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Friday, December 5, 2008

No mercy from the boys in blue

Posted by on Fri, Dec 5, 2008 at 1:13 PM

Writing this blog so far this season, the UNC men's hoops team hasn't done me any favors. Every game, it's "crush" this or "annihilate" that. What has happened to the finesse, complexity and genuine compassion reflecting the dispositions of Indy readers?

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There's never a "UNC tip-toes by equally-abled-but-unlucky competitor on its way to a neat win" or a "Gentlemanly Heels graciously allow court-sharers to play within six points."

Will you stop reading if the Tar Heels continue this boorish behavior?

Wednesday night was more of the same. In the main event of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge — the ACC now boasts a perfect 10-0 overall record in the challenge — the Tar Heels traveled to Detroit to spar with Michigan State in a game that was billed as a match-up of two top-15 teams.

And, of course, Carolina did something hostile to MSU in winning by a final count of 98-63. The Spartans were overmatched and by the end showed obvious embarrassment.

The game actually was tight for much of the first half, but UNC closed with an 11-3 run to finish the half ahead by 14 points. The Heels put the game out of reach in the opening minutes of the second half, quickly establishing a 30-plus point margin before the walk-ons took over and prevented further damage.

Carolina played in what was supposed to be a raucous environment in favor of MSU. That said, the damaged economy kept many fans at home and the enormous dome of Ford Field — home of the NFL's Detroit Lions and reconfigured to seat approximately 75,000 fans for basketball — was largely vacant in a manner befitting such an unfavorable result for the home team.

Interestingly, Ford Field will host the 2009 Final Four, so UNC's players — and particularly their jump shooters — were able to gain experience in the arena they will have to conquer in order to win the national championship. Three-point shooting never is a given in a dome, as former UNC guard Shammond Williams can attest after two disastrous Final Four shooting performances in domed venues.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the game that, "They're definitely one of the best teams I've seen in my 25 years at Michigan State."

Increasingly, there is a perception gap that UNC is vastly superior to everyone else. Among Tar Heels faithful, there is creeping optimism that maybe this team can roll through the entire season undefeated after all.

Looking at the schedule, where are the losses?

For myself, I'm still not buying the undefeated season. It's important to keep in mind that UNC's chemistry mostly is set because nearly all the key players returned from last year. Meanwhile, other talented teams are adjusting to new faces in the lineup, and they stand to develop more dramatically over the course of the season than do the Heels.

Nevertheless, it can be argued at this moment that UNC is playing not with one, but with two first-team All-Americans.

In addition to Tyler Hansbrough, whose 25 points and 11 rebounds are befitting for a reigning national player of the year, point guard Ty Lawson contributed another 17 points, eight assists and seven steals with no turnovers. And the pressure Lawson applies to the other team on both ends doesn't show up on the stat sheet.

Impressively, no UNC starter played more than 28 of the 40 possible minutes. Not only are the Heels torturing (there I go again) opponents, they aren't even using their allotted time to do it.

Here's a look at the box score.

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