A Matchup of Historic Proportions
Sunday, March 25, 2007
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 24 -- Patrick Ewing Jr. laughs when he is asked if he and his father have ever sat down to watch a tape of the 1982 NCAA final, in which North Carolina beat Georgetown and Patrick Ewing Sr., 63-62.
"Oh yes. And we always talk about the Villanova game. That's our favorite one to watch," said Ewing Jr., referring to the Hoyas' 66-64 loss to the Wildcats in the 1985 final. "No, we lost those games, so of course we're not going to watch them. But you can watch the Houston [1984 championship] game anytime you want, though."
Sunday's NCAA East Region final between top-seeded North Carolina and second-seeded Georgetown inside Continental Airlines Arena does not need any extra embellishment. The Tar Heels (31-6) are back in the region final after a one-year absence; they won the 2005 national title and then were upset by George Mason in the second round last year. The Hoyas (29-6) will be playing in their first region final since 1996, and are trying to make the Final Four for the first time since 1985.
But the fact that this year marks the 25th anniversary of that memorable championship game -- in which freshman Michael Jordan, whose silhouette now adorns the Hoyas' shoes, hit the game-winning shot -- adds an extra layer to the contest.
No one on either roster was alive when that game was played, though the coaches for both teams were intimately involved. Georgetown Coach John Thompson III, 41, was in high school, and watched his father coach the Hoyas from a seat opposite their bench at the Superdome. North Carolina Coach Roy Williams, 56, was in his fourth season as a Tar Heels assistant, and was on the bench with his "dark black hair."
"Obviously, the Carolina-Georgetown '82 questions are flying around," said Thompson, an All-Met forward who was recruited by former Tar Heels Coach Dean Smith, a close friend of John Thompson Jr. "I know from where I sit -- I don't know whether Carolina people agree with it -- I think our programs are almost like cousins. . . . But at the end of the day, we are two teams that are both playing very well right now."
That, more than anything else, is why this matchup between the champions of the Big East and the ACC was so eagerly hoped for when the brackets were revealed two weeks ago. North Carolina and Georgetown have two of the most efficient offenses in the country -- each team is shooting 50 percent -- though one plays at a much more deliberate pace than the other.
The Tar Heels average 17 more points per game and take 14 more shots per game than the Hoyas. Williams used 12 players in North Carolina's 74-64 region semifinal win over USC, and it is a sign of his team's explosiveness and depth that in the game-changing 18-0 run, sophomore forward Tyler Hansbrough -- who was averaging 27 points in the tournament -- did not score a basket.
Few teams have been able to run on the Hoyas, who are patient on offense and force opponents to defend them for long stretches of the shot clock.
"From the start, we have to create a tempo that's beneficial to us," Georgetown junior guard Jonathan Wallace said. "We can't get into a run-and-gun matchup because they are just too deep. A lot of teams fault themselves if they try to do that early. They are going to make runs, but we have to hang around and wear them down with our size."
Georgetown 7-foot-2 junior Roy Hibbert is five inches taller than North Carolina's tallest players (Hansbrough, and freshmen Brandan Wright and Alex Stepheson). But the 6-foot-9 Wright actually has a longer wingspan than Hibbert; Wright says his is 7 feet 5, which is an inch longer than Hibbert's. Hansbrough may be shorter than Hibbert, but he is strong and physical.
"Once the ball gets thrown into him, he's not passing it," Hibbert said. "He's very good around the basket. He's very good at getting his own rebounds. I'm going to have my hands full."
Said Georgetown forward Jeff Green: "They have Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright, who are both tough guys down low. They are tough to deal with so it is going to be hard to outmuscle them."
Hibbert has been known to stay up late to watch classic Georgetown games; the night before the Hoyas beat Marquette on Feb. 10, he watched a telecast of the classic 1985 Georgetown-St. John's encounter known as "the sweater game." But Hibbert won't be doing that Saturday night with the 1982 championship game.
"I've watched it before," Hibbert said. "We don't have ESPN Classic in our hotel room, so I won't be watching that, unfortunately. I'll be in bed."