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UNC has a home-state advantage

CHARLOTTE ó North Carolina hadn’t even begun its open practice Wednesday afternoon, and baby blue-clad fans already filled the entire lower section at Bobcats Arena. And most of sections 208 and 209 in the upper deck.
Two minutes before the Tar Heels walked through a tunnel to the court, a familiar chant started: Tar! from one side of the arena; Heels! from the other. Cameras didn’t stop flashing the entire 50-minute session.
Some teams would settle for such support at a game, but the top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament got that kind of love at a practice.
If it ain’t home-court advantage, it’s the next-best thing.
UNC coach Roy Williams will try to convince everyone otherwise, of course. And he should. He doesn’t need his players thinking they’ve got the easy road to the Final Four that everyone else sees.
“There has been so much written about where we’re playing, and what I think they should do is just lobby and let the NCAA tournament determine where you’re going to play and then not play the games,” Williams jokingly said last week. “Go and have a party and just move the people on who play the closest to their home site.
“I am not trying to be mean or anything, but, my gosh, you’ve still got to play the game.”
Williams reiterated his point Wednesday, when the questions kept coming about playing in Raleigh one week ó a 30-minute drive from Chapel Hill ó and Charlotte the next ó little more than two hours away.
“I don’t believe that crap,” he said. “You’ve got to play on game day.”
To support his argument, Williams pointed out that one of his Kansas teams was supposed to have had this same type of advantage back in 1995. If the Jayhawks won their first two games, they’d play in Kansas City, Mo., in the regionals.
They won those first two, then lost to Virginia in the Sweet 16.
“I was a pretty dadgum good student, and I know a lot about geography,” Williams said. “And Virginia is nowhere near Kansas City.
“They beat our tails, and that building and those fans did not help us win.”
OK. Good point. But this isn’t 1995 in Kansas City. This is 2008 in Charlotte. And if Raleigh is any indication, the Tar Heels are peaking at the proper time and have plenty of fan support as a bonus.
UNC ran over Mount Saint Mary’s by 39 points in the first round, then trounced Arkansas by 31 after that. The Tar Heels topped 100 points in back-to-back games for the third time this season but the first since two non-conference victories in December.
And North Carolina might refuse to acknowledge the advantage of being close to home in those games ó every “it’s been huge for our fans to be here” is followed by a “but the fans can’t play the game” ó but try telling Georgetown that the RBC Center wasn’t overflowing with home-state support.
I guarantee the Hoyas would have rather faced Davidson somewhere other than Raleigh.
North Carolina’s opponent tonight, Washington State, knows it will be facing the Tar Heels in what amounts to a home game for UNC.
“They’re the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, and they’ve been blessed with not being far from their home,” Washington State guard Taylor Rochestie said. “That’s something they deserved because they’ve had a great season.
“At the same time, during the year we’ve had an us-against-the-world mentality, so that’s the way we’re going to take it to the road and play in Charlotte”
Maybe that’s a part of where Williams is coming from. So much talk about UNC’s home-state advantage could certainly be used as motivation by opposing coaches:
You hear all this talk about North Carolina playing at home? Everyone’s already written you off. No one would pick you to beat these guys in the first place, and now you’re given even less of a chance because we’re right here in their home state.
Twist it any way you want to. Let Washington State use it as motivation. Let Williams swear that playing in Bobcats Arena will help his team just as much as playing in Bangladesh.
Despite what Williams will say, the atmosphere in Raleigh and the sneak-peak provided yesterday showed that North Carolina will have some sort of extra edge tonight.
n
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or nbowton@salisburypost.com.

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