACC tournament. As much as the first-year coach is willing to talk about the Valvano stuff -- "The way we're doing it right now is very similar to what our fans saw in 1983," Lowe said -- he's not into quoting the guy. Needless to say, the words Don't ever give up have yet to find their way into Lowe's motivational arsenal.
Instead, junior guard Gavin Grant said this was the message Lowe gave the team in its Thursday-morning meeting before taking on the Blue Devils:
Don't let anybody come out and punk you. Don't let anybody push you around. It's a basketball game. What's the worst that can happen? You aren't going to get in any fights.
Even if N.C. State doesn't make the Dance -- and I get the feeling it won't, since the ACC final with be its fourth game in four days, and it's against the deepest team in the country -- I think that Lowe's rhetoric has legs. If I'm a coach of a potential Cinderella in the NCAA tournament, I'd crib from Sid. No modern-day player wants to get punked. And if the runts on some No. 16 seed are reminded that they won't literally get their asses kicked by a No. 1, well, who knows what could happen?
Tyler Hansbrough, who averaged 18.4 points a game during the regular season, is down to 7.5 ppg wearing a mask.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
TAMPA, Fla. -- With every turbo-boosted fastbreak and Brandan Wright dunk here in central Florida, North Carolina is bringing itself closer and closer to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Bracket projections all over the Internet have the Tar Heels unanimously on the No. 2 line -- even more unanimously than Tyler Hansbrough was an All-ACC pick -- but if the regular-season ACC champs win the conference tournament, that designation surely will have to change. Can the selection committee really keep the team that swept the No. 1 league in the RPI from being a No. 1 seed, even if it's at the expense of a streaking Kansas squad or one of the Big Ten's twin titans, Ohio State and Wisconsin?
Boston College (20-11, 10-6) finished just one game behind UNC (27-6, 11-5) in the ACC standings but the gap between the two teams in Saturday's conference tournament semifinal appeared much, much larger. In a 71-56 victory, the Tar Heels won the rebounding battle 41-25, with Hansbrough grabbing 13. Tywon Lawson held Eagles point guard Tyrese Rice, who had scored 32 points against Miami on Friday, to just five on 1-of-9 shooting. And Wright, our topic from yesterday, racked up 20 points on eight dunks, most of them served up on a silver platter by Lawson.
There was only one thing missing from the Tar Heels' arsenal. And it was the same thing that was glaringly missing from yesterday's win over Florida State.
Tyler Hansbrough's offense.
The mask -- the after-effect of being bludgeoned by Duke's Gerald Henderson on March 4 -- is killing Hansbrough's ability to score. Over the course of the ACC tournament, Hansbrough has probably grabbed the nasal portion of the mask, wincing, 100 times. He has readjusted the elastic straps on the mask, while grimacing, at least 25 times. But the number of memorable offensive moves he's made is zero.
On Friday against Florida State, his first game behind plastic, Hansbrough had just six points on 3-of-7 shooting. On Saturday he had nine on 4-of-10 shooting. He came into the ACC tournament averaging 19.2 on 51.5 percent shooting. North Carolina, far more than most teams, has other offensive options. It has Wright, and Wayne Ellington, and Lawson and Reyshawn Terry, and a bench that goes 12 deep. But how long can the Tar Heels survive in the dance without getting their full load of points from Psycho T?
UNC coach Roy Williams was thrilled that Hansbrough asserted himself on the glass against BC, but had serious concerns over what happened on the other end. "You can look at [Hansbrough's] stats over the course of the year and until these last two games he always shoots a great percentage," Williams said. "That mask is bothering him a great deal, and it still bothers me because he's the victim and no one is worried about him."
Williams was addressing the lack of sympathy -- from Duke and much of the rest of the nation -- for his star, but there are those who are worrying about Hansbrough for other reasons. His point guard is one of them. "There were a couple of shots today that he normally makes -- I mean, 100 percent -- and he's not making them right now," Lawson said of Hansbrough. "It's because of the mask. He's gotta get adjusted to it; I don't know how, but he has to. It'll probably be 2-3 games before he's all right."
Hansbrough, according to Williams, is most limited in the department of peripheral vision. "A post player gets the ball with his back to the basket, and as he turns to shoot, he's gotta find the rim quickly," Williams said. "And now you've got these obstacles on your face that make it more difficult to do that. Every day, I'm hoping it will get better."
