If you make your Free Throws you can be a giant killer, if not…

I had to break my Ph.D. hiatus (I am not writing about basketball until this Ph.D. is done, but it is SO hard- Google Chinanu Onuaku’s free throw).

However, last night’s Oklahoma- Kansas game illustrates my “make your freaking fouls shots” philosophy so perfectly, I had to make an exception.

This was going to be a fun game to watch- #1 playing #2, in the same conference, in January- there is so much on the line and these athletes played their hearts out.

It was a fast-paced, all-out race to the finish from the technical foul assessed to the KU bench 4 seconds into the game or that almost technical in the 1st OT for having 6 players on the court.  It is the kind of ball I like to watch.

But after 3 OT Kansas proved they deserved the #1 spot in the land (AP poll had them at #1, but the coaches poll gave Oklahoma the #1 nod).

If Oklahoma had just made their free throws at the end of regulation, when the game was tied, there would have been no OT and they could have been giant killers.

But alas, it is free throw shots that win, and squander, games and KU nudged past Oklahoma at the line.  Kansas made 78% (18/23)of their free throws to the Sooners 75% (18/24), but that is not the whole story.  If Oklahoma would have won in regulation they would have kept the Jayhawks off the line 17 times as KU only had 6 free throw opportunities in the first 40 minutes.  Oklahoma made 16/22 in regulation, but that leaves 6 points on the line.  A comfortable margin to have knocked off a #1.


Live by the three

Today UNCG scooped an 84-49 win from the Furman Paladins with a record setting 15 made three pointers in the game.  This win puts UNCG in a 3 way tie in the SoCon at 5-11, with Furman holding the bottom spot at 4-12.  This 35 point win is UNCG’s largest ever SoCon victory and, hopefully, puts the Spartans in the right frame of mind to finish out the season, with games at home on both Thursday and Saturday.

While I am not usually a fan of teams that live by the three because unfailingly you must also die by the three, the energy on the court today has not been present in the last few home losses.  The team I watched today shared the ball and worked to be aware of each other on the court.  Big Man RJ White looked like he was gunning for the 1 spot hitting 4 three point shots early in the first half.  The crowd thought one was fun.  When he hit two it was great and three seems like he was on a roll, but when White sunk that fourth three the crowd erupted and he gave us a smile and a dance back down the court.  While we expect Nick Paulos to hit 5-6 threes, other Spartans contributing to the effort beyond the arc included Marvin Smith (2), Diante Baldwin (1), Asad Lamot (1- this was the most unselfish play of the night), Clay Byrd (1- before he twisted his ankle and was out of the game), and perhaps the most surprising was first year player Garrett Collins (1 as well as adding 2 points inside the line during his 7 minutes on the court).

In most stats, UNCG led the way.  51% of their field goals to Furman’s 37%.  The night belonged to the three pointer with UNCG hitting 60% of their attempts to the Paladins 15%.  From the free throw line Furman edged UNCG 60 to the Spartan’s 58%.  UNCG went 7-12 from the line.  Here Baldwin and White need some remediation both going 0-2.  In close games these points really matter!  UNCG set the pace with 12 fast break points over none for Furman and Spartans added 28 from the bench (18 of those belonging to White).

G keep up the momentum into Thursday!


Remembering Dean Smith

Remembering Dean Smith

Michael Jordan, Dean Smith

Dean Smith– coach, legend, cultural icon died at his home on February 7, 2015

Growing up, Carolina Basketball was one of the only reasons I was allowed to miss church. We went anytime the church doors were open, but if there was a game Mom would make an exception and we would stay home to cheer on the Tar Heels. As a preschooler, I have vivid memories of taunting our Preacher, who had the misfortune of getting his divinity degree from Wake Forest, on the way to preaching on Sunday mornings or church supper on Wednesday nights. I would stop in my tracks, I am sure goaded on by my mother, and call- “Go Tar Heels” and he answered “Go Demon Deacons” while the parishioners looked on with indulgent amusement. I was a Tar Heel. The Tar Heels were my team.

My mom loves Carolina basketball. Through her, my sisters and I came to love the game as well. As we watched Dean Smith lead the Heels on the court, we got lessons like, “look how the scorer acknowledges the passer” and “see how Coach Smith would rather get a technical than not start a senior on senior night.” From the basketball court and through the T.V., Coach Smith coached me as well. While never a player, I learned to be a smart, engaged fan, to appreciate a well-played game, and to see how the lessons learned through basketball could be applied to my life, too. My good friend Derrick, a State fan, jokes that people in the South love Jesus, the Pope, and Dean Smith- though not necessarily in that order!

Like many others who are honoring Dean Smith, I can ply you with facts and statistics; my head is stuffed with them. He learned the game at Kansas from Phog Allan who learned from Dr. Naismith himself, joined Frank McGuire as an assistant at UNC in 1958, took the helm as head coach in 1961 amid point-shaving rumors with the missive only to run a clean program, was hung in effigy after a 1965 loss to Wake Forest, used the four corners strategy so well that in 1985 the NCAA created the shot clock, retired in 1997 with 2 national titles, 11 Final Four appearances, 879 wins and a 77.6% winning record. All of these accomplishments are important, they add up to what his work was, as a coach, but they do not begin to cover his importance to UNC, North Carolina, and basketball.

