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The Morning Dish – Tuesday, April 4, 2017

April 4, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

North Carolina was dominant at times in the 2016-17 season, maybe more so than any other team in the country. That was not the case in the NCAA Tournament, but it was still good enough for the Tar Heels to complete what they couldn’t the year before.

In a championship game that was ragged almost the whole way-though for differing reasons, especially depending on the half-Carolina outlasted Gonzaga 71-65 Monday night for its sixth national title in school history and the third under Roy Williams since his arrival in 2003-04. The Tar Heels finished what they started in the title game a year ago, when Villanova ended their season in the most heartbreaking fashion with a buzzer beater, and became the fourth school to win a national championship one year after losing in the final.

North Carolina won’t go down as the cuddliest national champions in NCAA Tournament history. The Tar Heels wore the black hat in this year’s Final Four, and it was deserved in many cases-from its status as one of the sport’s bluebloods that has been hard-earned over nearly 100 years, to the scorn the university has received for its well-documented academic scandal that the NCAA still has not issued a final ruling on. The latter, especially, is something UNC deserves no sympathy for, even as the current players almost for sure had nothing to do with that.

This year’s Carolina team, though, also should be remembered for some mighty admirable traits, too. The Tar Heels won four of their six NCAA tourney games by seven points or less. Though not as dominant as it was early in the year when destroying teams by 40 and even 50 points at times, what UNC proved increasingly as the season went on was that it was a resilient bunch, and indeed that was the case in the postseason and again on Monday.

North Carolina trailed Gonzaga by seven points in the first half and was down two again with less than two minutes left. The Heels finished by scoring the game’s final eight points, though, including forcing a key jump ball late and coming up with several big stops as the Bulldogs rushed frantically in the final seconds.

It was hardly an unfamiliar situation. Carolina also trailed by five with three minutes left in its second round game against Arkansas, by five with less than five minutes left in the regional final against Kentucky, and by eight late in the first half against Oregon, a game where it also took phenomenal offensive rebounding of its own missed free throws to prevent the Ducks from attempting to win the game in the final seconds. No one will ever be able to say UNC wasn’t tested or didn’t face adversity in its postseason run.

One has to wonder, too, if the Tar Heels may not have been so battle-tested if they weren’t such a veteran squad. Oft forgotten about this team was just how different it was from most of the sport’s bluebloods today.

Unlike a number of other prominent schools, this UNC team wasn’t made of one-and-done players. In fact, three seniors and three juniors made up six of the top seven players getting minutes Monday night, and it was senior Kennedy Meeks going to the floor for a big jump ball (one that replays showed he clearly should’ve been called out of bounds on) and senior Isaiah Hicks with a huge bucket with just over 20 seconds left to give Carolina a three-point lead. That juniors and seniors-and a balanced roster overall-played such a role in a champion is something every fan of the sport in its purer forms should readily embrace.

Much will also be said (and already was on social media) about Monday night’s officiating, and a good deal of it is valid. The game slowed to a crawl in the second half, and it sure looked like contact that was wholeheartedly allowed in the first half suddenly became a no-no and players didn’t adjust. And most definitely, the call was missed in the final minute when Meeks put a hand out of bounds as he forced what was eventually called a jump ball, with possession to the Tar Heels. It was a terrible miss, so obvious that one can only assume the referee was so busy watching the scrum that he didn’t even see it, because otherwise it was a blatant disregard for a rule.

At the same time, it wasn’t officials’ fault that neither team shot better than 35.9% or that they combined to miss 20 of 52 free throw attempts. Nor were the referees forcing players to miss contested-yet-makeable bunnies in the paint, or mandating that teams run up and down the floor rushing quick three-pointers and other assorted questionable shots. Though NBA-inspired rule changes such as shortening the shot clock and freedom of movement rules-something many have pushed for, it must be noted-certainly encourage those things, as well as the calling of fouls. In that regard, fans best check their snap judgments at the door, and understand that further changes towards NBA rules may well only result in more games like Monday, with two not-NBA-level teams trying to play like them, and struggling to do it.

Regardless, Monday night’s game wasn’t decided by officials or recent rule changes in the sport. It was decided the same way most close games are, by one team making more plays down the stretch. North Carolina did exactly that, just as it did so many other times this season. For that reason it is a deserving champion and should be saluted.

Side Dishes:

  • Lest anyone think Georgetown was going to fade off into basketball anonymity any time in the near future, the school made sure that wouldn’t be the case Monday, hiring Patrick Ewing as its head coach. Ewing of course was a four-year star at the school, nothing less than one of the most transcendent collegiate players of the past 50 years and a three-time All-American who led the team to a national championship and three title game appearances. His hiring now makes a second old line Big East school hiring a legend from that league’s golden age, joining St. John’s with Chris Mullin. While Ewing is the most famous Hoya of them all, he also has spent 14 years as an assistant coach in the NBA, including four years as associate head coach with the Charlotte Bobcats. Suffice to say, he has to be as ready as he’ll ever be for a head coaching job, and with college basketball’s continued moves and obsession with duplicating an NBA game, the move isn’t that awkward of one at all. It certainly will be fascinating to watch how Ewing does as a head coach, and at his alma mater.
  • Also a note from Sunday, as Tennessee-Chattanooga filled its head coach opening by hiring former Wisconsin assistant Lamont Paris. He spent the last seven years as an assistant with the Badgers and was a finalist for the Chattanooga job two years ago. Paris also was an assistant at Akron for six years. He takes over a proud program that rose back to Southern Conference prominence in recent years, including an NCAA bid last year, but also one that now is competing in a tougher SoCon with the rise of teams like East Tennessee State and UNC Greensboro.
  • More Hoopville reading enjoyment, Ray Floriani has a final wrap-up of the NIT with some notes and numbers.

Today’s Menu:

Nothing. The offseason begins. The Morning Dish will continue for several more days this week before taking a break for the summer.

Have an excellent Tuesday.

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Hoopville Archives

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