January 31, 2007

No team could be finer

It's 3 a.m. and I'm in a Chapel Hill Holiday Inn, eating a vending machine scooter pie and staring at a welt on my chest received courtesy of Tyler Hansbrough. Just another day at the office?

Not exactly.


Jake and I are creeping to the one-month marker of this three-month basketball marathon and frankly, some of the facts are starting to blend together. Did we see Monmouth play St. Peters and Fairfield take on St. Francis? Or was it vice versa? Did we get on the P.A. and introduce the new mascot at Fairfield or Hartford? Was that Cal Poly or Caltech where we interviewed the coach about his team's two hundred-and-something game losing streak? More importantly, has a day gone by that we didn't eat cheese in liquid form?

Tonight, however, is one night I will remember -- and not just because North Carolina's star forward Andy Roddick'd a ping-pong ball, point blank, at my bare chest. Rather, after watching UNC paste Miami, 105-64, I've discovered my 2007 national champion.

As an encore to Saturday's 92-64 drubbing of Arizona, the third-ranked Heels hit 12 of 24 three-pointers, shot 56% from the field, and had five players score in double figures. All this added up to a 41-point win over a Miami team that, last season, left Chapel Hill with a win.

Roy Williams has stockpiled an embarrassment of riches in Chapel Hill. Hansbrough is a rich man's David Lee and has padded last year's power game with 16-foot jumper. Add first-year PG Ty Lawson, whom you can't watch without seeing Raymond Felton. Fellow frosh guard Wayne Ellington and senior Reyshawn Terry are threats to shoot or slash and 6-9 freshman Brandan Wright (who should be the third pick in next year's draft over Joakim Noah) is eons ahead of where Marvin Williams was at any point of his year stint at Chapel Hill.

Heck, the first five guys off the Tar Heels bench (Wes Miller, Marcus Ginyard, Quentin Thomas, Danny Green, and Deon Thompson) could probably be a Top 25 starting five. A beat reporter said that he thinks as many as eight guys on this team have NBA potential. It's kinda unfair.

Morgan State basketball coach Todd Bozeman told me that, at the beginning of each season there are only ten teams with legitimate title aspirations. At this point of this season, I would shave that number to four: Florida, UCLA, Ohio State and North Carolina. (Sorry Wisconsin.)

On this trip, we've seen UCLA and Ohio State in person--Carolina is a cut above both. They are more talented than the Bruin and much deeper than the Buckeyes. In my humble opinion, Florida's the only team that's close to UNC and I foresee the Gators running into the same Roy Williams-buzzsaw that Illinois did in the '05 Finals. Like the '05 UNC team, this edition just has too much talent to not win.

The one word about this team that kept popping into my mind was "oppressive." "They come at you in waves" said Miami coach Frank Haith after the loss. "I think they're the best team in the country. They've got great low post presence. They play good defense. They're got a great point guard...good shooters. They've got size and length. (There are) no weaknesses. And Roy's an outstanding coach. He's got a team. Trust me, he's got a team."

Exclamation points are really unnecessary.

On top of all that, this just seems like a fun, loose, unselfish, bunch that genuinely likes one another. Just before the tip, as House of Pain instructed the crowd to jump around, the entire bench joined in. Once the game was underway, scorers, without exception, acknowledged passers with a finger point, and if one body took a charge, eight arms helped him up.

When they fastbreaked, which was often, the ball got hot potato'ed from one guy to the next, leaving the Miami defenders looking like Washington Generals. I think I overheard an official say that 20 of UNC's first 22 baskets came off assists.

"We're all getting along real well," Hansbrough told me after the game. That's an ingredient to winning a title as important as, say, the ability to defend the post or finish in transition.

All these factors add up to UNC winning it all. Why should you believe me?

Well, I did stay in a Holiday Inn last night.

Notes on a Scorecard
-The most decisive win at the Dean Dome on Wednesday? In the afternoon, the Tar Heels JV squad defeated Methodist 133-59 in front of almost 100 supporters.

-Before you place those bets on Carolina hoisting the hardware, I should caution that Miami has losses against such immortals as Buffalo, Cleveland State, and all-mighty Binghamton.

-The sweet tea that everyone drinks down here is completely undrinkable (even though Jake drinks the stuff.) They might as well be pouring sugar packets down your gullet. There, I said it.

-Quote of the night, courtesy of Roy Williams: "I think it's foolish when coaches say 'We took what they gave us.' We take what we want."

-UNC walk-on Dewey Burke earned the nickname "Biscuits" by stroking a garbage-time three that put the team over the century mark, and earning two-for-one biscuits for the crowd at BBQ joint Bojangles. Said Dewey Biscuits, after the game, "When I was getting ready to go in, the guys told me to make sure I got the fans their food." Atta way, Biscuits.

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