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Silence Deafening in Response to North Carolina Meltdown

February 10, 2012

Austin Rivers' three-pointer capped North Carolina's meltdown.

Team blows lead…player misses key free throw…team gives up three-pointer to lose the game…coach gets ripped in the national media and on blogs as a guy who only recruits, just rolls the ball out at practice and doesn’t really know Xs and Os well enough to coach. That’s the flow right? Well, apparently it depends.

If the coach is John Calipari, the answer is emphatically yes. If the coach in question is…say…Roy Williams, apparently it’s no big deal.

Like…I don’t know…several million other people, I sat and watched the Duke-North Carolina game last night. I watched North Carolina take over the game just before halftime, open up a 12-point lead late in the second half, blow that lead and then give up a relatively unguarded three to Austin Rivers (a Duke player as low on the likability scale as Wojo in his prime) to lose the game.

If Cal had been on the North Carolina bench, he would be getting KILLED right now. There would be a deafening roar from the “Cal Can’t Coach” crowd. They’d go back to the 2008 National Championship game against Kansas, and back to the Indiana game this year and write about how unprepared the players were, because they didn’t have a coach, they had a recruiter.

Nobody appears to have written that about Roy Williams today, even though the argument could be easily made.  There was only one way Duke could have beaten North Carolina last night and North Carolina gave it to them. Duke had to get good looks from the three-point line. And they got bunches of them. Carolina slid under screen after screen, giving Rivers and Seth Curry more room than they needed to net 10 of Duke’s 14 three-pointers. And – after Tyler Zeller missed a crucial free throw – Carolina defended a soft screen at the top of the key absolutely as poorly as it could be done, allowing Zeller to get switched onto Rivers. Zeller then chose to sort of consider guarding Rivers who buried the shot over Zeller’s marginal (at best) pressure.

Give Them TenCarolina had allowed itself to be beaten by a team it was physically superior to and ranked higher than while playing at home. The Tar Heels consistently allowed Duke to play to its strength, and looked confused on the game’s most crucial play. And it wasn’t that North Carolina didn’t have the means to stop and discuss what was going to happen in those final 13 seconds. They returned to their locker room with two time outs left to take (another common Roy Williams theme). Does anybody remember the absolute beating Cal took for not calling a timeout in 2008? Anybody?

By the way, there are a couple of major differences in Cal’s losses in 2008 against Kansas and 2011 against Indiana. In the Kansas game, the three-pointer didn’t win the game, only tied it. And the shot wasn’t nearly as open as the one Rivers hit last night. Plus the Kansas game was obviously on a neutral court. In the Indiana game, Cal had a young team, on the road for the first time, and in foul trouble. They struggled through the entire game, not leading until there was 7:30 left in the game and never led by more than 4. Far from being killed for the coaching job he did there, he should have been celebrated for getting that UK team to keep that game close.

Oh, and Cal is 4-1 head-to-head against Williams.

Look, I’m no Cal apologist. Half the time I’m barely a fan (except for the wins. I really like the wins a lot). But the “he just recruits and rolls the ball out” line has NEVER been fair. It is stunning to me that that myth survived the incredible job he turned in last year with a roster that ended up being shorter and less talented than he had imagined it would be.

But if we’re going to continue to sling that line at Cal, it’s only fair that it gets spread around wherever the evidence suggests it belongs.

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