Friday, March 24, 2006

LSU Caps Successful Season For UNC Fans

In October, North Carolina fans had no idea what to expect from this season.  Tar Heel supporters were still giddy from last April’s national championship victory, but the loss of the team’s top seven scorers greatly diminished expectations for 2005-06.  Today, UNC fans have a deep sense of satisfaction about this college basketball season.  LSU made sure of that last night, eliminating Duke in the Sweet 16.



Three things needed to take place for this to be considered a successful year for Carolina fans.  First, the Heels would have to make the NCAA tournament.  UNC accomplished that goal with ease, finishing second in the ACC.  David Noel and Reyshawn Terry flourished in expanded roles, and Tyler Hansbrough left no doubt that he was the top freshman in the nation.  Hansbrough was great at a young age – basically the Dakota Fanning of Tobacco Road.  Except that Dakota can’t post up as well.



Secondly, UNC would have to continue its home winning streak against Clemson.  On February 4, Carolina moved to 52-0 all-time in Chapel Hill versus the Tigers with a 76-61 triumph.  What’s most amazing about this streak is that it even survived the Matt Doherty era.  When Clemson’s next trip to Chapel Hill appears on the schedule, expect the Tigers to forfeit.  That way, the program can save on travel costs and spare the players from inevitable humiliation.



The final key to a successful season for UNC fans was that Duke could not win the national championship.  Last year, Carolina supporters rejoiced as Roy Williams and his team ruled college basketball – just three years after a disastrous 8-20 campaign.  With the mass exodus out of Chapel Hill in the off-season, Tar Heel fans acknowledged that the title would more than likely be passed on to someone else this April.  But it had to go far away – not just eight miles up the road.



The Blue Devils appeared to be a major threat to bring home the trophy this season.  They finished 14-2 in conference and won the ACC tournament.  As a result, they entered the NCAA tournament as the #1 overall seed.  However, those credentials and the presence of Mike Krzyzewski on the bench could not offset a phrase that will cause nightmares for Dukies for years to come: “J.J. Redick in March.”



In LSU’s 62-54 victory last night, Redick finished with 11 points on 3-18 shooting.  Over his career, in games during the Sweet 16 and beyond, he shot 24-87 (28%) from the field.  As a result, college basketball observers are speculating that “J.J.” stands for “Jittery Jumpers.”  However, Redick apparently has an admirer in Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.  The Duke guard was able to accomplish what Manning has been unable to do so far: play his best ball in January.



So even though George Mason is in action tonight instead of the Tar Heels, UNC fans will be in a good mood.  The loss to the Patriots was disappointing, particularly since you would not expect an entire state (North Carolina) to lose to one guy (George Mason).  But after a better-than-expected season and with a tremendous recruiting class on the way, the outlook is very bright in Chapel Hill.  Or, as it’s known today with all the new LSU fans there: East Baton Rouge.



From this point on, Tar Heel supporters will only have to see Coach K when his Chevy commercials appear on the screen.  It’s the second straight year that Krzyzewski’s ads have run endlessly during the tournament.  It’s also the second straight tournament in which the top-seeded Blue Devils have failed to reach the Elite Eight.  With that in mind, expect UNC fans to lobby for more endorsement opportunities for Coach K.