One gets the feeling, talking to Hansbrough in the locker room after Saturday's win -- and this is saying a lot, given how fierce of a competitor he is -- that getting rid of the mask is higher on his agenda that even winning the ACC tournament. Because if he doesn't ditch the plastic, he can't truly play like Psycho T. And without a fully functioning Hansbrough, it's doubtful UNC will be able to win a national title.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to this [mask], man," Hansbrough said. "I'm just trying to get my nose to heal ... so I don't have to wear it the whole time in the NCAA tournament."
As of right now, the doctors are taking a cautious approach: wear it for the whole ACC tournament, and then revisit the issue before the NCAAs. If the docs say it stays on, though, Hansbrough doubts he would overrule them.
"I could, but I wouldn't want to," he said. "I wouldn't want my nose to end up on the side of my face."
As second options go, that one is as unappealing as it gets.
The mask's post-game resting place on Friday, following UNC's win over Florida State.
TAMPA, Fla. -- This Tyler Hansbrough mask story isn't going to die just yet. He scored just six points in 27 minutes with it on; the ACC tournament media horde swarmed him afterward to ask about it; he's still going to be wearing it Saturday against Boston College; and he still hates it. "I don't like anything on my body," said Hansbrough. "I'm not even a guy that gets taped."
The Tourney Blog, in its effort to bring you the best mask coverage possible, did some canvassing of the UNC locker room after Friday's 73-58 win over Florida State. (If the New York Times' blog is covering bow ties at the Big East tournament, surely I can cover plastic facial guards in Tampa.) While Hansbrough sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by a large pack of middle-aged men holding cameras and notebooks, his mask lay neglected in his locker. It was gracious enough to pose for one photograph, which appears at right.
I asked senior guard Wes Miller, who was sitting a few lockers down from the mask, if any of the Heels had assigned Hansbrough new nicknames after the Gerald Henderson incident. Miller made the astute point that he didn't think a new nickname was necessary "because the mask just kind of fits into his personality anyways." Hansbrough was tugging at the mask all afternoon and had it ripped off within seconds of fouling out against the 'Noles, but really -- is there a player in the country who seem more fit for a mask than the reckless, rough-and-tumble Tar Heels star?
"Besides," added Miller, "Tyler's got so many nicknames anyway, he doesn't need anymore."
Turning to sophomore teammate Danny Green, Miller said, "How many nicknames does Tyler have? I can't even think of them all. We call him Psycho T, and T-Bone, and I just call him 'T' all the time."
"We call him Big Man, too," Green said.
"Oh, and Spaz-bro," Miller said.
Spaz-bro. That's the Blog's new favorite.
Meanwhile, it was discovered that junior point guard Quentin Thomas -- the author of the alley-oop mentioned in the Brandan Wright post -- did see fit to add to the Psycho/T-Bone/Big Man/Spaz-Bro arsenal with an ode to Gunnar Hansen. "At practice this week, I thought he looked like the guy from Texas Chain Saw Massacre, so I called him Leatherface," Thomas said. "I'm not sure if Tyler heard me, but if he did, well, Psycho T is Psycho T."
Sophomore guard Bobby Frasor, Hansbrough's best friend on the team, said the mask was at least good for something: comic relief in their first workout following the Duke game. "The first time he had it on in practice, it was pretty funny," Frasor said. "He was trying to get used to it and he didn't like the strap in the back, so he put it on underneath like a chin-strap. We're trying to run our offense, and here's Tyler with a chin-strap mask on. We were all just laughing at him."
Considering how UNC's last meeting with Boston College went -- a 77-72 Tar Heels win at Conte Forum that was never in doubt -- I welcome any and all appearances of the chin-strap mask. Both for amusement and future blog material.
Don't be surprised if Wright emerges as the top freshman in the tournament.
Kevin C. Cox/WireImage.com
TAMPA, Fla. -- It does not take much to outscheme Florida State, a haphazard team full of highly touted recruits that is only occasionally cohesive. It does take a lot, however, to make the Seminoles look athletically inferior -- and yet North Carolina freshman Brandan Wright was able to do that on multiple occasions Friday in the second round of the ACC tournament.
The two most spectacular Wright Moments occurred during the second half of the Tar Heels' 73-58 win. The first came at the 12:06 mark, when Wright used his 7-foot-4 wingspan to pin an Uche Echefu layup attempt on the backboard, then had the presence of mind to tip the ball to teammate Reyshaun Terry, who converted that gift into a resounding righty dunk on a 1-on-none fastbreak. The second occurred nearly three minutes later, when Wright was running the break with backup point guard Quentin Thomas, who threw an underhanded alley-oop that wasn't so much of a pass as it was a plea to be credited with a turnover. The ball was thrown wide of the backboard on the left side, and there was one Seminole, guard Jerel Allen, between Wright and the rim.
