You're no doubt familiar with the story of the Prince and the Pauper. They discover they look alike, so the Prince thinks it would be a great idea of a joke to switch clothes and live the other's life for a while. Then they get stuck and all sorts of hijinks occur with each out of his element. The Prince has to suffer all sorts of indignities and insults from the common folk while dressed in the Pauper's clothes and has no idea what to make of the whole situation until normalcy is restored.
Welcome to Tom Canty's world, North Carolina. We'll see if normalcy is ever restored. The Tar Heels - players, coach, and fans - are discovering what life is like for the other side. The players, I think, most of all. The fans of course, too - it's interesting reading through their comments, talking about how bad so-and-so a player is (that everyone in the ACC tried to recruit) and how bad the refereeing is (hysterically funny, coming from a Tobacco Roadie.) But the players determine the outcome of a game, and here's the thing, as far as Carolina is concerned: They're young, and they don't know anything other than the idea that UNC can always rely on its skill when all else fails. That worked when NC lived in the palace, operating with a huge bin full of lottery talent like Kendall Marshall and John Henson.
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Now what? Well, now they still have talent, yes, more than most of the league. But not so much that it will always carry the day, anymore. They don't know how to punch back when they're punched in the mouth. Joe Harris blew past P.J. Hairston like he wasn't even there, which is something they're not used to. James Michael McAdoo seemed surprised and lost when he was defended aggressively under the basket, and turned the ball over. When the Heels couldn't always blow past their defender, get blindfolded steals and the easy baskets that follow, or let every rebound settle easily into the hands of their seven-foot tree in the center, they got lost.
Virginia plays a brand of basketball that is alien to them. Good system defense is something they don't know, and Roy probably doesn't coach. A team rebounding effort - no on that, too. Having to work a full 35 seconds for a shot - hell no. Having to defend a full 35 seconds - no as well. But even then, Carolina has been able to pull it out by out-talenting the Hoos, and most of their opponents, too.
Now they aren't so good they can always just go back to the well, and they haven't figured it out yet. Their fans figure they just need better players. Or else better coaching. No, what they need is to learn how to do more with less, something that they've never had to try. They don't know what that means. They don't have the foggiest idea how to beat a team more talented than them, which is how they got destroyed by Indiana. They don't know what to do against a team that's less talented but built to slay a dragon, which is exactly the mindset at the very foundation of Tony Bennett's approach. That's how they lost to Virginia, and for that matter, Butler. Inside the palace, the prince just calls for another servant when he wants something done. Nobody doubts he's the prince. Out here in the world of commoners, telling someone you're the prince gets you nowhere. Now try doing it the way everyone else has to do it. Until Carolina learns how, they're just a kid floating around outside the palace walls, making outrageous claims and getting laughed at. Until they learn how, walking dejectedly out of a hostile building is something they'll have to get used to. Their fans will decide they need better players, better coaching, the next recruiting class will fix it, and they'll be whistling in the dark the whole time, as clueless as a kid in rags trying to convince everyone he's the real thing.
More in brief:
-- If you ever talk to a Carolina fan in between this game and the next, and they try to give you the youth excuse, you're hereby authorized to laugh in their face and call them a whiny whiner. Our four freshmen played 76 minutes; theirs played 54, and Marcus Paige accounted for more than half of those, with the others only getting spot duty. Our only senior played on a time bomb of a foot and one of our two juniors manned up and played on a badly sprained ankle. Their senior stank up the joint.
-- Their one junior, on the other hand, seemed to be the only player in baby blue to get what they were up against and not let the pressure get to him. Reggie Bullock played a man's game, and lest you think it was little else but nifty three-point shooting, his final bucket came as he ripped down a rebound, possibly being fouled in the process without a whistle, and took it back up strong for the layin. I leave him out of practically the whole essay above.
-- McAdoo, on the other hand - woof. Yes, 10 points and 7 boards, but when I say Carolina is not used to being mortal and having opponents that both hustle and can match their athleticism, I base that case partly on Darion Atkins coming from behind on what McAdoo thought would be an easy dunk, and making dunk go bye-bye.
-- I was glad to see Mike Tobey get a few chances to redeem himself after spending about five minutes in the first half looking like Assane Sene with worse hands.
-- I hope Akil Mitchell's ankle can be brought along. He certainly didn't look too hurt during the game, but post-game reports aren't encouraging. I read someone post that high ankle sprains can be a two-to-four week deal. Nonsense; high ankle sprains are for the whole season. Mitchell's situation has to be dealt with VERY carefully. I wouldn't be surprised to see him dress but not play against Wake Forest.
-- I've also heard people say it's now highly possible Virginia could be 6-0 going into a big JPJA tilt against NC State in a few weeks. Let's keep in mind that this team still is that young, and is likely to blow a fuse somewhere along the line. It's very tempting to get ahead of oneself, even fun to imagine the possibilities, but never has "take it one game at a time" been more apropos.
-- Jerry Ratcliffe has an enjoyable article on the win. Enjoyable except for every reference to Mitchell's ankle, to which I can only shake my fist at the capricious gods.
-- Morgan Moses announced he'll come back for his senior season, which is a wise move. As he is now he's not getting drafted as a tackle, and tackles make the money. Taking the chance to do the necessary work on his footwork and perhaps come out next year as a much more inviting prospect to the NFL is a smart choice. I still think his best position is ultimately guard, because his ferocious straight-line push and good quick feet (when moving in one direction) make him ideal for the position. But it's worth it to stick around another year and see if he can't boost his draft stock. He'll still be a great guard prospect next year, and can only be a better tackle prospect. Having Tom O'Brien around probably influenced that decision.
-- Alright, I can be a cynical bastard at times, so there's a part of me that says offering leg amputee Jacob Rainey a roster spot is a pretty big PR move. That's a hard story to read, though; it's one of the freakest and unluckiest injuries I've ever heard of, and for Rainey to be able to continue to live the dream is a pretty great thing even if the motivation were 100% ruthlessly Machiavellian. Rainey probably won't actually work with the quarterbacks, but maybe as a holder on the field goal team? And you can bet he's not coming just to never play; one day I bet he does trot out on the field for a play, and when people figure out what's going on it'll get very, very loud.
-- Scary if you ask me: Florida State outfielder Stephen Spradling broke every breakable thing in his body, except fortunately his neck and skull, in a skydiving accident. He'll likely be OK but his baseball career is over. In slightly related news, I would guess the skydiving careers of every Florida State baseball player are also temporarily over, in much the same way Al Groh instituted a skiing ban after one his players tore up his knee doing that in the offseason. This is way scarier, though. Plus, another ACC player who's off the ACC radar screen: NC State's enormous power-hitting catcher Danny Canela is off the team. My favorite Canela memory: him taking a lead off first and our pitcher - forget who - making a hold-him-on toss to first, which the ESPN announcer dutifully announced as a throw to first by the pitcher and then added, snickering, "for whatever reason."
-- Speaking of baseball, Virginia's own Kevin McMullan was named the top assistant in the country in a Baseball America poll of 70 D-I coaches. The day is coming when McMullan will get his own head gig somewhere and it will be a big loss for our baseball program. For what it's worth, pitching coach Karl Kuhn was in the "also receiving votes" category.
-- NC game highlights are coming in short order. Probably tomorrow. That is, Tuesday, since you're probably not reading this on Monday.