College Basketball: UNC reached goals in emphatic fashion
By Caulton Tudor
Raleigh News and Observer
After North Carolina dashed past Michigan State and everyone else to the national basketball championship, the best description of the 2008-09 Tar Heels’ superiority remained the words spoken by Brad Greenberg way back on March 18.
A day before Carolina began its six-game NCAA Tournament blitz, the Radford coach sat on a small stage in the Greensboro Coliseum and fished for precisely the correct words to explain his team’s first-round challenge.
“Carolina’s not just a great program with great talent,” Greenberg said. “They’re more than that. They’re what? Oh, what’s the word? They’re a firm ó sort of like that Tom Cruise movie from a few years back (1993’s “The Firm”). Once they get you inside (the arena), there’s no getting away from ’em. You’ve just had it then.”
Greenberg’s team got sauteed the next day, 101-58. But in retrospect, the Highlanders dealt with Carolina about as well as the Tar Heels’ ensuing five tournament opponents.
The last team in the Heels’ way ó 71/2-point underdog Michigan State with its thousands of fans at Ford Field Monday nightó tried its best. But the eventual outcome, 89-72, essentially was settled before many of the green shirts could voice a decent cheer.
With juniors Deon Thompson and Wayne Ellington apparently hot the moment they stepped off the team bus, the Heels (34-4) had a 10-point lead inside five minutes and pushed it to 23 with 9:40 left in the first half. Ellington, the Final Four’s most outstanding player, finished with 19 points. Thompson’s nine came early, when the Spartans were trying to contain Tyler Hansbrough (18 points, seven rebounds).
Michigan State (31-7) had high hopes after an 82-73 victory over favored Connecticut on Saturday. But hope was about it. The defense that Spartans coach Tom Izzo thought might slow Carolina and spark an upset was totally overwhelmed.
Carolina coach Roy Williams might even have sensed what was coming. In pre-game remarks to CBS television, he praised the Spartans freely but ended by saying, “They’re a great team. They’re playing better than anyone in the country ó except for maybe one team.”
That “one team” very well may qualify as the best in ACC history, too.
It’s an issue that can be debated all spring and summer if need be, but the 2009 Heels won their national title with such ease that the school’s 2005, 1993, 1982 and 1957 winners, plus Duke’s three champions of the 1990s, and even the mighty 1974 N.C. State squad, among others, have to be impressed. Williams’ 2005 team whipped Michigan State, 87-71, in the semifinals at St. Louis, but that game was closer than the score suggests.
The valid argument is always there to be made that college basketball isn’t as talented and deep these days as it was years ago, when the top players routinely stayed in school for three or four seasons.
There’s no question that North Carolina in large part won this title last summer when Hansbrough, Ellington, Danny Green and Ty Lawson decided to return even though spots on NBA rosters probably were within their grasps.
That’s not so much the point.
More important to the matter is the fact that all four players did return. Under immense pressure to win each game, the Tar Heels made the most of their opportunity to win what they could not at the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio.
Some past ACC powers with more potential pro talent didn’t come close to matching this team’s achievement ó and certainly not in such a convincing fashion.
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