Heels on top, but can they stay?

Published 10:46 am Monday, February 29, 2016

One week to go, and time to review.

I said at the beginning of this college basketball season that the regular-season title, at least, was Carolina’s to lose, and that really hasn’t changed.

Despite stumbling against Louisville, Notre Dame, and horribly at home to (Ugh!) Duke, the Tar Heels (12-3, 23-5) got back on track in a hurry (Thank you, Miami!). Justin Jackson is averaging over 15 points in his last six games. Now if Marcus Paige can maintain his consistency then late is better than never for UNC’s most versatile scoring threat to get going and keep it going.

Miami (11-4, 22-5) is still the only real threat to usurp the title from Roy Williams’ bunch, but Jim Larranaga’s guys are more enigmatic than the Big Blue: they get blown out at UNC, and then beat Virginia two days later. The difference? Miami’s game against Virginia was the slowest tempo the Hurricanes have played all season. Larranaga likes his team to be patient offensively even though it’s a roster that boasts some thoroughbreds. Unlike your namesake, slow down, Canes, you actually play better when you do.

Louisville (11-4, 22-6) has nothing left but pride to play for these remaining four games (yep, not even the ACC Tournament is on their schedule after next Saturday!). Just like the Denny Crum days when they were the ‘Doctors of Dunk’, only to revert to the ‘Lords of Lay-ups’ when their high percentage shots weren’t working, these Cardinals are taking fewer three-pointers while making more of them, and the result has been back-to-back wins with a much more efficient offensive attack. Give Rick Pitino’s bunch some credit: they’re playing well in what’s effectively their postseason tournament.

Virginia (10-5, 21-6) has its ‘Superman’ back. In Malcolm Brogdon’s last three games he’s averaged over 22 points and is shooting at a 70 percent clip. His defense isn’t too shabby either, in holding N.C. State’s Cat Barber to 4-for-12 shooting and shutting down ‘Super Freshman’, Duke’s Brandon Ingram, in the final 15 minutes despite losing at the buzzer at Duke.

Duke (9-5, 20-7) came off the high of beating Carolina in Chapel Hill (some surprise here: Krzyzewski’s Devils have now won something like a dozen of their last 18 games in the DeanDome!) only to face the injury bug. Now injuries to Matt Jones and Derryck Thornton have underlined the scary-slim margin of error faced by Duke this season – Duke simply can’t afford to have anyone get in foul trouble or get injured. It’s hard not to expect the Blue Devils to come back down to earth a bit.

While, in order, Notre Dame (10-5, 19-8), Syracuse (8-7, 18-10), Clemson (9-7, 16-12), Pitt (8-7, 19-8), and Virginia Tech (7-8, 15-13) round out my Top-10, the other two Big Four teams can play the role of spoiler.

For N.C. State (4-11, 14-14), it’s Cat (Barber) be nimble, and Cat be quick, and while I’m still going to vote for him for Player of the Year, only his poor outings against Carolina were blemishes on his resume this winter. I’m willing to give the Cat-Man a pass on that; I’ll just pretend that doesn’t exist. Now finish strong, Pack, and work your usual ACC Tournament mojo.

Finally, the Deacs, where Wake Forest (2-14, 11-17) is still an embryo residing there in the belly of Danny Manning. They haven’t disappointed as much this season as just not being able to pull off one reeeeeally quality upset. But every child has to grow up one day, and Wake’s is probably coming sooner than expected.

Hang on to your own top hats, folks, we’ve still got a wild ride into that Tournament sunset coming up in D.C.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.