Adam Lucas

Comprehensive Guide To UNC In The NBA Playoffs

The NBA playoffs begin this weekend, and Carolina is the only school in America with at least one player in seven of the eight series. We've put together a handy weekend viewing guide to tell you when the Tar Heel alums will be on TV, plus a few UNC-centric storylines for each series.

Saturday viewing guide

Start with Raymond Felton and the Knicks hosting the Celtics at 3:30 p.m. on ABC. Get comfortable and make sure someone is around to bring you food and water and/or other beverages, because you may not move for many hours. At 5:30, George Karl and Ty Lawson's Nuggets host Harrison Barnes and the Warriors on ESPN in what should be a very entertaining game. Then you'll get a short 30-60 minute break to let your friends know you're still alive before the Duke-laden Bulls travel to Brooklyn to face Jerry Stackhouse and the Nets at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Finally, the nightcap takes Ed Davis and the Grizzlies to Los Angeles against the Clippers at 10:30 on ESPN. So, in about nine hours you'll be able to watch four games and six Tar Heels. That's a good day.

Sunday viewing guide

Your eyeballs deserve a slight rest on Sunday. Just two games of importance: Danny Green and the Spurs host Antawn Jamison and the Lakers at 3:30 p.m. on ABC, and then John Henson's Bucks travel to Miami to open the series against the Heat at 7 p.m. on TNT.

Series storylines: Eastern Conference

1 Miami Heat vs 8 Milwaukee Bucks/John Henson: The Tar Heel rookie is going into the playoffs on a hot streak, as he scored a career-high 28 points last night. Henson's playing time increased with a recent injury to Larry Sanders, but Sanders is expected to play in the playoffs. Henson has quietly been a beast on the boards lately, and is averaging 15 rebounds per game in his last five contests. The problem is that four of those five games are Milwaukee losses, and obviously the Bucks are given very little chance against the defending world champions.

2 New York Knicks/Raymond Felton vs 7 Boston Celtics: How in the world do the New York Knicks slip under the radar? Somehow, they've done it, as they've won 15 of their last 16 games. Felton has been a big part of that streak, as he's playing heavy minutes (including 49 against the Bulls last week). Carmelo Anthony has clearly been the New York superstar this year, but the Knicks as a team have been much more effective when they've had Felton setting up the offense (he missed part of the season with an injured finger). This is likely to be a high-profile series nationally, meaning Felton will get plenty of attention. This series would have also included Rasheed Wallace, but he retired this week and will not play in the playoffs.

3 Indiana Pacers/Tyler Hansbrough vs 6 Atlanta Hawks: Perhaps no Tar Heel in the NBA has endured as much sporadic playing time as Tyler Hansbrough. The Pacers sometimes give him big minutes--he had a stretch of eight straight 20+ minute games in March, and Indiana won six of those games--and sometimes forget he's on the team, as when he had sub-20 minutes in seven of the final eight games of the year (and the Pacers lost five of those eight games). From a scoring standpoint, Hansbrough has had his least successful season as a pro (7.0 points per game, down from 9.3 last year and well off his career high of 11.0 in his second pro season). You'll mostly see him coming off the bench for Indiana against the Hawks, who are coached by Larry Drew The Original.

4 Brooklyn Nets/Jerry Stackhouse vs 5 Chicago Bulls: What an interesting career for Jerry Stackhouse, who has transformed from the brash youngster in the league to the highly respected veteran. As Stackhouse himself said in this great profile today, he doesn't always understand his playing time for the Nets, but when he plays, he's been fairly effective. Stackhouse has seen decent minutes lately, including a 13-point performance at Indiana last week, and it will be interesting to see whether that continues against the Bulls.

Series storylines: Western Conference

1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 8 Houston Rockets: Not a single Tar Heel in this series. What a worthless matchup.

2 San Antonio Spurs/Danny Green vs 7 Los Angeles Lakers/Antawn Jamison: With Danny Green squaring off against Antawn Jamison, you've got two of the most likable Tar Heels of the modern era sharing the same court. Green will play big minutes for the Spurs, and his offensive contributions will likely depend on whether his three-point shot is clicking (he's hitting 42.9% from beyond the stripe this year). Jamison, meanwhile, has endured some very strange rotations in Los Angeles, but has found his niche in March and April. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely Jamison will get the NBA championship ring he was seeking when he signed with the Lakers last summer.

3 Denver Nuggets/George Karl/Ty Lawson vs 6 Golden State Warriors/Harrison Barnes: What might be the most entertaining series of the opening round features three Tar Heels in prominent roles. George Karl has done an incredible job with the Nuggets, who battled through injuries to earn the third seed. There are those who are touting Karl for NBA Coach of the Year. Much of that success has been built on the foundation of Ty Lawson's emergence as an elite NBA point guard. The speedy Tar Heel hit this game-winner this week, which clinched home court for the Nuggets:

The high-octane Warriors, meanwhile, feature Harrison Barnes. Any discussion of his rookie season has to include this dunk against the Timberwolves:

At 9.2 points per game, Barnes was Carolina's highest-scoring rookie this year. Tyler Zeller led the Tar Heel rooks with 5.7 rebounds per game.

4 Los Angeles Clippers vs 5 Memphis Grizzlies/Ed Davis: Memphis traded for Davis at midseason and promptly had a good bit of trouble figuring out how to use him. He's played 50 minutes in the last two games...but played just eight minutes in the two games before that. Davis's scoring production was almost halved after the trade to Memphis, and his rebounding figures also fell.

