Thursday, November 15, 2007

Commentary from The Observer

Yep, college hoops time has arrived

No college basketball game ever ends up as a pure "win-win." Somebody always wins, somebody always loses and emotions divide themselves upon that line.

But North Carolina's 72-68 win against Davidson in Bobcats Arena on Wednesday night came about as close as you can get. The No.1-ranked Tar Heels were forced into boatloads of mistakes and got All-American Tyler Hansbrough only six shots. Yet they survived, making the drive back to Chapel Hill more palatable.

Davidson was on the verge of an enormous upset for much of the game. Despite shooting 4-of-22 from 3-point range, the Wildcats lost by only four points to a team favored to win the national title. If people are paying attention, Davidson should be ranked after this one.

The sellout crowd of 19,299 and an ESPN audience got most everything you could want out of an early-season game, too. Almost evenly split in Davidson red and Tar Heels blue, the crowd roared at every basket, giving the game a tournament feel.

"It wasn't the prettiest win," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said, "but it was a win over a very, very worthy opponent. We were a little shaky early and acted like it was the first basketball game we've ever played."

The Tar Heels got nothing from big men Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson. Point guard Ty Lawson picked up three first-half fouls, didn't score for the first 32 minutes and had one assist and four turnovers. The constantly double-teamed Hansbrough was goaded into a rare technical foul and didn't have a second-half field goal.

Davidson's defensive effort and its coaching game plan were superb. Still, the Tar Heels won, largely because Wayne Ellington looked like an NBA player. Davidson's dazzling Stephen Curry had 24 points but couldn't hit late and was only 2-for-12 from 3-point range.

This game tipped off the best season of college basketball we will get in Charlotte for at least 10 years. The CIAA and ACC tournaments are both here. The NCAA tournament's East regional is here.

Although UNC has a lopsided 61-11 overall lead in this series, there have been other memorable moments. Davidson upset North Carolina 58-54 in Chapel Hill in 2001. That was a loss always held against Matt Doherty while he coached North Carolina.

Another one every old-timer remembers: UNC edged Davidson 87-85 in a 1969 NCAA tournament game to make the Final Four. Charlie Scott -- who while in high school had orally committed to Davidson and coach Lefty Driesell but then changed his mind -- hit the game-winning jumper. Driesell left the next day to coach Maryland.

This one didn't have quite that much drama, but it was close. And while most people are still thinking about football, it was a fine reminder that college basketball has arrived.

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