As a basketball fan, it wasn’t just supporting a winning team that made me a Tar Heel. It was the lessons that I learned from Coach Smith, through basketball, that were the most important.

  • Coach Smith is credited with inventing the tired signal a player can give to let the team know he needs a break. Basketball is a team sport. It is played best when players communicate with the coaching staff and each other. Communication is key to winning games.
  • He also taught his scorers to point back to the passer that set up the play for them. The scorer gets credit for the basket, but they did not do it themselves. Good players spread the credit around.
  • Coach Smith liked fast breaks, half court offense, and aggressive defense. He trained his teams to listen to the point guard who called the plays on the court. He was the coach, but there were times that you looked to those around you for leadership. When you know who to look to for instructions, you can do your job the way it needs to be done.
  • On Senior Night, seniors, whether they are regular starters or not, start the game. If there are six seniors, Coach Smith accepted the technical foul to start them all. All team members are valuable and it is the coach’s job to recognize that.
  • Though not the inventor of four corners, Dean Smith taught his teams to execute the strategy so well that the NCAA had to invent the shot clock to counter it. I agree that basketball is more fun to watch with a shot clock, but if you are going to do something do it so well that they have to create rules to evolve the game.

As I got older, I realized that Dean Smith was special off the court as well. His memory is legendary. Those who knew him said he could recall details of games played years ago and would remember to ask about your family members by name. He was also quietly and solidly a progressive moral compass that I could set my own sails by. He was an unapologetic political activist, cultivated by his father who coached the first racially integrated basketball team in Kansas in 1934, but always quiet and never shouting it. When he arrived in Chapel Hill he joined Binkley Baptist Church because it included everyone. As an assistant coach, he, along with an African American theology student, went to The Pines, a restaurant on Franklin Street, and stood together to be seated. This was real work in the still segregated south of the late 1950s and by the time the sit in movement came to Chapel Hill places like The Pines were already integrated. In 1966, he recruited Charlie Scott to play for UNC and with that action integrated the ACC. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and recorded anti- nuclear weapons radio spots in the 1980s. In 1998, he appeared at the clemency hearing of a death row inmate and told then Gov. Hunt, “The death penalty makes all of us murders.” In retirement, he took stands against the Iraq war and for gay rights. Dean Smith, along with fellow North Carolinian Andy Griffith, were my models for how to think about issues that we face in our daily lives and how to navigate living with integrity and doing what is right with the power that you have.

I’m always happy to rehash Tar Heel basketball details, like how free throws and time outs were factors in both the 1982 and 1993 National Titles, but what I will remember about Dean Smith has much more to do with the lessons he coached me through as a spectator and Tar Heel Fan.


Lovely week all around

While I haven’t had time to post, this has been a great week of college ball.

Louisville came to the Dean Dome and the Heart Attack Heels topped the Cards by one point (72-71) with Marcus Paige’s shot in the last seconds.

On top of that, for the last two Duke games, I had the privilege of seeing red while visiting diddukewin.com.  Their first loss was at the hands of the unranked Wolfpack at the PNC Arena.  It was at PNC, in March, when the Mercer Bears handed Duke their last loss.  I was jumping and yelling as NC State pulled off that victory!

Last night, the Miami Hurricanes blew into Cameron and upset the Devils at home.  This is Duke’s first loss at home since 2012 and Miami’s third win over ranked opponents this season!

Tonight, is the Battle for the Wes Miller Bobblehead- every time UNC meets NCSU the outcome of the game decides if our bobblehead will reside at the Colonna or the Newkirk house.  Wes has come home with me for the last two Tar Heel victories and D feels with the Duke win the Pack is poised for greatness tonight.  The Red-Blue game is at the same time that UNCG meets VMI at home, so it is double basketball for us tonight!

Go Heels!  Go Spartans!


UNC over UAB

Santa, through his NYC-based elves, left us tickets to the UAB-UNC game, so on this beautiful, warm December afternoon we  caravanned to the Dean Dome for a late afternoon game.

Last year UAB surprised UNC in Alabama.  This year the Blazers traveled to Chapel Hill and lost 89-58.  Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson pulled the Heels away with their three point shots.  Paige had been off his shot for the past few games but today connected for 2-6 from beyond the arc.  Justin Jackson hit 2-3 of is three pointers.  Kennedy Meets was on his game tonight cleaning up under the basket, hitting mid-range jumpers, doing his part from the line.  Though, the free throw stars for the night go to Isaiah Hicks (5-6) and Nate Britt (4-4).  Those FT percentages win games, especially as conference play draws closer.

Tonight is the first night I paid much attention to the new point guard Joel Berry.  The point guard position is a hard one to learn.  He is beginning to get his feet under him and blossom (short bursts) in the role.  Marcus Paige is shining bright right now, but it is good to see Berry learning how to be a Tar Heel PG.