Lucas: 1987 Dean Smith radio interview

Every once in a while, the internet feels like a pretty cool invention. That's the case today, as there is some incredible content in this 1987 Dean Smith interview with UNC student radio station WXYC. First, some context:

The interview says it's from January 25, 1987. The game from "last night" that they refer to frequently in the beginning of the interview is a 92-55 whipping of Georgia Tech at the Smith Center.

Coach Smith mentions the probability that Kenny Smith will return in Carolina's next game. Indeed, the senior point guard did return from arthroscopic knee surgery, and he managed to score 41 points (on 14-of-19 shooting, and 6-of-9 from three-point range) at Clemson in a 108-99 Tar Heel win. 

That intro song: No idea. The interviewers mention that the song is from roughly 10 years ago, which puts it at around 1977. Anyone have any clue? The "seven-foot tall" reference makes me think it was more likely to have been written in the Ralph Sampson era in the early 1980s.

Also, you can totally imagine the two hosts thinking it was hilarious to play this as the intro for a Dean Smith interview...and then being crestfallen when he said he didn't really listen to it.

4:50: "You guys don't get many calls here, do you?" Can you imagine the head coach of a major program like Carolina taking live calls at the student radio station today? Wow. 1987 was 26 years ago, and this scenario makes it feel every bit like a quarter-century ago.

5:20: Coach Smith answers a question about freshman sensation J.R. Reid, who was headed for the cover of Sports Illustrated, by quickly mentioning Reid and then going on to name the following players: Joe Wolf, Kenny Smith, Dave Popson, Jeff Lebo, Curtis Hunter, Scott Williams, Ranzino Smith and Steve Bucknall. This is a classic Smith move. I feel certain that after Kenny Smith scored 41 points at Clemson, Coach Smith opened the press conference by noting how many screens Popson set to get Smith open. This is also known as the "Pat had a good game" phenomenon, because during the Pat Sullivan era, no matter whether George Lynch had posted a double-double, Jerry Stackhouse had reverse dunked on someone (or pair of someones) or Rasheed Wallace had thrown down an alley-oop, Coach Smith always managed to say, "Pat had a good game" sometime during the postgame press conference.

7:10: Nice explanation from Coach Smith on the much-discussed policy of not letting freshmen talk to the media until their first varsity game.

9:30: "Every player on the varsity should get the exact same." The rule Coach Smith references is the one that cut men's basketball scholarships from 15 to 13, which did indeed do exactly what he feared--prevent him from being able to offer scholarships to every player on the team.

13:00: First call is about recruiting. OK, maybe nothing has changed at all in the last 26 years.

15:30: Caller: "Might Kenny Smith dump Gatorade on you at some point this season?" Coach Smith: "He knows better, if he wants help talking to pro teams after this season."

19:00: You've probably heard that Dean Smith was against freshman eligibility. This is a nice of summation of his position.

28:20: "Deano, we love you." Followed by a question wanting to know how tight Dean Smith and Dick Vitale are socially. Despite the odd question, Coach Smith does provide a thoughtful answer on Vitale's relevance to college basketball.

31:25: Straight from a 1980s time capsule: a PSA featuring Webster. For those staring blankly at the screen right now:

Holy cow. I may be the oldest person in the world.

32:45: Nice summary of Coach Smith's feelings on the importance of seniors. "I hope I'll have other teams, and this is their last go-around, so we let them have a lot of say in all that we do."

Retro Lucas: '93 Carolina 77, Michigan 71

The Carolina basketball season is over, but I'm not quite ready to stop writing postgame columns just yet. So I thought I'd try something unique in honor of the 20th anniversary of Carolina's 1993 national championship.

Twenty years ago today, Dean Smith's Tar Heels won the national championship with a win over Michigan. I watched that game from the Superdome stands, never dreaming--well, OK, maybe I would've dreamed it, but not believed it--that one day I'd actually get to work with Carolina basketball. But here's what I think I would've written if I'd been doing postgame columns on April 5, 1993. The could-have-been columns for the wins over Arkansas, Cincinnati and Kansas are linked at the bottom of this story. Remember, this is as it would've been written on April 5, 1993.

Let’s not make this about Chris Webber.

I’m sure this is a futile request. On Monday night on Bourbon Street, barely an hour after Carolina had claimed the national championship with a 77-71 win over Michigan, Webber (bravely) ventured out onto Bourbon Street. What did he hear?

“Get a timeout, baby! Call a TO, Chris!”

And that is going to be the national storyline. Chris Webber called a timeout the Wolverines didn’t have, and that handed Dean Smith his second national title.

The first part of that sentence is true. Michigan indeed did not have a timeout when Webber formed his hands into the “T” sign—first doing it in the backcourt in front of the Tar Heel bench, then dragging his pivot foot as the referee looked away, almost as if he was trying not to see the miscue, and then making the signal again when he reached the frontcourt. This time, everyone had to acknowledge he had done it; undoubtedly, it’s something Webber himself will hear about for the rest of his life.

But everything about those final minutes was everything we’ve come to love about these 1993 Tar Heels. After all, why didn’t Michigan have a timeout?

Because they’d wasted one earlier in the second half when Carolina switched defenses on an inbounds play, forcing the Wolverines to needlessly burn one in an unimportant situation.

Dean Smith once made the entire team run when Donald Williams called a timeout in practice. “Those,” the head coach told his team, “are mine to use.”

But then, Smith has never been particularly standard. This Carolina team was built not on stars but on a total commitment to the team. For that reason, the head coach felt absolutely no hesitation about putting the following five players on the court with fewer than eight minutes remaining in the national title game: Eric Montross, Scott Cherry, Henrik Rodl, Kevin Salvadori and Pat Sullivan.

These were the five players he wanted to face Michigan’s vaunted Fab Five?

