Tuesday, April 07, 2009

NCAA Final Four 2009 - UNC Tarheels

The 2009 Season for College Basketball is over and the University of North Carolina has emerged victorious. This was quite a run for the Heels as they barreled through the NCAA Tournament dismantling teams to make it to the final game in Detroit, MI against the Michigan State Spartans. Before the first game was played the Heels were pre-season number 1 and some commentators would even exclaim that the Heels would March into Detroit undefeated to steal the crown. After a strong showing in the first few games Carolina experienced the first set back of the season when they lost Marcus Ginyard for the season because of a fracture in his left foot and star center Tyler Hansbrough had to sit out for a few games due to a stress reaction condition in his right shin. To make matters worse a month later Freshman big Man Tyler Zeller breaks his wrist and at the time is told he may be out indefinitely. (Zeller did return late in the season.) There was an early memorable game in December that mirrored the one in Detroit. UNC destroyed Michigan State in December in the very building they would go on to win their National Championship five months later.The hype on the Heels dropped like a rock when the Heels began the regular season in the ACC blowing two games early with losses to Boston College at home and Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The talking heads continued to acknowledge the skill of this Tar Heel team but now had doubts about their ability to win it all. Coach Roy Williams never gave up on his squad as he pushed his team. Lead by the unstoppable Ty Lawson the Heels went on a 10-0 run. The Heels were proving once again why they were the best as they dominated the ACC to take first place in the league. The other big news to come out of that run was that Carolina had beaten Duke for the fourth time in Four years at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Take that Cameron Crazies!! But disaster was right around the corner again, after a big win during Homecoming against Duke the Heels lost their star point guard Ty Lawson due to a toe injury. Lawson sat out the ACC Tournament to watch the boys in blue lose in an awkward game to Florida State. UNC had won the regular season and even though they lost the ACC Tournament they were still able to get the number one seed in the South. March Madness had begun and everyone was filling out their brackets. It was great to see President Obama predict the boys in blue to win it all. Which obviously had to illicit a comment from the peanut gallery of Mikey K and the Dukies. (Although I will acknowledge it was in jest.) Duke of course got a second seed in the East after their big win at the ACC Tournament. Wake got a four seed in the Midwest and Maryland wound up with a 10 seed in the West. The Clemson Tigers and Boston College each received a 7 seed in the South and Midwest, while Florida State got a 5 seed in the East. The ACC disappointed big time. I was so sure they were going to represent but all but Duke and Maryland got booted out in the first damn round. Don't even get me started on Wake Forest and their choking in the Tournament. I had them going all the way to the big dance and they go and blow it in the first round to Cleveland friggin State, ouch.>Ty Lawson returned for the second game of the tournament against LSU and the Heels dominated late in the second half beating the Tigers by 14. The Heels would do similar damage to their next opponent Gonzaga. Hansbrough, Lawson and Wayne Ellington had a big night pounding Gonzaga by double digits for most of the game. Danny Green also put up big numbers shooting 3-6 behind the arc. The Heels won easily 98-77. The next challenge was the battle of the Big Men Blake Griffin and his Oklahoma Sooners versus Tyler Hansbrough. Griffin dominated in the paint but UNC was able to choke off any spurt or rally from the rest of the team. Lawson had a great game with 19 points and 5 assists but it was Danny Green who stepped up the 3 point shooting again with 19 points. He was 2-4 from behind the arc. Ellington and Hansbrough both were quiet for the evening but it didn't matter. There are just so many ways for this team to attack. I also want to point out that throughout this series the Tar Heels, who have been criticized for a lack of solid defense, played exceptionally well on the other end of the floor. From steals and turnovers Carolina racked up points so quickly that by the time their opponents had a chance to take a breath they found themselves down 15 to 20 points.The Final Four was now set. Detroit was welcoming home the (2) Michigan State Spartans. The same Spartans that dismantled the defending champions (3) Kansas, in the Sweet 16, 67-62. The Spartans went on to discombobulate overall number one (1) Louisville in the Elite Eight, 64-52. Michigan State had to face up against the rock solid (1) Connecticut Huskies. Uconn racked up a solid win against (5) Purdue, 72-60 and a powering win over (3) Missouri in the Elite 8 to make it into the Final Four. The final score was 82-75. These were all tough teams with excellent coaches and it was Tom Izzo and his Michigan State team that frustrated and harassed the dominating powerhouse Uconn defeating them 82-73 to make it into the final game. On the other side of the aisle the (3) Villanova Wildcats were working on a spectacular run of their own cruising past the Blue Devils of (2) Duke in the Sweet 16 77-54. Villanova added to their list of giant killers by beating (1) Pittsburgh in the elite 8 in a tight match-up 78-76. With Villanova's excellent defense and guard play they were just looking to give the Tarheels a run for their money. But in the end Nova just didn't have enough juice to work their way past the Heels. Coach Wright and his squad made it interesting when they brought the lead down to 5 early in the second half but they just couldn't buy a basket allowing UNC to push the score back up to double digits and the win, 83-69.
Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans were getting support from their home turf in Michigan as they were burdened with the task of carrying Detroit's flailing auto industry and economy on their young shoulders. The way the press made it sound like it was the entire state, nay maybe even the country with its economic downturn and these blue collar Spartans against the Tarheels. It was crazy and really ridiculous that these comments were even made, it would have made an even greater story I guess if Michigan State had won----but that's not what happened. Michigan State led by Goran Suton, Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green came out of the gate flat turning the ball over multiple times in just the first 10 minutes allowing Carolina to get a 10 point lead almost instantly. The Heels played an almost perfect half doing to Michigan State what Kansas had done to them the year before. Michigan State had that same deer in the headlights look throughout the game. The Tarheels had a tournament record breaking half leading the Spartans 55-34. MSU did seem to awaken from their slumber in the second half with their famous pressure defense but by then it was too late, UNC won 89-72. Ty Lawson had a record 8 steals for the game. Junior Deon Thompson and Freshman Ed Davis blitzed Michigan State with a flurry of inside shots and rebounds. I can't speak for anyone else but the win was exciting for me and well worth the wait.It's fair to say that the end was anti-climatic. It's also fair to say that the Tarheels were on another level from anyone else. Will this 2009 Carolina team go down in the history books as one of the greatest college teams ever? The book isn't written on that one yet but it's a tough call. I will say that I have never seen a team as focused as this one. Ty Lawson set the tone and Ellington, Green and Hansbrough buried the shots, inside and out. This has to be one of the most balanced UNC teams I have ever seen. This is the teams fifth National Championship win and Roy Williams second. Roy Williams is the fourth active coach to win consecutive titles. North Carolina also has an all time record of 103 victories in Tournament play. Pretty impressive I must say. These were a great bunch of kids who I will miss watching next year. Tyler Hansbrough has proven his worth to all the critics who said he wasn't deserving of acclaim. Psycho T will forever have his jersey hanging from the rafters of the dean dome and there is nothing any of them can say or do about that. Congratulations to Coach Roy Williams and his excellent squad of players for an unbelievable season and I can't wait to see what's in store for next year. Go Heels Go!!

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