For the 6-9 Wright, this did not pose the slightest of problems. He leapt, caught the ball midway up the backboard with his left hand, and redirected it into the rim to put the Heels up 59-40.
"I got bug-eyed watching that," said UNC guard Bobby Frasor, who was looking on from the bench. "With any other guy, that's a turnover, but Brandan saves plays. Coach [Roy Williams] was saying that it was a risky pass [by Thomas], but if you have Brandan there, why not try a risky pass since he can save you?"
Wright, who finished with 11 points and three blocks, is not the face of UNC (that's currently masked man Tyler Hansbrough), nor is he their sparkplug (that's freshman point Tywon Lawson) or their most skilled scorer (that's super-smooth rookie Wayne Ellington). In the Tar Heels' inside game, Wright is the beautiful complement to Hansborough's more-publicized brawn.
Wright is hardly the most hyped freshman in the country, either; those honors go to Texas' Kevin Durant and Ohio State's Greg Oden. But whereas Durant has the ability to take over games on the offensive end, and Oden changes games defensively, Wright's impact is felt on both ends of the floor. And since I have a feeling that the Tar Heels (26-6, 11-5 ACC) will be standing longer in March than the Longhorns or Buckeyes, I wonder if Wright will actually be the freshman who has the most effect on the NCAA tournament.
The stars that end up defining the dance are rarely the same players who claim the spotlight during the regular season. Last year we endured four months of J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison ("RedMo," if you recall) and then the NCAA tournament turned out to be all about man-children like Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas . Wright's unbelievable athleticism -- "He has such long arms that he probably negated 8-10 points," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said -- puts him in the same category, or even beyond, that of Noah or Thomas. UNC's big lefty is not operating under the radar, seeing that he's already projected as the No. 3 pick in the next NBA Draft, but he hasn't asserted himself consistently enough to be considered a true star in college.
Hamilton called Wright an "X-factor" on Friday, after Wright held first-team All-ACC performer Al Thornton to just 12 points, and forced Thornton to foul out with 6:48 remaining in the game. "[Wright] fits well with Roy [Williams'] defensive philosophy -- all the over-playing and pressuring," Hamilton said. "He makes up for a lot of the mistakes they make."
The freshman on clean-up duty for UNC is capable of playing a bigger role than X-factor in the NCAA tournament. In three weeks' time, the Year of Durant, Oden, Nick Fazekas and Alando Tucker will probably have ceded center stage to a new wave of stars. Wright could very well be among them.
Hansbrough didn't don the plastic apparatus until minutes before game time on Friday, when UNC ran out for its final warmups. And he did not look comfortable wearing it. The mask may actually be obstructing his breathing, as he was removed from the Florida State game at the 16:41 mark for no other apparent reason.
Do you want to tell Hansbrough he wasn't an unanimous pick?
We have a scandal on our hands! Well, perhaps not a scandal -- but at least an interesting controversy in the All-ACC voting process.
Three players, Florida State's Al Thornton, UNC's Tyler Hansbrough and Boston College's Jared Dudley, were named "unanimous" first-teamers earlier this week. I use quotes around "unanimous" for a reason: Hansbrough wasn't actually unanimous.
Funny thing is, I can confidently say Hansbrough was not a first-teamer on every ballot. Maybe every ballot but one. But not every ballot. Not mine.
Stevens e-mailed the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association to investigate if his ballot (one of 106) somehow hadn't been counted, and that was not the case. Hansbrough had received, at max, 105 of the 106 first-team votes. The ACSMA's John Justus wrote back with this explanation:
As has been done in the past with the Board's approval, if a particular player is one or two votes shy of being a unanimous selection, we have designated that player as being a unanimous pick.
And such was the case with Psycho T. A couple of ACC bloggers have already brought it to light, and I tracked down Stevens an hour before the tip of Hansbrough-Thornton (or FSU-UNC, officially) on Friday to find out more.
Stevens said he wrote back to the ACSMA expressing his concern, and showed me the e-mail:
I have to say, "unanimous" is a word that has a pretty specific definition and it's misleading to use it when it isn't true. That -- far moreso than having a vote count or not -- makes me uneasy, and I doubt I would be the only person covering the league to feel that way.
I've gotta side with Patrick on this one. It's too late to repeal the designation, but what's the point of using unanimous when it isn't the case?