Well, yes. Because Smith wanted to rest his starters, and he wanted to remind Donald Williams, “Keep moving quickly without the ball.”

So what did Williams do? He came back into the game and promptly hit two jumpers, the second of which was a three-pointer that keyed a 9-0 run by the Tar Heels. Twenty years from now, we’ll remember Williams’s Most Outstanding Player performance. Hopefully, we’ll also remember it was partially made possible by Tar Heel depth—and a head coach willing to use it.

It was the starters who finished the game. They’d spent 48 hours hearing about Michigan’s superior athleticism, about the group of five sophomores playing in their second straight national championship game. To read some of the stories, you’d have thought it was an NBA all-star team facing off against the Woollen Gym intramural champions.

Funny thing about those Tar Heels, though—they completely and totally understood how to play the game, and how to play the game together. How does Smith teach them to play: play hard, play smart, play together. This group might forever be the embodiment of that approach.

They managed to play tough defense against the Wolverines without fouling, and had committed just four team fouls when Webber grabbed the rebound off Sullivan’s missed free throw—the Bogota, N.J. native drained the pressure-packed first shot, and would soon become famous nationwide for his enthusiastic but decidedly off-key rendition of “One Shining Moment” during the postgame television broadcast—and decided to bring it upcourt himself.

This was a tic the Tar Heels had noticed when the teams first met this season, in the Rainbow Classic on Dec. 29. “In Hawaii, we saw that Jalen Rose was their best ball-handler, but that sometimes Webber wanted to bring the ball up,” Lynch said. ”We knew Webber didn’t always make the best decisions.”

That’s how the Carolina senior came to linger in the backcourt, cutting off a pass Webber wanted to make to Rose as soon as the Michigan big man grabbed the rebound. If Webber makes that pass…who knows. But he didn’t—and the reason he didn’t was George Lynch.

So Webber had to bring it into the frontcourt himself, facing a Tar Heel defense with two fouls to give. He did exactly what he shouldn’t do—dribbled straight into the corner, where he found himself trapped by Carolina’s two best defenders, Lynch and Derrick Phelps. It was not a called trap. It was two veteran players who had been given authority from Smith to trap when the situation was appropriate. A fundamental Carolina principle: if you see the back of an opponent’s jersey, it’s a great time to trap. That’s what Phelps and Lynch did, and that’s what forced Webber to cause the timeout.

Credit Rose for perhaps the most realistic postgame comment: “Without the timeout, our offense might have just thrown up an airball,” the point guard said. “Chris was trapped. They had a trap on him.”

Years from now, when memories are fuzzier and Michigan is kidding themselves about what would’ve happened if Webber didn’t call the timeout, they will forget that they were outexecuted and outcoached and outplayed. It was a giant mental mistake. But it was a giant mental mistake caused by preparation and execution and teamwork.

Which, ultimately, will be the story of the 1993 Tar Heels…sorry, of the 1993 national champions. Even if few outside of Chapel Hill choose to remember it that way.


Retro Lucas: '93 Carolina 78, Kansas 68

The Carolina basketball season is over, but I'm not quite ready to stop writing postgame columns just yet. So I thought I'd try something unique in honor of the 20th anniversary of Carolina's 1993 national championship.

Twenty years ago today, Dean Smith's Tar Heels beat Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Final Four. I watched that game from the Superdome stands, never dreaming--well, OK, maybe I would've dreamed it, but not believed it--that one day I'd actually get to work with Carolina basketball. But here's what I think I would've written if I'd been doing postgame columns on April 3, 1993. The could-have-been columns for the wins over Arkansas and Cincinnati are linked at the bottom of this story. Remember, this is as it would've been written on April 3, 1993.

So here we are again, in New Orleans.

Eleven years ago almost to the day, Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge, Roy Williams and Matt Doherty were in the Louisiana Superdome engineering a 63-62 national championship victory over Georgetown. Smith, of course, said afterwards that he was not a better coach than he was before the game started.

But the game changed the trajectory of the lives of many of its participants. Clueless national observers who had chirped that Smith “couldn’t win the big one” had to acknowledge that he was, indeed, one of the masters of the college game. The lanky freshman, Michael Jordan, used his game-winning shot to catapult himself into the basketball stratosphere, where he currently resides as two-time NBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and genuine American hero.

My uncle spotted Jordan’s father, James, at a Superdome concession stand on Saturday night. He insisted on buying Mr. Jordan a soft drink, after which the father of one of the world’s greatest basketball superstars—someone who now has worldwide fame—said, “One of my favorite times in my life happened right here.”

The same would’ve been true of almost everyone who was here on that night in 1982, wouldn’t it? Roy Williams improbably went from selling calendars out of the back of his car to the head coach at Kansas. Matt Doherty went from quintessential glue guy to New York stockbroker to, now, an assistant coach for the Jayhawks. If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, it’s that Bill Guthridge is still seated next to Smith on the Carolina bench, right where you have to imagine he will always be.

Those four coaches—Smith, Williams, Guthridge and Doherty—gathered on the sideline before the game for a photo captured by Tar Heel photographer extraordinaire Hugh Morton. It’s an image you have to believe Mr. Morton will use for years to come. The past, present and—who knows?—maybe future of Tar Heel basketball, all together back in the building where they made so much history together.

It was the perfect portrait of a family reunion.

Oh, and then they tried to beat each other’s brains out.

Last time these two programs met, two years ago in Indianapolis, it felt like everything was wrong, especially the unceremonious way Smith was booted from the game by an overzealous official. This time, it felt exactly right. Carolina ran its best Carolina stuff. Kansas ran its best Carolina stuff. And this time, the Tar Heels ran it a little better.

