Monday, March 26, 2007

OT Means "Only Trouble" For UNC

Sunday in the East Regional final, North Carolina’s national championship hopes came to a bitter end in a 96-84 overtime defeat to Georgetown. The result continued a distressing trend for the Tar Heels when playing beyond regulation. In recent years, overtime has brought nothing but pain to Carolina.

The top-seeded Heels seemed poised for the Final Four on Sunday, leading the second-seeded Hoyas 75-65 after Marcus Ginyard’s free throws with 7:19 remaining. However, UNC went scoreless for the next 3:31 and managed only six points in total until a meaningless three-pointer with eight seconds remaining in overtime. Carolina’s offense must have snitched on Tony Soprano, because all of a sudden it disappeared from New Jersey. After Jonathan Wallace’s three-pointer evened things up for the Hoyas, the Tar Heels were only half-ready for OT. They did have a (Psycho) T, but their O was gone.

The season-ending defeat prevented Roy Williams from reaching his second Final Four as UNC’s head coach. To Williams, “05” brings smiles as his national championship year. However, “0-5” now represents his overtime record as the Tar Heels’ leader. A February setback to Virginia Tech was preceded by losses during the 2003-04 season to Wake Forest, Florida State, and Duke. Overtime has now replaced Gerald Henderson as Public Enemy #1 in the Smith Center. As a result, Roy plans to lobby the NCAA to eliminate overtime periods. The suggestion is not without precedent, as college football did not extend beyond regulation until 1996. Realizing that no one wants a tie in basketball, the emotional Williams proposed a tiebreaker for games ending in a deadlock after regulation. The winner would be the team whose coach sheds the first tears.

His predecessor, Matt Doherty, was 0-2 in overtime games during an ill-fated stint as Carolina’s head coach. Reportedly, Doherty’s bad experiences with overtime came because he verbally abused and alienated overtime. For UNC’s last OT victory, you have to go back to March 1, 2000, when the Heels edged Georgia Tech 74-72. That was way back when Bill Clinton was running the USA and Bill Guthridge was in charge in Chapel Hill. Due to the quirks of Senior Night, someone named Matt Laczkowski started that home finale for UNC. If Matt Laczkowski is reading this article, chances are he just remarked, “Really? I started a game for Carolina basketball? No way!”

The troubles have also spread to the football team. The gridiron Heels have dropped their last three overtime games, with the most recent victory in extra time coming against North Carolina State in 1998. Taking the positive view, it does allow the UNC football players to claim “Hey, we ARE like the basketball team!” Both Tar Heel programs have something in common with immigrant workers at Wal-Mart. They work overtime, but get no benefits for it.

The overtime futility is particularly frustrating when you consider the basketball program’s past glories in OT. On its way to the 1993 national championship, UNC was in the exact same position as it was this Sunday: a #1 seed taking on a 2 seed in overtime at the East Regional final in East Rutherford. That time, Donald Williams led Carolina to a 75-68 triumph over Cincinnati. Bob Huggins’s Bearcats were immediately returned to police custody. Most famously, the 1957 Tar Heels capped an undefeated season with a triple-overtime classic over Kansas in the national championship game. The Jayhawks’ Wilt Chamberlain was so worn out after the game, he only slept with 12 women that night.

Amid the build-up to Sunday’s UNC-Georgetown showdown, Fred Brown’s gaffe in the 1982 title game was constantly mentioned. The result was reversed this time, but the more appropriate contrast is drawn from Chris Webber’s mistake in 1993. Then, UNC was blessed by a TO. Now it’s cursed by OT.