Gettin’ Juiced for the Big Apple’s Big Throwdown
by Brian Strong
In the realm of basketball cliché, the University of North Carolina is being faced with the “statement game” of all “statement games” in one of tonight’s Preseason NIT Semifinals. In essence, the country has seen the kids play, but now we’ll see if the kids can play.
So, let’s quickly set the table at this Thanksgiving Eve traditional hoops power buffet: At the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, the freshman phenom-filled Heels lineup will face the veteran-laden No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks led by Roy Williams – UNC alumnus/former Dean Smith assistant/former boss of current UNC coach Matt Doherty. Williams has taken the famous Dean Smith blueprint and run with it, while, over most of the past 365 days or so, the school where it was invented has struggled to live up to its established successful reputation.
Thus, this group of youngsters that has captured the hearts of Tar Heel nation, now has the opportunity to officially bring their program back to respectability. A win would be as monumental as any Carolina has posted in regular season history. And if that doesn’t happen, although the “moral victory” is not a staple of the Carolina basketball lexicon, seeing this team truly compete and stay with Kansas tonight would be huge on many levels.
After running to three straight wins and no losses, there is nothing that a young team like this one needs more than a wake-up call from the nation’s best. Whether they are pushed to a shocking win or pushed to an expected loss, the bottom line is that they just need to be pushed. With all due credit to Rutgers, the best team that Carolina has played so far, they will boast no All-Americans this year. On Wednesday, Sean May will stand toe-to-toe with Nick Collison. Ray Felton will chase Aaron Miles and Kirk Hinrich.
However, as much trouble as Carolina seems to be in, based on the massive discrepancy in experience, the differences in these teams not only create an interesting dynamic but also create potential problems for the Jayhawks. Although it’s tough to imagine a Carolina team that doesn’t sense pressure from its fans and critics (especially after last season), is it possible that this team is too young to worry yet? Too cocky to be scared? Possibly, which may very well work to their advantage.
Meanwhile, on the Jayhawks bench, they are facing: A.) the possibility of being shown up by a bunch of upstarts early in what is supposed to be a tremendous season for Kansas’ talented, veteran team. And B.) a neutral court crowd that will more than likely swing the way of the energetic, young, athletic underdog.
But, regardless of what goes on in the end, we as basketball fans owe it to ourselves to tune into this matchup that’s got more plot lines than an episode of Seinfeld. The lineage of the Kansas-Carolina intertwining family tree is built with all the prestige of Kennedy-Onassis, and it’ll look like Hatfield-McCoy when they hit the floor tonight.
Talented veterans embarrass rookies? Entirely possibleâ€¦ Freshmen catch seniors sleeping? Could beâ€¦ Felton breaks ankles? Hinrich strokes threes? We shall see.
So, we know your friends are home for the holiday and the traditional Thanksgiving Eve bar-hopping will no doubt be in full effect. But do yourself a favor and toast one in the name of good hoops while at least catching a glimpse of this showdown.
Because, honestly, in this statement game of statement games, “Anything can happen.”