It's not there yet. But it will be. And soon.
Yesterday's win over the nation's top ranked team was a huge step for this Carolina team and this Carolina program. There was a time not too long ago when Carolina won this type of game quite regularly. In fact, there was a time when you knew, you KNEW, Carolina would win every close game. The only time you got nervous was when there was no hope of a comeback. Say, down eight with only 17 seconds left….err, check that. Say the horn blows and the Heels are on the short end of the scoreboard. Only then did you actually fathom Carolina would lose.
Those glory days disappeared of late and even up until last Wednesday night in College Park, Carolina Basketball struggled in the quest to regain what was lost in recent years. The loss to Maryland marked the third time in four "big" games the Heels failed to execute down the stretch and failed to win a very winnable game.
Shortly after the second half began Saturday, Carolina began to put itself in position to come up short yet again.
But, one clipboard and one "let'em have it" time out later and the Heels pulled out a big win in a game Carolina had to have. A must win, not for ACC or national standings, but for the mentality of this team. The Carolina players and coaches now have firm actual proof that the ship is headed in the right direction and with that belief and knowledge, the sky, again, becomes the limit.
Everyone knows we are guaranteed only two things in this day and age – death and taxes.
With every passing college basketball game, however, a third guarantee is becoming crystal clear. Poor officiating, especially in the ACC.
Now, not to single out just ACC officials or just college basketball officials – sports officiating in general has gone rapidly downhill of late – but since college hoops is the topic du jour this time of year, we'll run with it.
While there's no way to implement any kind of effective instant replay system in college basketball, there has to be a way to force officials into some sort of consistency on the court. Need proof? Carolina-Connecticut is perfect example. A free for all in the paint. Touch fouls called beyond the three-point line. If the determining factor in whistling a foul is whether or not a player gains an advantage from the contact, explain to me how beatings under the basket are sight unseen but a hand check at midcourt merits whistle?
Emeka Okafor is a great player and will be a solid NBA player for a long time whenever he chooses to go that route. But it's laughable, regardless of how much UConn coach Jim Calhoun whines about the officiating in the post game press conference, that a shot blocker like Okafor picks up his first foul of the game with 14:37 remaining in the game. (And did the NCAA rules committee take "over the back" out of the rule book??)
Blaming the NBA for ‘hurting college basketball' is a popular mantra to recite but if you are a fan of the game, it only takes a couple games to see that the college game is just as exciting as it's always been. The officiating however…
Stepping away from the sportswriter role for a minute, I'll say seeing Rashad McCants do his thing against UConn was the most memorable moment for me from Saturday. Here's a 19 year old kid – and yes, they are still kids – that's been the subject of scorn from so many, from so-called ‘fans' to so many not in the know, step up in a huge game and simply get it done. After seeing the depths to which McCants traveled last season, it's not hard to enjoy seeing him rise to the occasion on the biggest stage thus far in the Roy Williams tenure. While it's beome popular sport - be it at the watercooler, on an Internet message board or from a television commentator's chair - to spew negativity toward players, it's high time to get off #32's back and let him be who he is – Rashad McCants.
Judging from Saturday's performance, that should be good enough.
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