Well, it was to Wofford, at least
If my favorite team in the world had to lose an ugly, embarrassing, home court, totally unnecessary game - coming in as the Defending National Champions, no less - well, at least it was to Wofford.
The Terriers sprang the upset of the year (decade? century?) playing on the North Carolina Tar Heels’ home court. UNC men’s basketball has been my favorite all time team, in any sport, since I was in diapers - the clothe kind. My dad went to UNC, graduated, went into the Navy at the end of WWII, courted and married my mom, then settled into a career working for Oscar Mayer. All along the way, we watched the Tar Heels. Reveling when they won national championships, and beat Duke. Hitting rock bottom when they had losing seasons (not often) and lost to Duke.
Then, on a Wednesday night last month, they lost to Wofford. UNC has had other “stunners,” like Davidson, but this was so totally unexpected. To be fair, if college basketball at the DI level teaches us anything it is, if you play your worst game and they play their best game, then anything can happen. And, the Tar Heels have this reputation of being too complacent sometimes on their home court. That’s why Matt Dorroty moved the students to floor level, and the wine-and-cheese crowd back a few rows, trying to get a little Cameron Indoor Stadium feel into the Dean Dome. For his trouble, he got fired. Roy Williams doesn’t mind them losing sometimes, as he inexplicably juggles the line-up in early season games, so they can get fired up to win later. The Heels bounced back from the Wofford loss to beat Ohio State.
In a really good NCAA.com article, writer Andy Katz quotes Wofford men’s basketball head coach Mike Young as saying, “I love this place. I love the kids. I love the people we have an opportunity to recruit. The high character. They’re fun to coach. And they all graduate. I love Spartanburg. My wife has a great job at Pricewaterhouse. It’s home. It’s what we have built. I’m proud of that. And I believe we can make it better and better. That’s why I have stayed. ... It’s not just any regular-season win. It’s North Carolina. You’ve seen them. They’re good, they’re really good.’’
My oldest child, Dr. Victoria MacDonald, loved it, too, spent four great years there, got her degree, then spent four more years getting her University of South Carolina Pharmacy degree. Her student loans are larger than the national debt of six Third World Countries, combined.
We’re already getting fired up for this time in 2018 when the Tar Heels play inside Wofford’s new Jerry Richardson Center, although by then, it might have a new name (another story). Me, because I want the Tar Heels to get revenge. Tori, because she wants Wofford to beat them again. And again, in 2019, playing at Chapel Hill.
UNC basketball coaches have a long tradition of playing games against the teams coached by former players and assistants, though that’s not the case with Wofford. The Heels head coaches know lots of people will come out to see them play, so the little arenas will have packed houses, and the games at the Dean Dome give the opponents and their fans a chance to experience “big time” basketball.
The Heels didn’t look so “big time,” however, when Wofford’s junior guard Fletcher Magee was scoring 27 points, junior forward Cameron Jackson was scoring 18 and grabbing nine boards, Wofford was forcing 14 Carolina turnovers to its 10, and the Heels were shooting 28 percent on 3s. North Carolina was looking like a JV team - and not the good kind, not the Alcindor-UCLA JV team. Far from it.
The 3-pointer is basketball’s great equalizer - you hit them while your opponent is making 2s, and you can wipe out a lead really quickly, or pad a lead really quickly. If you’re ahead by 50 and still shooting them, you need a sportsmanship lesson. There is a shot clock, so bad teams are forced to take bad shots just to avoid the buzzer - something that has done nothing to improve the quality of basketball.
Wofford’s Coach Young is 54, and he spent 13 years as a Terriers assistant before spending the last 16 as the head coach. Getting a really good coach and hanging onto him-her is one of the ways smaller programs can become competitive. Before beating Carolina, Wofford was 0-22 against ranked opponents, but the Terriers have beaten Georgia Tech, Purdue, Virginia Tech, NC State, Clemson and Cincinnati in its past. The NCAA.com article explains, “The win over NC State was the last game for the Wolfpack in Reynolds Coliseum on Dec. 4, 2014. The Terriers beat Clemson on Nov. 21, 1999. The win over Purdue was Dec. 19, 2007. The Boilermakers weren’t ranked at the time but did finish the season in the top 25. The win over Virginia Tech was Dec. 2, 2002. The 91-90 triumph against the Bearcats came on Nov. 21, 2006.”
And, “the little guys” are having a pretty good season - Fort Wayne knocked off Indiana, and Furman hung tough against Tennessee, and East Tennessee State led by more than 20 against Xavier (Mercer beat Duke in the 2014 NCAA tournament, sorry, just couldn’t resist).
Lots of basketball is left to be played, don’t get too self-satisfied, Tar Heels, somebody’s always looking to sneak up on you.
(Vic MacDonald, a native of Greensboro, NC, is Editor of The Clinton Chronicle. His column appears each month in the newspaper and in Blogs at MyClintonNews.com. Contact him at 833-1900 or firstname.lastname@example.org)