And that's a wrap on our men's college basketball season
Posted March 25
I was in high school the last time the state of North Carolina didn’t have at least one team reach the Sweet 16. Black Sunday in 1979 wiped out Duke and North Carolina the same day at Reynolds Coliseum.
This year, a 24-hour period took out three of the four Triangle teams from the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo summed it up pretty well.
"There should be a day of silence when the entire North Carolina contingent is eliminated from the tournament on the first weekend," Izzo said.
Here are some of my thoughts on the four teams from the Triangle that made it to the NCAA tournament.
The Blue Devils had a freshman lottery pick in Jabari Parker and a sure-fire first round selection in Rodney Hood. But there were holes in the line-up that needed patching in order for the Devils to succeed.
They had no consistent play at the point or in the post and it seemed everyone had the key to a staple of the program: lock-down defense.
Even with the deficiencies that were there, to lose in the opening round of the NCAA tournament was a stunning way to end the season. Youthful talent was beaten by experienced talent.
After last season ended, Roy Williams was a little surprised that Reggie Bullock left for the NBA. But the coach figured with PJ Hairston returning, their perimeter game would be fine -- we all know the drama of the NCAA investigation into Hairston’s impermissible benefits.
Confidence that Hairson would be able to play part of the season melted away and the decision was made by his own school to not seek reinstatement. Leslie McDonald was able to play only after serving his nine-game NCAA suspension.
After a 1-4 start in the ACC, Roy Williams did an outstanding job of getting the wheels back on.
Moving forward to the NCAA tournament, there were two lasting images for me. James Michael McAdoo, a 53 percent free-throw shooter, toed the line in a tie game with Providence. There was a long delay for officials to check the clock which is just what a 50-50 free throw shooter needs. But McAdoo sank two game-winning free throws and after the game, I was in the first wave of reporters to talk with James Michael. The smile on his face and excitement in his voice were priceless.
Two days later, in the losing locker room, Marcus Paige sat slumped in a corner with tears streaming down his face. He was literally shaking with shock of how the game against Iowa State and the season had ended. We asked him if he wanted to take a few minutes before we talked to him,
“No, I got this,” he said.
Marcus proceeded to explain what he could and took blame for a costly mistake he made late in the game. This tells you how strong and how great a person Marcus Paige is.
TJ Warren worked himself into a Player of the Year candidate and it payed off individually and for the team. A lot of athletes work hard, but Warren also worked extra.
Coaches worked with him to extend his jump shot three more feet. That allowed him to make a few more three-pointers and also created more floor space for him navigate to the basket. Is there a better 6-foot-8 floater in the country?
Warren also matured a lot in the off-season and benefited from the transfer of Rodney Purvis. Not because of playing time, it’s because Warren and Purvis simply didn’t get along and the rift had an impact on both.
As disappointing as last year’s team was, this year’s squad was quite surprising. If you told Wolfpack fans heading into the season that their team would make the NCAA tournament, even some of the most ardent wouldn’t believe it.
With a mixture of players that had never played together, Mark Gottfried and his staff did an outstanding job of putting a puzzle together that was good enough to finish 9-9 in the ACC and reach their 3rd straight NCAA tournament.
Unless you are one of the Big 3 in the Triangle, you can get lost on Tobacco Road. This year, the Eagles made a bold statement as the only Division I basketball team in the Triangle to win a championship.
From the MEAC championship game came one of the lasting images of the year. As the final seconds were ticking down, the daughter of coach LeVelle Moton formed a heart with her fingers, a game-day tradition. When Moton looked across the court and saw it, tears welled up and began to trickle down his cheeks. The love from his daughter and the impact of the championship moment was overwhelming. North Carolina Central was on its way to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
I have known LeVelle Moton since he was a shooting star at Enloe High School and I shot many of the games he played at NC Central. He comes from the projects of Raleigh and told me he could have just as easily ended up at Central Prison as NC Central. But he had a mother who wouldn’t allow it and the Boys and Girls Club that gave him basketball as an outlet. He has used it well.
NC Central benefited greatly from March Madness and Moton shared a story with me once they arrived in San Antonio.
A couple of nights before, he was in the check-out line at Wal-Mart wearing a NC Central shirt. A lady in front of him turned and said, “Aren’t you just geeked that they are in the tournament!”.
Moton smiled and answered, “I’m extremely geeked that they are in the tournament!!”
One of the lady’s friends quickly said “Hey, that’s the coach isn’t it?”
LeVelle Moton and his program at NCCU are gaining more and more recognition.
“The best marketers in the world can’t design this game plan,” Moton explained.