And so it begins, the NCAA Tourney that is
Tomorrow the Tar Heels are going to open the last chapter of the 2008-2009 season, the NCAA Tournament. In the first round it's going to be top seeded North Carolina (28-4) against #16 Radford (21-11), with tip off at about 2:50 p.m. EST, in Greensboro, at the Greensboro Coliseum. As I began to write this post I started to wonder: what do we know about this school that Carolina is going to be up against? Speaking for myself, not much at all, but after using the power of the internet, I found out plenty about this school, whose nickname is the Highlanders. So, before I begin to breakdown the game I am going to give you some background on tomorrow's opponent.
Radford is a medium-size (about 10K) public, state funded university founded in 1910 and is located in Southwest Virginia. For those of you that want to know, the distance between Radford and Greensboro is 133.29 miles (estimated time: 2:20 hours of traveling time), meaning that the school could easily have a following at this game. The Highlanders are in the Big South Conference, which has ten members and are all located in either North Carolina, South Carolina or Virginia. Davidson, last year's cinderella, used to be in this conference, but now play in the Southern Conference. Without a doubt, playing in a 23,500 seat arena is going to be somewhat of a shock as Radford plays in Dedmon Center, which has a capacity of 5,000, while the biggest arena in their conference is Liberty University, which is a 9,000 seat arena. This is the second time that the Highlanders won their conference, the first being in 1998. That year Radford lost 99-63 to Duke, in a South Region match up.
But there is more than to the UNC vs Radford matchup than two teams playing versus one another. The head coach of the Highlanders is Brad Greenberg, and yes, if you were thinking you know that last name, you are right, it's Seth Greenberg's older brother, whose Virginia Tech lost in the second round to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament. If the Heels get past Radford, as should be the case since a top seed has never lost to #16 since the tournament was expanded to 64/65 teams (96-0), head coach Roy Williams and his team will be 3-0 against the Greenbergs this year and it will have happened all in different stages of the season, with the first win being the second to last regular season game, then in the ACC Tourney and of course, in the NCAA Tourney. Vegas believes this should be a massacre of sorts, with UNC being a 26-26.5 point favorite in this one. However Radford shouldn't be too upset if they lose, since their conference is 2-17 in the Big Dance.
The younger brother said of the older that will be facing one of the top teams in the nation:
"Of course I'm rooting for him -- but that would be the case whether it was Pitt, Kansas, Carolina, anybody," said Seth Greenberg, whose team had to settle for the NIT. "He's my blood, ... and I also think his story is one of the best in the NCAA Tournament."
That story, printed in this article, talks about Brad Greenberg's journey in finally getting a head coaching job. From being an assistant at the college level, then going to the pro's and back to college to begin all over again had the older of the Greenberg's thinking he would never get a shot at being a head coach. Well, he has, and now he is in the Big Dance. He will most likely be going home after one game, but the publicity he and his team get might just be a good thing when it comes to recruiting.
Think that is enough for things about Radford? Think it's enough about coaches connection? Well, sorry, there is more, and this time it's a lot closer to the Carolina men's basketball team than you would think. Steve Robinson is a Radford graduate, but will be offering advice to Roy Williams as one of his trusted assistants on Thursday. Robinson played at Radford in the 1979 and '80 seasons, he graduated in 1981 and earned a masters in 1985. He was an assistant coach at Radford for 3 years and was inducted into the school's athletics hall of fame. But when asked about the game tomorrow coach Steve Robinson replied:
"I don't know if my feelings are conflicted," he said. "I'm happy for them and happy for us. I've been doing this a long time and I know what my feelings are. I know what my feelings are supposed to be. They're in check."
The Highlanders played several teams that also faced the Heels. Radford lost to Virginia 68 to 66. They were clobbered by Wake Forest 83 to 61. Knowing the Big East a bit as well, I will add that the Highlanders lost to West Virginia by the final of 98 to 54. Radford has several players that average in double figures, with one of them, a 6'11" junior center Artisiom Parakhouski (Minsk, Belarus) leading the way with a double double of 16.3 pts and 11.2 rebounds. The other two players in double digits are: senior guard Kenny Thomas (14.8), junior forward/center Joey Lynch-Flohr (13.7). There is one more, Martell McDuffy, who was scoring 11.6 points per game, but he is listed as inactive and not even listed on the current players' list. Junior guard Amir Johnson is the top assist man for the squad, getting 5.3 a game.
Now that we know some (if not all) the connections that UNC and Radford have, let's talk about what this game, or more like a glorified practice for the Heels, should be like. First of all this is my gut feeling about ACC Player of the Year junior point guard Ty Lawson: if he is dressed for the game it's going to be more for show than for real action. Let's face the facts here, if UNC needs Lawson to beat Radford, then they didn't deserve a number one seed in this tournament. Am I saying that Carolina will not use Lawson during the game? No, what I am saying is that, if he does play, it's not because of need, but to get him back to speed. He has been without playing time for ten days, with limited practice, getting the rust off is going to be just as crucial as getting the team back in fluid motion with him.
North Carolina is going to have to do one thing and one thing only to win this game, go to their bread and butter, meaning feeding the post over and over and over again. If that happens then you know that Radford is going to have to sag down low, leaving the perimeter shooters wide open. And we all know that getting the ball from down low is great for the sharp shooters, since they step into the shot. As far as the point guards, Bobby Frasor and Larry Drew II, they have to play a game where their assists are more than turnovers, and are not afraid to take the shot if it's there, with the key being: "if it's there". But there is also another key to this game for the Tar Heels.
They have to put Radford away as quickly as possible. The possibility of saving everyone from playing more than 30-32 minutes is going to go a long way when having to play 2 games in three days. The stats are against the Highlanders (96 times out of 96 a #1 seed has beaten a #16), the spread gives them no chance (27 pt underdog), the only thing that this squad has to cling to is: hope. Keeping them in the game will give them more and more hope, and that is not what UNC wants to do, so putting Radford away from the beginning will shatter the hope of the Highlanders as well.
This Carolina team is strong, very strong, with Ty Lawson. But, it's also a top notch team, worthy of making it to the Sweet Sixteen, without him. They might have to prove that, and if they do, it's going to be the way it is, like it or not. But for now, the only team that is in the way of going on is Radford, and having never played against the likes of Hansbrough, Thompson or Davis, the paint should be owned by the Tar Heels from the first whistle to the last. If Carolina sticks to working down low and not giving up easy baskets, I truly believe that this game should be over before the beginning of the second half.
The last thing I will touch on is this: hopefully Danny Green will have calmed down from his 3 for 25 ACC Tournament disaster. He is not going to replace Ty Lawson, all he has to do is score his points, and let the ones in the paint pick up the slack. What is needed by Green is a stat stuffer NCAA Tournament, where he scores, he rebounds, he gets some assists and some steals. That is the Green that is going to help this very talented squad to the Final Four. And that is the key for this squad, each to be their own will get the Tar Heels to the Final Four, mix in a bit of luck and a healthy Lawson and you could see Carolina cutting down the nets come April 6th.