It started with the imposing UNC frontcourt, which got 15 second-half points from Eric Montross on his way to a total of 23. That outcome, Williams could have expected. He knows Smith and the Tar Heels well enough to know that Carolina basketball—really good Carolina basketball—begins with the big man.

But what he might not have known was that the Tar Heels were going to get 25 points from Donald Williams, a sophomore who tossed in five of seven three-pointers.

“This wasn’t a chicken-or-the-egg thing,” Donald Williams said afterward. “I got my shots after Eric opened it up inside. Of course, it’s happened before, but I haven’t always hit 3s like I did tonight.”

Maybe not. But he certainly has hit 3s like that recently, as Williams is on an NCAA Tournament run that—say this quietly, so as not to affect the mojo—could have him remembered for a long time in Chapel Hill if he can just continue it for one more game.

His last three-pointer on Saturday came when the Jayhawks had closed their deficit to 68-65 with just 2:48 remaining. But there was Williams to hit a jumper, and then the Garner product drained a couple of free throws to stretch the UNC advantage to eight points.

“If there was one difference,” Kansas guard Rex Walters said, “it was Donald Williams hitting the outside jumpers.”

It’s hard not to wonder where this group might be in 10 years, or maybe even 20. Smith, hopefully, is ageless. Guthridge, you have to imagine, will be on the bench next to him for as long as Smith chooses to be there. Williams has Kansas back near the pinnacle of college basketball and appears set for a Smith-like career in Lawrence. Doherty is potentially a rising young coaching star.

It’s startling just how similar they all are, even after taking different paths to get there. Roy Williams was emotional after watching the end of the careers of Walters and Adonis Jordan. He spent much of his postgame press conference talking about his two star senior guards.

But then, he revealed another place where his heart might lie, in a comment that you have to imagine might have irked a few Jayhawks. The head coach had just spent 40 minutes trying to beat North Carolina. He’d clapped, he’d clinched his fists, he’d coached until the very last second of the 10-point defeat to the Tar Heels. Then, less than an hour after the final buzzer, he was asked about his plans for the championship game.

“I’ll be pulling like the dickens,” Roy Williams said, “for Carolina on Monday night.”


Retro Lucas: '93 Carolina 75, Cincinnati 68 (OT)

The Carolina basketball season is over, but I'm not quite ready to stop writing postgame columns just yet. So I thought I'd try something unique in honor of the 20th anniversary of Carolina's 1993 national championship.

Twenty years ago yesterday, Dean Smith's Tar Heels beat Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament regional final. I watched that game at home with my dad. But here's what I think I would've written if I'd been doing postgame columns on March 28, 1993. If you enjoy this trip down memory lane, we'll do it again for the remaining two games on Carolina's trip to the '93 title. Remember, this is as it would've been written on March 28, 1993.

Maybe now Nick Van Exel is a believer.

On the day before Carolina faced Cincinnati in the East regional final, the mouthy Bearcat guard explained how unimpressed he was with Dean Smith.

“I think Dean Smith is a good coach with great players,” Van Exel said. “With all the talent he’s had, who wouldn’t have won all those games? To be honest, I think he should have won a few more championships. I don’t really consider him a great coach.”

That’s OK, because I don’t really consider Van Exel a national championship-type player, since he’ll be watching at home on television while the Tar Heels face Kansas in New Orleans for the right to play for the title.

Give Van Exel credit—he almost had the fortitude to back up his mouth. He scored 21 points in the first 15:10 of the game, as hot as virtually anyone who has ever played against Carolina. At that moment, he was on pace to score 50 points and Cincinnati led by 13 points.

That’s when a “good coach” probably would’ve just shook his head and marveled at the offensive display. Luckily, Carolina has a great coach, and has one since the summer of 1961.

Smith altered the UNC defensive approach. You know those team defensive principles, the ones that form the backbone of the Tar Heel approach (don’t use the word “system” around Dean Smith, please)? They were scrapped. After watching Van Exel light the first half on fire, Smith didn’t design a complicated box-and-one. Instead, he did something very simple:

He took Carolina’s best defender, Derrick Phelps. He told Phelps to stay with Van Exel. And then he watched the Bearcats struggle.

“He told us Van Exel was a key matchup,” said Phil Ford, who has experience with Smith as both a player and a coach. “That’s the only time I can ever remember him doing that.”

Van Exel proved to be much better at press conferences than at scoring against Phelps. After getting his quick 21 points, he closed 1-for-10 (8-for-24 overall from the field), and had exactly one basket over the final 30 minutes of the game.

“When he was hitting, we weren’t playing man-to-man,” Phelps said. “I was trapping, trying to help double-team other people, but Coach Smith said to just stick on him and let the other guys worry about the traps. I think he got real tired. Every time he touched the ball, I was on him.”

Phelps has done this before, of course. The junior is on his way to becoming one of the best defenders in Tar Heel history. He’s played solid defense against players like Virginia’s Cory Alexander (4-for-14 in February) and Duke’s Bobby Hurley (2-for-12 in March). This time, though, he did it with the Final Four on the line and against an opponent who was already sizzling.

Oh, and if you’re doing the math on Van Exel’s stats, you might realize they don’t quite make sense. If he had 21 points in the first 15 minutes, then how were there still 30 minutes left to play?

Well, that’s because the Tar Heels decided to get a little extra practice. At least, that’s the way Smith framed it. I don’t know what was going on in your living room when Brian Reese missed a wide-open dunk in a tie game on an inbounds play with 0.8 seconds remaining in regulation. Somewhere in Cary, I suspect there was a high schooler and his dad—who had moved into separate rooms to watch the game to stop the Bearcat mojo—howling in anguish, with the kid eventually having to watch the game from under his bed because that’s where all the luck was.