On another note, while I was hopeful that neither Louisville nor Kentucky would win….Kentucky did.


Elon has UNCG’s number

Former SoCon rival Elon beat UNCG today 71-64.  It has been since January 2010 since the Spartans have bested the Phoenix.

Though in the first half Elon was in desperate need of a break for dribble drills, they had three (if not four, I stopped counting) turnovers on walks.  If you move with the ball, you have to be dribbling it.  Pretty simple, really.  The Phoenix also twice fouled our three point shooter- the dumbest play in basketball.  There was sloppy passing on both sides and UNCG just could not get their feet under them.

I am also confused as to why Diante Baldwin did not start.  He played 30 minutes, but did not start.  The Spartans are more focused with a point guard on the court and Baldwin is the best player for that position-why is he not starting?

As for stats, Elon lead in points in the paint, points off turnovers, and points off fast breaks.  Their bench was deep contributing 29 points to our 6.  Wes was frustrated and it showed.  He was particular animated on the sidelines and with just a few seconds left in the game a Technical Foul was assessed to the bench, but it was on Coach Miller.  He was mad and it is always nice to see passion on the sidelines!

Coming off last game’s free throw shooting, this game was marked improvement 23-30 (77%) and 10% better than Elon’s 67%.  Of course, the 7 points left on the court would have pushed us into overtime.

Our next home game is on New Year’s Eve in Fleming Gym.  Such a fun place to watch basketball.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the halftime score of the kentucky-UCLA game: 41-7.  Yes, UCLA scored 7 points in 20 minutes of basketball.  Those players in that particular shade of blue scored 24 points before the Bruins put any points on the board.  God, I hate Kentucky.  But it did lead to this sentence, so there, “This was the most lopsided first half of basketball since the Monstars jumped out to a 66-18 lead on the Tune Squad in the movie Space Jam.”


Cleaning up

I made two blog posts as pages, so I am combining them into one post and cleaning up the blog:

Battle of Tate Street:

While these two schools do not technically share a border, both UNCG and Greensboro College share space on Tate St.  They are separated by mere feet, so yesterday’s game at the Coliseum was essentially a home game for both teams.  It was an 11:30am start and kids from Guildford County were in attendance as part of the GCS Education Fair.

I was late to the game and walked in with the Spartans down 22-9, but UNCG turned on the turbo and ended the half tied at 41.  This was a close game, UNCG never led by more than 7, the Pride led by 15 at one point, and they were tied 9 times.  The stats for both teams show why it was such a close game:  Free Throw shooting was excellent on both sides- Greensboro College an impressive 92% (12-13) and UNCG 86.4%.  This is how free throws should look at all games.

Beyond that, the field goal percentage for each team was 44% for Greensboro College and 45% for the Spartans.  The Pride connected on 50% from beyond the arc and UNCG made 30% of theirs.

I would be remiss not to mention the TWO fouls on three point shooters committed by the Spartans.  One connected for a total of 4 points for the Pride on a single play and one missed with their shooter making all three free throws.  Fouling a three point shooter is the worst play in the book and we did it twice.

What I think helped put UNCG up was help off the bench.  UNCG got 21 bench points highlighted by Jordy Kuiper and Diante Baldwin.  This was Baldwin’s first game of the season, as he has been dealing with an knee injury, and it is delightful to have a true point guard on the court!

NC State vs Wofford:

There is a particular shade of dark blue that I hate.

Kentucky beat UNC this weekend.  It was awful and there’s not much more to be said there.

I was much more stunned by the 55-54 upset of NC State by the Wofford Terriers last night.  The Terriers made their late basket and State’s got waved off leaving Wofford up by one.

I’m not sure why I’m surprised.  Wofford was last season’s SoCon Champion (UNCG’s conference) and they “returned nearly its entire team from last year’s Southern Conference tournament champions, and is the preseason favorite to win the league again.”  Parity is coming to men’s basketball (women’s is a whole other conversation- but “way to go” to South Carolina for being #1 over traditional powerhouses UConn, Tenn, and Stanford this week).  Even though the ACC has lost to SoCon before (Va Tech, Georgia Tech come to mind- and we are not talking about when some of those teams were in the SoCon), it is still surprising, but it shouldn’t be.  A team like Wofford, with a recent conference championship, returning much of it’s experience and leadership should be a force to be reckoned with.  The schools that tend to attract the one and dones (ESPN top10s, height that other conferences can’t recruit, and the NBA’s own rule about being a year out of high school are all details we can discuss) can have flashes of greatness, but schools that build solid teams with leadership and experience- and we can look at mid-major conferences here like VCU’s Shaka Smart- step up to those larger courts and televised games with knowledge and support, from their coaches and each other, to win close games like this one.

Tomorrow UNCG faces UNC at the Greensboro coliseum, their own home court.  Will UNC be looking for a recovery win?  Will UNCG capitalize on their recent winning ways? Either way, I’ve got GREAT seats!