Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Reflections on the Madness

Well, the 2009 NCAA Tournament went out with a real whimper on Monday night, as UNC came to play, took a huge lead early over the well over-matched Michigan State Spartans and simply never took their hands off of MSU's collective neck from that point on. It was a truly impressive performance, albeit not very compelling television, as UNC blew through every single competitor it faced in six tournament games by double-digits, the first time that has happened since Duke's national title back in 2001. In the end it was a very solid 89-72 win for the Tar Heels, who nabbed their fifth national title by 17 points for the largest national title game margin of victory in 17 years.

To completely understand what a beating Monday night was, the Spartans led one time in the entire game, at 3-2. That lead lasted exactly 19 seconds, until the Heels went up 5-3 on a 3-pointer and just never even considered looking back. Carolina was quickly up 10 points after just 4:04 into the game. That lead ballooned to 15 points after just 7:03. By just 9:38 into the national title game, MSU was already down 20 points. After heading into halftime with a 21-point lead, the Tar Heels never allowed MSU to get closer than 14 points, keeping the lead between 17 and 23 points for almost the entire second half of the first half and almost the entire second half of the game. There was never that run, or even in my view any concern about a run from MSU, and you got the sense from watching that Carolina could have easily ran up 120 points if they had needed to in this game. Carolina outshot Michigan State from the field 46% to 40%, 41% to 30% from 3-point land, and Carolina took 11 more free throws and made seven more than the Spartans. Carolina also tallied nine steals to just one from MSU, and perhaps the most damning stat of the game for the Spartans given UNC's scoring prowess, North Carolina generated 21 turnovers by MSU, while making only seven turnovers themselves. It was about as thorough of a beating as I can recall in the NCAA finals since that glorious day when that sick UNLV team in 1990 lambasted Duke 103-73 for the biggest crush in NCAA Finals history.

When I think about what happened on Monday night, what it really comes down to in my mind was Carolina elevating itself to among the elite NCAA tournament teams of all time. UNC was the consensus #1 team coming in to the 2008-2009 season, and despite some hiccups and even starting 0-2 in ACC play, they ended the season showing everyone just what had been expected of them before college basketball began some five months ago, so it's not like this team came out of nowhere or played above its head at the end here. No, UNC came into the title game expected to win, but what they did in drubbing MSU so badly from start to finish is cement this 2009 squad as having one of March Madness's all-time greats.

Consider this: in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, each of UNC's six victories was by double digits -- the first time that has happened since eight years ago. In fact, this was only the sixth time in history that a team won all of its NCAA tournament games by at least 10 points (Indiana 1981, UCLA 1967, Michigan State 1979 and 2000, Duke 2001, and UNC 2009). That 2000 Michigan State team won every game by double figures, but its largest victory after the first round cakewalk game was 17 points, while Carolina's last four opponents fell by 21, 12, 14 and 17. The 2001 Duke national champions also won all six of their games by at least 10 points, but they trailed Maryland in the Final Four by a whopping 22 points before powering their way back to victory. What's more, UNC's 55 first-half points on Monday night are a new title-game record, to go along with their record 21-point halftime lead.

UNC's average margin of victory over all six of its NCAA Tournament games this year was 20.2 points -- the fifth largest in NCAA history, and the largest average margin of victory since Kentucky in 1996, whose average margin of victory was 21.5. But that Tony Delk-, Antoine Walker- and Ron Mercer-led Kentucky squad's Final Four game was won by just 7 points, and the National Championship game by just 9 points, both reasonably close games. Carolina beat Nova the other day by 14 points to make the finals, and then with a 17-point victory in the title game, I believe this makes what UNC did this year stand out among all NCAA tournament runs since the expansion to 64 teams back in 1985. With a combined margin of victory of 16 points over its last four games in this year's Tournament, against No. 4, 2, 3 and 2 seeds, this team truly took on all comers and more or less crushed them all.

As I said, in a way it's unfortunate how badly Carolina took it to Michigan State to end the 2009 NCAA Tournament, because as far as tv goes, that was about as low as it gets. Not only did the game end in a blowout, but it even began in a blowout, and the blowout was administered by exactly the team everyone was expecting to administer it. But between the lines, Carolina put the icing on another terrific season, and on an NCAA Tournament for the Ages with its 17-point drubbing of MSU to win its fifth national title in Detroit.

Labels: , ,


Blogger BWoP said...

But that Tony Delk-, Antoine Walker- and Ron Mercer-led Kentucky squad's Final Four game was won by just 7 points, and the National Championship game by just 9 points, both reasonably close games.

You had to remind me about that, didn't you?

5:25 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home