Maybe you were more mature. Or maybe you were like Ford, who actually turned a back somersault when Reese’s dunk bounced high off the rim. Such is Ford’s legendary competitiveness that even 20 years from now, you suspect, he is going to just grin and say, “I honestly don’t remember anything on that play.”

So while everyone else was turning flips and crawling under the bed, Smith remained calm. After drawing up the play on the fly, he watched as Cincinnati set up their defense. He saw how they were going to defend the play, and he knew how the Tar Heels would execute the play. The head coach tapped Ford on the leg.

“We’ve got them,” Smith said.

Imagine that. He already knew exactly what was going to happen, exactly how the screens were going to clear a path and Reese was going to dive wide-open to the rim, where he would simply win the game and the Tar Heels would make travel plans for the bayou.

It fell apart when Reese missed the dunk—naturally, Smith said after the game he didn’t think it would have counted anyway (it was clear from the reaction of the game officials that it would have, but it’s no surprise that Smith would choose to deflect attention from his player.

Having just watched a potentially crushing miscue, having just drawn up the perfect play and watched human error sabotage it, here is what Smith told his team at the end of regulation:

“We haven’t played an overtime all year. We can use this practice.”

 Spoken like a great coach. As even, perhaps, Nick Van Exel might agree.

Lucas: The 10 Best Second Weekend Wins

We did this last week with the 10 best opening weekend wins. It seems only fair to do it again, but this time, we're listing the 10 best Carolina NCAA Tournament wins from the event's second weekend--in other words, these have to be victories in a regional semifinal or final.

10. March 17, 1967: Carolina 78, Princeton 70 (OT). On the way to Dean Smith's first Final Four appearance, the Tar Heels got 16 points each from Larry Miller and Dick Grubar in an East region semifinal played at Cole Field House.

9. March 19, 1981: Carolina 61, Utah 56. Carolina was the two seed in the West, and was handed the honor of playing its Sweet 16 game in Salt Lake City against third-seeded Utah on the Utes' home court (no word on if Mike Bobinski also chaired that NCAA Tournament Selection Committee). Although Utah had Tom Chambers and Danny Vranes, the Tar Heels got 15 points each from Al Wood, Sam Perkins and James Worthy, plus 11 rebounds from Perkins, on the way to the "road" win.

8. March 29, 2008: Carolina 83, Louisville 73. Louisville has two spots on this list, and so does Rick Pitino. The takeaway of this East regional final, played in Charlotte, was pretty simple--Tyler Hansbrough was more than just a brute inside player. This was the game where he showed a deft perimeter touch, scoring 28 points and grabbing 13 rebounds on the way to an 83-73 win and his first Final Four.

Some highlights, including a pretty vicious Hansbrough follow dunk I had forgotten:

7. March 24, 1991: Carolina 75, Temple 72. It's currently four seasons since the Tar Heels were in the Final Four, and that feels like a very long time. Now imagine that the drought was twice that long. That's the situation Dean Smith was in during the 1990-91 campaign, but the top-seeded Tar Heels eventually navigated their way to the East region final, where they faced 10th-seeded Temple in a bracket that had largely fallen apart (the semifinal opponent had been 12th-seeded Eastern Michigan). Temple was led by Mark Macon, who scored 31 points, but Carolina's balanced attack was too much, and 19 points each from Hubert Davis and Rick Fox propelled Smith and the Tar Heels back into the Final Four.

6. March 25, 2005: Carolina 67, Villanova 66. It's safe to say the Wildcats still remember this one, considering that it was a major Philadelphia storyline prior to last weekend's first-round Tar Heels-Wildcats NCAA Tournament game. This was Carolina's closest call on the way to the 2005 national title. Villanova had a 33-29 halftime lead behind their guard-heavy offense. Then, with the Tar Heels ahead by three and seconds remaining, Allan Ray sank a basket as the whistle blew with nine seconds left. For just a moment, it looked like a potentially game-tying three-point play. But Ray was instead called for traveling, incensing a largely pro-Big East crowd at the Carrier Dome. Rashad McCants hit one out of two free throws to make it a two-possession game and seal the win.

Some bitter, Villanova-oriented game highlights follow (the controversial call is around the 1:10 mark):

5. March 23, 1997: Carolina 97, Louisville 74. In this place for two reasons: the East regional final is Dean Smith's 879th and final win, and because Smith perfectly orchestrated the final minutes. The Tar Heels had blitzed the Cardinals early, building a 54-33 halftime lead and appearing ready to cruise into the Final Four for the first time since 1995. But Louisville closed the gap to three in the second half, and Smith gathered his team and said, "Guys, we've had a great season," appearing to concede that Louisville was just too tough. 

"Sometimes you need to confront that this could happen, and then you can do something about it," Smith said after the game. What they did was go on a 22-3 run over the next 6:30 on the way to a 97-74 victory.

4. March 28, 1993: Carolina 75, Cincinnati 68 (OT). Twenty years ago today, Brian Reese had a wide-open dunk to send Carolina to the Final Four...and missed it. That was just one of the memorable plays from a 1-vs-2 showdown in the East regional final at the Meadowlands. The game featured an incredibly hot Nick Van Exel scoring 21 points in the first half, appearing to back up some of his pregame boasts. But Smith moved defensive stopper Derrick Phelps onto Van Exel, and the mouthy guard scored just two points over the second half and overtime. Carolina, meanwhile, got 21 points and 14 rebounds from senior George Lynch, and held the Bearcats scoreless over the final 4:30 of overtime. 

