The Washington Post
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| ||North Carolina tends to go as Raymond Felton goes, losing all three games in which he played innefectively or not at all. (AP) |
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page G4
How They Could Win It All
By most accounts, North Carolina possesses the most talent of any team in the ACC. The Tar Heels feature at least four players expected to play in the NBA. North Carolina's sixth man, freshman Marvin Williams, is generally viewed as a top 10 pick in the NBA draft should he decide to turn pro after this season.
"Probably no one," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said, "has the luxury to bring someone like that off the bench."
Coach Roy Williams's team benefits by having a trio of standout players who decided to stay for their junior seasons: Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants. Felton is one of the ACC's two fastest point guards, along with Wake Forest's Chris Paul. McCants has developed into an efficient scorer. And May provides a post presence that most teams cannot match. In addition, senior Jawad Williams, who played on the Tar Heels team that finished 8-20 in 2001-02, provides another scoring option. Said North Carolina State Coach Herb Sendek, "They can score in every conceivable way."
Like Wake Forest, North Carolina can push the ball in transition as well as anyone in the nation, and the Tar Heels also are among the conference leaders in points, field goal percentage and three-point defense. In short, they are considered favorites to win this tournament -- and the one that starts next week.
How They Could Lose It All
Many have already penciled in North Carolina to reach the Final Four, but as history has shown, upsets are possible, and even likely, in a four-day conference tournament. For example, Kentucky's 1995-96 team, which featured a host of future NBA players and is considered one of the best teams of the past decade, was beaten in the Southeastern Conference tournament before storming to the national title.
North Carolina could take a similar route to its first national title since 1993. Roy Williams, however, has repeatedly said how important the regular season and conference tournament title are to the Tar Heels. His rationale: Win either the conference tournament or the regular season title and an impressive seed in the NCAA tournament will follow. The Tar Heels wrapped up the regular season crown on Sunday.
Last season, the same group of Tar Heels did not mesh. This season, there appears to be no signs of rebelling against Williams's system. That said, North Carolina lost to a middling Santa Clara program to open the season and was beaten handily at Wake Forest. Last season, sixth-seeded Maryland beat the top three seeds en route to the ACC tournament title, demonstrating that major upsets are possible. But for the Tar Heels to fall short of at least reaching the final, it would take just that: a major upset.
Raymond Felton's play is crucial to North Carolina's chances. On the rare occasions he is ineffective, the Tar Heels suffer. North Carolina lost its season opener to Santa Clara while Felton was suspended for playing in an unsanctioned summer league. In a 95-82 loss to Wake Forest on Jan. 15, Felton was outplayed by Chris Paul and made only 5 of 18 shots. And in a 71-70 loss at Duke on Feb. 9, Felton committed eight turnovers and failed to generate a shot on North Carolina's final possession.
The junior, who was considered the nation's best point guard in his high school senior class, perfectly complements all of North Carolina's weapons. He is ultra-fast and among the league leaders in three-point shooting, assists and steals. Occasionally, though, he turns over the ball more than one would expect from a player of his caliber.
Felton worked diligently on improving his shooting form in the offseason. Coach Roy Williams has noted that Felton had the tendency to allow his right elbow to fly out during his shooting motion, which contributed to a sub-par performance last season. This season has been different; he made a school-record 12 consecutive three-pointers during a stretch in December. Most of all, Felton is adept at leading North Carolina's fast break, putting his teammates in good positions to score. As North Carolina State's Julius Hodge told the Durham (N.C.) Herald Sun, "He's the head of the monster."
One Shining ACC Moment
Entering the 1989 edition, North Carolina had not won the ACC tournament since its national title season of 1981-82 and had lost the previous season's ACC final to arch rival Duke. What ensued in 1989 didn't win any awards for fundamentals, but it rivals most any game in terms of intensity. In the game's first five minutes, Duke's Danny Ferry was accidentally clipped, opening a six-inch cut on his cheek. Duke's Phil Henderson and Carolina's King Rice engaged in a brief scuffle during a timeout. Even the coaches, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Carolina's Dean Smith, exchanged words at one point.
The game wasn't decided until Ferry's 70-foot heave bounced off the rim at the buzzer, giving the Tar Heels a 77-74 victory. Asked about Ferry's shot, Smith sighed and said: "The old man would have had a heart attack if that had gone in. . . . This was a good one."
Honorable Mention: 1982. Trying to get Virginia out of its zone, Carolina held the ball for most of the final 7 1/2 minutes, during which five points were scored. Smith said afterward, "It takes two to have a slower game." North Carolina won, 47-45. The game featured a slew of stars, including North Carolina's James Worthy, Sam Perkins and "Mike" Jordan, and Virginia's Ralph Sampson.
ACC Tournament Section
• After 15 years, the Nation's Capital plays host to country's premier conference tournament.
• John Feinstein: In a glut of tournaments, this one still matters.
• Tournament info and records
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