Wrap-Up: Heels come back at UVA


 

UNC 54, UVA 51

Box Score

While the score was a bit closer than I’d prefer, I had the pleasure of taking in the game against Virginia this past Saturday in Charlottesville. My thoughts? It might be the Heels best win of the year thus far.

You might think I’ve just got the “I was there” afterglow going on with that statement, and I’m sure subconsciously that’s part of it, but the environment in JPJ over the weekend was a very difficult one in which to play. The arena isn’t the Dean Dome, but it’s actually pretty large, seating 14,593 of the Cavalier faithful — plus, of course, a few of us blue-clad brethren.

JPJ was as loud as I’ve heard an arena in quite some time, and mixing that with the style of basketball Tony Bennett employs proved to be a challenge for the Heels. It was a challenge they won, however, and now I’m going to get all soap-boxy on you and tell you why everyone is sleeping on the Heels.

I guess sleeping isn’t exactly accurate, after all, they are ranked in the Top 10. But excluding the debacle at Florida State, the Heels’ results haven’t been drastically different than any of the other teams getting love as title favorites, and I think there isn’t as much buzz about them as might be warranted. I’m frickin’ giddy about March, and it doesn’t matter what analysts say about the Heels.

One of the biggest criticisms we hear about this Carolina squad is that it lacks killer instinct or toughness. It should be winning all of its games by double digits a la the 2009 team. Contrary to popular belief, there are other ways of winning championships. If anyone thinks this team lacks toughness, they were not in the arena on Saturday. With the game in doubt in the final minutes, two key plays epitomized why this squad will make the Final Four: the lob to John Henson with 2 seconds remaining on the shot clock and Tyler Zeller’s pump fake. Of course, Zeller’s fake was followed by a dunk, but it was the poise to make the fake that stands out. Carolina also showed great patience in waiting for Henson’s lob to emerge, using most of the 5-second count from out of bounds before getting the ball in. Even under extreme pressure, the Heels executed at a critical time in the season.

Well if they’re so good, why aren’t they killing everyone? I’d counter, has Kentucky — the title favorite — been killing everyone? The Wildcats have had two extremely tough games against Vanderbilt, needed  a big comeback against Mississippi State, and even had a 3-point win over Tennessee. I know, the obvious difference is that they DID win all those games, while UNC has lost four. But UNC’s losses — UNLV, Kentucky, Florida State, Duke — have not come against bad teams, all of them are ranked. Duke has had trouble with teams in a down ACC, needing OT against Virginia Tech at home on Saturday and being down by 20 to N.C. State. To NC STATE!. Kentucky’s tightest games — besides UNC — have come against teams outside the Top 25. Duke lost to Miami on its home floor. The beauty of the tourney is that once your’re in, your record is 0-0. And some of the top seeds just mentioned are every bit as vulnerable as UNC.

What did that diatribe all mean? Usually after a tight game like the one against UVA, we at the Rafters are sometimes discouraged, but this time it’s just the opposite. We’re getting the bandwagon rolling. Who’s with us?

Superlatives

Player of the Game: Tyler Zeller (20 pts, 6 rebs, 1 blk) Z was the only one who could score Saturday and for the second time this season he bested fellow ACC POY candidate Mike Scott.

You Sick, Boy!: You know that Henson’s going to get the stat stuffer (15 pts, 11 rebs, 2 blks)

Play that should have made SportsCenter: The lob to Henson. I tweeted it right after it happened, but that dunk might be one of the best I’ve ever seen live.