Oh, and how much of a master was Smith? After Reese missed the dunk in regulation in what could have been a crushing play, Smith gathered his team in the huddle and told them the following: "We haven't played an overtime all year. We can use this practice."

3. March 15, 1969: Carolina 87, Davidson 85. If you ever wonder why Lefty Driesell seemed so bitter about Carolina, this game--and the performance of Charles Scott--was part of the origin. Scott poured in 32 points, including the game-winner with three seconds remaining after the Tar Heels had milked the final minute to get the last shot. Scott--who was heavily recruited by Driesell to Davidson--scored 22 points in the second half and 12 of his team's final 17.

2. March 17, 1977: Carolina 79, Notre Dame 77. Oh, were we just talking about coaches who are bitter about Carolina? Well, try this one: in 1977, Carolina defeated Notre Dame in an East region semifinal at Cole Field House. The Tar Heels did it with Tommy LaGarde out with a knee injury, Walter Davis playing with a broken finger and with Phil Ford, who scored 29 points in the win, having hyperextended his elbow during the game. Oh, and the game was on St. Patrick's Day. 

There's video of this game, which you really need to watch. The sequence is vintage Ford and for those who didn't get to see him play, personifies everything he was about. The injury occurs the first time he hits the floor. Then, playing through the pain, he dives on the floor again for a loose ball (note that the Tar Heels were in a zone on Notre Dame's last possession), then proceeds to hit the game-winning free throws with two seconds remaining. Wow. An absolutely legendary performance.

1. March 25, 1995: Carolina 74, Kentucky 61. This wasn't a close game and didn't have a miraculous last-second shot. Maybe that's exactly why it's so deserving of the top spot on this list. The Southeast regional final was played in Birmingham in front of a largely pro-Wildcat crowd. The top-seeded 'Cats (wearing some truly awful uniforms) were the favorite, and word had reached the Tar Heels that Rick Pitino's team had already reserved a room for its Final Four victory party. As it turned out, they didn't need it. Jerry Stackhouse had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Carolina played one of the best true team performances of the Smith era to get the win. 

This video of the game's most famous altercation--a brouhaha between Rasheed Wallace and Andre Riddick--will give you an idea of what a road game it was. Just listen to the Kentucky fans during the discussion of what fouls would be called. By the way, note that the officials watched the replay three times and still gave the flagrant foul to the wrong Wildcat, assessing it to Walter McCarty instead of Riddick.

Which one of the wins on this list is your favorite, and what games that aren't included deserve to be mentioned?

The ACC's True Geographic Center

With the ACC Tournament in Greensboro two weeks ago, there was much discussion of where the event might be in the future--and where the "true" center of the league should be. That set Tar Heel fan and frequent Diamond Heels radio listener Joe Caddell to work, as he tried to determine where the true geographic center of the Atlantic Coast Conference can be found. His map speaks for itself. 

A word on how he calculated the center: he assigned each school a latitude/longitude value, then found the weighted geographic center of each particular conference iteration. 

His conclusion: as teams have come and gone, the center has shifted, but always within the borders of North Carolina. But the addition of Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame will take the weighted geographic center out of the Tar Heel state for the first time ever--Joe found the center will be in Virginia, about 12 miles northeast of Mt. Airy.

But don't sign up Madison Square Garden for the ACC Tournament just yet. This year, the center of the ACC is 45 miles southeast of Greensboro. But with the four new additions, the center of the league will be just 53 miles northwest of Greensboro. As Joe aptly put it: "This is a long, incredibly nerdy way of saying: I don't care what Jim Boeheim thinks. The Greensboro Coliseum STILL makes more sense than Madison Square Garden for the ACC Tournament."

Weighted Geographic Center of The ACC

Retro Lucas: '93 Carolina 80, Arkansas 74

The Carolina basketball season is over, but I'm not quite ready to stop writing postgame columns just yet. So I thought I'd try something unique in honor of the 20th anniversary of Carolina's 1993 national championship.

Twenty years ago on this day, Dean Smith's Tar Heels beat Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament round of 16. I watched that game at home with my dad, slapping joyous high fives when Lynch hit Williams for the game's key backdoor layup. But here's what I think I would've written if I'd been doing postgame columns on March 26, 1993. If you enjoy this trip down memory lane, we'll do it again for the remaining three games on Carolina's trip to the '93 title. Remember, this is as it would've been written on March 26, 1993.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.--Where others see intense defensive pressure, Dean Smith sees opportunity.

We should have known that. Wasn’t it just five years ago that Carolina faced trendy Loyola Marymount in the second round of the NCAA Tournament? Remember all the talk that week about the ultra-modern Lions, about how their breakneck pace (and 25-game winning streak) was going to make plodding old North Carolina look like they should be playing on a peach basket? Paul Westhead's team was the coolest thing since parachute pants.

The results: with just one day of preparation in Salt Lake City, Smith constructed an attack that shot 79 percent—seventy-nine percent—from the field, set an NCAA Tournament scoring record and demolished Loyola, 123-97.

Now came Arkansas in the Meadowlands, five years later and the latest iteration of fast-paced basketball. It's been a frustrating recent history with the Hogs. The Eddie Sutton-coached Razorbacks upset undefeated and top-ranked Carolina in February of 1984--the Tar Heels were playing without Kenny Smith, and it's hard to imagine Carolina ever suffering a more painful wrist injury to a key point guard--and then Nolan Richardson's team ended a Cinderella Carolina NCAA Tournament run in 1990.

