Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Ceiling Is the Roof

Carolina played terribly. Gonzaga also wasn’t good. And the refereeing nearly suffocated the life out of the second half, making everyone miserable.

But I enjoyed it.

Somehow my alma mater, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, managed to play two of their worst games all season on Saturday and Monday and still won the men’s basketball national championship. Saturday’s game was particularly nonsensical, with the Heels missing four consecutive free throws at the end yet still managing to secure a one-point win over Oregon. Last night’s final versus Gonzaga was similarly nuts throughout, with only a lucky break or three during the last couple of minutes swinging things UNC’s way in the end.

That post title, of course, comes from Michael Jordan’s funny, tripped-up-and-tangled sign off to a halftime speech he gave at the last regular season UNC-Duke game this year in which he was referring to the football team’s prospects.

“I wish you guys nothing but the best,” said Jordan. “The ceiling is the roof. Let’s make it happen.”

By the next game UNC students and fans were wearing t-shirts acknowledging the phrase. And as the NCAA run continued, so, too, did the “meme” created by the absurdity. And frankly, given how absurdly some of the games went (including last night’s), it felt appropriate. A goof that turned out all right.

Having grown up on Dean Smith’s disciplined teams that always seemed to be thinking a couple of steps ahead at any given moment, these last few seasons of UNC basketball have provided quite a contrast. This year in particular, the games have been especially chaotic thanks to a style that mostly shuns set offenses in favor of fast breaks and first-opportunity shots.

The ability to rebound (they led the nation in that stat) made up for a lot of deficits for UNC this year, enabling them to win despite poor shooting and/or game management. Still, for most of the season -- and particularly the last few games of the NCAA tournament -- I couldn’t help thinking of the poker-related term “high variance” whenever watching them play.

It was like watching a nonstop series of preflop all-ins, with UNC winning just enough of them to keep from going broke, then ultimately winning the last one to take down the tournament. Most were “coin flips,” although Carolina got it in bad plenty of times and won (and got it in good sometimes and lost).

Last night there were banked in three-pointers, crazy loose-ball scrambles resulting in momentum-swinging buckets, missed free throws galore, and oh-so-many bad shots. Both teams ended up having hit just over one of three attempts for the game, with Carolina an incredible 4-for-27 from three. Just brutal, with all that clanging of balls off rims and backboards introducing a ton of randomness into the outcome.

So, too, did the refs, who were unbelievably whistle-happy, inconsistent, and just flat-out wrong on many occasions. There were 22 fouls called in the first 12 minutes of the second half, not too far shy of one per possession. That upped the variance even more.

All that said, after the previous games I’d already resigned myself to pulling not so much for good, solid play from my team, but merely for us to get lucky at the end -- as happened against Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oregon this year, and as failed to happen for the Heels in the title game against Villanova a year ago.

I remember 1982 (with Jordan) and 1993 vividly, and while 2005 and 2009 were nice, they haven’t stuck with me the same way. I think 2017 will, though, if only because of how uncanny it felt watching games with such an incredibly high level of uncertainty for such extended periods.

Last night’s game wasn’t so much like ace-king versus two queens (over and over). It was more like jack-four versus ten-nine suited. Still a thrill for those invested, and damn I’m glad things fell the way they did.

Photo: Ytravel.

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Blogger Memphis MOJO said...

their worst games all season on Saturday and Monday

Sometimes good teams make other teams look bad. Gonzaga was a very good team who did that.

What do you think about Roy Williams? I thought he did a good coaching job this season, but understand if others disagree.

4/04/2017 7:02 PM  
Blogger Tino said...

The Heels owned the last minutes of the tourny games. That was due to coach Williams brilliance.

4/04/2017 11:50 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, Memphis & Tino. I like Roy, though after growing up with Dean Smith who always had such control over the proceedings, it's hard sometimes to go along with Roy's "let 'em play" approach.

You're right, Tino, about UNC having an apparent edge at the ends of several of the games this year, although blowing those leads vs. KY and Oregon made things pretty hair-raising in the final minute. Still felt like a lot of randomness there at the ends of games (with loose balls, refs' calls, etc.), but UNC did seize opportunities.

4/06/2017 8:17 AM  

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