The Day That Was
National Titles, UNC’s dominance and new coaches.
Our fair college basketball season has finally reached its conclusion with last night’s 89-72 victory by North Carolina over an overmatched Michigan State Spartan team. The Tarheels entered the season as the favorite, spent much of the season near the top of the nation’s pecking order (those silly polls), and finished by playing a beautiful last two months of the season. Impressive, late-season double-digit wins over the likes of Oklahoma, Gonzaga, Villanova, Duke (twice) and Michigan State bookended a great season for a team that was decimated with injuries but still managed to win the ACC regular season and procure a No. 1-seed in the Tournament.
As has become the norm with this team, Carolina won the national title on the “heels” of a full-team effort. Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough were great during their six-game jaunt to the title, but nothing would have been ultimately achieved if not for the supporting cast that surrounds Head Coach Roy Williams’ last two ACC Players of the Year.
In a sport (and event) where guard-play is often “pubbed” as the most important variable for ultimate success, it was Carolina’s ability to dominate the paint early on that proved to be the difference. Against an opponent like MSU, that will usually dictate play inside/on the backboards, the Tarheels not only drove from the perimeter with relative ease, but were able to pound the post and crash the offensive glass (Deon Thompson, especially) on their way to a lead that promptly swelled to 20 points only 10 minutes into the contest. Michigan State was unable to evoke the ghosts of 20 years ago as Kalin Lucas, Goran Suton and the rest of Tom Izzo’s crew continually settled for perimeter jumpers early in the shot-clock, rendering themselves a shell of the team that had shocked the basketball community by being in the final game in the first place.
From there, Wayne Ellington took over, finishing the half with 17 points and almost single-handedly squelching a late first-half Spartan run, keeping the Carolina advantage at a robust 21 going into intermission; a lead that would not be relinquished nor compromised.
Simply put, the Spartans were outclassed from the opening tip and assumed a fate similar to that endured by UNC’s previous five opponents.
Hats off to the North Carolina Tarheels, the 2009 National Champions!
The day in college basketball, however, was not solely focused on the national title game that went down in Detroit. Around the country, two major programs filled vacancies with young up-and-coming stars in the coaching ranks. For starters, now ex-Xavier boss Sean Miller finally accepted the seemingly ideal job at Arizona after other suitors (including himself just the day before) had turned down the opportunity. For a program that can boast an awesome fan base, a great arena, a national championship history, and access to the top players from Los Angeles, the west and the south, the Wildcat’s athletic department sure struggled to fill the void left by long-time head, Lute Olsen. (I have been more than vocal about current assistant, Mike Dunlap, who basically was the interim coach this year. I am more than curious to see which lucky school swoops him up.) Although, Miller tried to be loyal to his guys back at Xavier (they will be loaded next year), working at a major program in a town like Tucson has to be a better set-up than his old digs back in “The Natty.”
It was the other major signing yesterday, however, that got my attention. Kudos to Memphis University in its inking of Josh Pastner as the incumbent to the now-Kentucky head John Calipari. Many around the basketball world might not be familiar with the young Pastner, but believe me, this is a hiring that will reverberate around the Mid-South for years. Not only does Pastner already have a year with his future Tiger players (Wesley Witherspoon, Roburt Sallie and Angel Garcia to name a few) as an assistant, but he will also provide the Memphis program inside access and probable signings from one of the nation’s largest and (as of late) most fertile recruiting grounds, in Houston, Texas. (Pastner’s father, Hal, basically started and runs AAU ball in the city and Josh has been involved with coaching since he was still a player himself on the older Houston Hoops’ teams.)
Yes, the kid is young (31 years old) but he is more than ready for his first head-coaching gig. Oddly enough, Pastner cut his collegiate teeth on the court and on the bench in Tucson at the aforementioned, U of Arizona before taking the assistant’s job at Memphis last summer. To be truthful, that university should have made Pastner some promises while Coach Olsen was struggling with his health/passion. The hire for Memphis will surely not bring the national splash and flair that a Bruce Pearl or Leonard Hamilton might have, but it will guarantee the Tigers’ continued national relevance from their perch high atop Conference-USA.
With the season now officially over, fear not! For those of you diehards of the college game (and those that want to know what they are talking about before/during/after the draft) Cub Scouts will continue during the off-season with breakdowns of potential draft selections, sit-downs with coaches and players and much, much more.
Check Cub Buenning’s scouting website for weekly player reports.