Richardson wants to brand his program's style of play as “40 minutes of hell,” and this week in press conferences his players talked about wanting to harass Carolina point guard Derrick Phelps into multiple turnovers. Instead, the heady Phelps handed out seven assists and committed just one miscue on the way to the 80-74 win.

As a team, the veteran, poised Tar Heels committed just 12 turnovers—the second-lowest total forced by the Razorbacks this season. They’ll advance to face another team with plenty of confidence, Cincinnati and brash guard Nick Van Exel.

As it turned out, Arkansas’ 40 minutes of hell was not quite as effective as Carolina’s four minutes of Garner. That’s the second half timeframe when UNC sophomore guard Donald Williams took over the game.

It hasn’t always been easy for Williams, who arrived in Chapel Hill as one of the most heralded prep players in recent state history, but then spent his freshman campaign wedged into a point guard role that sometimes seemed an ill fit for his shooting prowess. But Smith thought the experience would serve the 6-foot-3 Williams well, and with Henrik Rodl serving as the backup to Phelps this season, Williams has been able to spend most of his time at shooting guard.

And for the final 4:24 on Friday night, he got to be exactly what he has always been: a scorer. With Carolina holding a 71-69 lead, the soft-spoken Williams began the kind of run that probably felt all too familiar to some of those opponents in the old Tri-Six Conference. It also felt very familiar to Richardson, who tried to recruit Williams but quickly found out it was largely a two-team race between Carolina and NC State. Williams wanted to play in-state, and he wanted to play in situations exactly like this.

First, he hit both ends of a one-and-one. Then he made a jumper from the wing. Then, on the game’s key play, Carolina came out of a timeout with a one-point lead and less than a minute to play. It seemed like a perfect situation for Arkansas—they’d made their reputation on defense, and now they had the opportunity to create a turnover and win the game with one possession.

But Smith knows how to use a chalkboard, too. He’d slowed down the Arkansas running game by mixing in a liberal dose of zone defense, and now he was about to use their own defensive pressure against them.

Senior George Lynch, who scored 23 points, got the ball out high. Not known as a passer, but always capable of doing whatever fundamental skill might be required to win the game, Lynch waited for Williams’s man to overplay. Then Williams cut sharply to the hoop, Lynch delivered a bullet pass, and Williams dropped through a layup for what felt like the backbreaker.

Williams made three of four free throws down the stretch and finished with Carolina’s final nine points.

“I don’t think I took over the game,” Williams said. “We were moving the ball around and making them work on defense. The plays weren’t really designed for me.”

Well, that’s not exactly true—at least not about the backdoor layup. That one most definitely was designed for Williams—and also designed for Arkansas, too, in a way. Somewhere, you could imagine Westhead shaking his fist and screaming, “That darn Smith did it again!”

The Carolina head coach, of course, downplayed his contributions to the Sweet 16 win.

“I don’t draw up plays too often,” Smith said in the postgame press conference.

Sure, Coach.

Dean Smith doesn’t draw up plays too often. But when he does, they just happen to be game-winners. 

Lucas: The 10 Best First Weekend Wins

As Carolina fans, it's easy to get a little spoiled about the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. After all, the first weekend is for upsets, and usually, the Tar Heels don't want to be on the wrong end of those games. But here's a list of Carolina's ten best wins on the opening weekend (the NCAA has really complicated stories like this by insisting that the First Four should be called the "first round," when we all know the first round actually happens on Thursday and Friday) of the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded in 1975. 

10. March 12, 1977: Carolina 69, Purdue 66. A patched-up Tar Heel team came back from a 44-42 halftime deficit and beat Purdue in Raleigh. Phil Ford, who suffered an elbow injury during the game, scored 27 points and handed out seven assists. Carolina played without Tom LaGarde, who injured his knee in February, and with a limited Walter Davis, who had a broken finger. This team and the 2012 team may head the list of the greatest what-might-have-been teams in Tar Heel history.

9. March 14, 1998: Carolina 93, UNC Charlotte 83 (OT). You knew this was a bad draw right when it went up on the board. Dean Smith had a longstanding policy of not playing in-state schools, because he felt he would never be able to play all the teams that wanted to challenge the Tar Heels. So instead of trying to please all of them, he played none of them. That policy made the eighth-seeded 49ers especially hungry in a second-round game in Hartford. The game was the first meeting ever between the two programs. Diego Guevara forced overtime on a three-pointer with 2.9 seconds remaining, but Antawn Jamison and Shammond Williams (who finished with 32 points) combined to score 15 in overtime to help Carolina to the victory. Charlotte nearly got some officiating help on the way to the upset, as an inadvertent whistle with 1.4 seconds remaining turned a loose ball into a 49ers possession, but they were unable to score the potential game-winning basket.

8. March 19, 1989: Carolina 88, UCLA 81. This is back when UCLA still carried some shine from the Wooden years. Second-seeded Carolina had gotten a bum draw after winning the ACC Tournament, and was set to face the seventh-seeded Bruins in Atlanta at the Omni. To make matters worse, star J.R. Reid missed curfew, a violation that probably could've met with a wink in the middle of the NCAA Tournament. But Dean Smith suspended Reid. "This is one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make as a head coach due to the importance of the UCLA game to all of our squad members," the coach said. And then what happened? Smith coached his Tar Heels to a win, prevailing behind 22 points from Kevin Madden and 11 assists from Steve Bucknall.

7. March 20, 2011: Carolina 86, Washington 83. It's not very often that guarding the inbounds pass is one of the most notable plays of the game. But that's what happened in Charlotte, as the long arms of John Henson deflected Washington's inbounds pass with five seconds left to seal the win. Like the LSU game in 2009, this was a very high-level game that felt more like a regional final than a second-round game. The Huskies actually led by as many as 11 before Carolina stormed back behind Tyler Zeller's 23 points and Kendall Marshall's 14 assists.

6. March 19, 2000: Carolina 60, Stanford 53. There are those who will tell you today they believed in the 2000 team all along. Those people are not telling the truth. The 2000 team was essentially abandoned after the ACC Tournament, then managed to make a remarkable Final Four run, including this victory over top-seeded Stanford. 

5. March 21, 2009: Carolina 84, LSU 70. It doesn't seem right that this was a 14-point game. Carolina even held a 38-29 lead at halftime, but LSU caught fire in the second half at Greensboro behind Marcus Thornton. The Tigers had a 54-49 lead with 12 minutes left, but then Ty Lawson--coming back from a much-discussed injured toe--took over. Lawson scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half and also added six assists and zero turnovers. Roy Williams, who frequently referred to Lawson as "Dennis the Menace" because of Lawson's playful nature, said, "I've never seen Dennis the Menace as tough as he was today."

4. March 19, 1988: Carolina 123, Loyola Marymount 97. This is one of my favorite games from my childhood, because it's when I realized how much smarter Dean Smith was than everyone else. Loyola Marymount was a hot program in the late 1980s. They had a newfangled uptempo style of basketball that was supposed to be everything cool and modern that Carolina wasn't supposed to be. So what did Smith do? He just figured out a way to use that system to beat them at their own game, and the Tar Heels ran Loyola Marymount into the ground and shot 79 percent--79 percent!--from the field.

3. March 16, 1985: Carolina 60, Notre Dame 58. You think Carolina got a bad draw this year? How about 1985, when the second-seeded Tar Heels had to play seventh-seeded Notre Dame on the Fighting Irish's home court on the day before St. Patrick's Day. If you've ever wondered why Digger Phelps seems so bitter about Carolina, this game is a big reason why, as Phelps, then the head coach of the Irish, chose to hold the ball for over a minute in a tie game (there was no shot clock). He was trying to set up star guard David Rivers for the game-winning basket, but the Tar Heels stole the ball from Rivers and Curtis Hunter fired ahead to Kenny Smith, who swooped in for the game-winning layup with three seconds left. Smith then deflected Notre Dame's subsequent inbounds pass to preserve the win. 

2. March 15, 1997: Carolina 73, Colorado 56. This game was Dean Smith's 877th victory, which broke Adolph Rupp's all-time wins record for college basketball. The NCAA, which does not at all consider matchups when putting together the bracket, probably planned for this game to be against Indiana, but the Hoosiers lost to the Buffs in the first round. That set up a second-round game against Carolina, played at Winston-Salem's Lawrence-Joel Coliseum. Due to tiny school allotments in early-round NCAA play, this was probably the toughest ticket in Carolina NCAA Tournament history. Colorado led at halftime, 31-30, as the Tar Heels looked a little tight under an intense national spotlight. But Antawn Jamison's 19 points and 16 rebounds led the Tar Heels back, and they cruised to the record-setting win. 

1. March 17, 1990: Carolina 78, Oklahoma 77. What made this game so fun was what a stark contrast the two teams created. Oklahoma was Billy Tubbs and their brash bunch that even had a routine for crossing their legs on the bench after made free throws (if you're old enough, you remember it). Carolina was, well, Carolina. And the Tar Heels reminded everyone exactly who they were when Rick Fox hit this buzzer-beater in Austin to defeat the top-seeded and nationally top-ranked Sooners: What's your favorite from the above list, and are there any wins not mentioned that you would include?

What's your favorite from the above list, and are there any wins not mentioned that you would include?

Tar Heel Seed Comparison

Ultimately, every team has to play good opponents to advance in the NCAA Tournament. But seeding is important in determining exactly when and where you have to play those teams. With that in mind, here's a look at the credentials at some of the teams handed certain seeds on Sunday night's selection show. This table (using data from WarrenNolan.com) compares the credentials of Carolina, an 8 seed, with the four 7 seeds. According to the official NCAA seed list, the committee ranked all four of the below teams ahead of Carolina:

TeamD1 recordSeedRPISOSvs top 100Last 10
Carolina 23-10 8 17 8 9-9 8-2
SDSU 20-10 7 30 15 8-10 5-5
Notre Dame 25-9 7 35 49 9-9 6-4
Illinois 21-12 7 40 9 7-10 6-4
Creighton 27-7 7 25 82 10-5 7-3
Memphis 30-4 6 12 73 9-4 9-1
Arizona 25-7 6 15 25 12-6 5-5
UCLA 25-9 6 26 20 13-6 7-3
Butler 25-8 6 22 32 10-8 6-4

 

When asked about the bracketing process on Sunday night's selection show, NCAA selection committee chairman Mike Bobinski said, "A lot of mechanical things happen," when the committee has to slide teams one line higher or lower. He went on to say, "We don't look at matchups." 

Looking at the above table, and looking at the fact that the NCAA coincidentally managed to potentially set up a Carolina-Kansas matchup in Kansas City, it's hard not to have a very clear understanding of exactly what some of those "mechanical things" might be--starting with the mechanics of cashing checks from the tournament's $10.8 billion contract with Turner and CBS, a contract that requires high ratings in order to be successful. 

It's quite a coincidence that Carolina and Kansas have been in the same region in three of the nine Tar Heel NCAA Tournaments (in which UNC has participated) during the Roy Williams era. Prior to that, the two programs hadn't been in the same region since 1985, which means 18 tournaments passed without the teams being paired, and suddenly they show up in the same region three times in nine years. There must have been a lot of "mechanical things" that caused that phenomenon.