Carolina heads, heels above rest

March 09, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Michael Heary vs. Ed Cota, Hassan Booker vs. Antawn Jamison, Matt Sladky vs. Vince Carter -- ah, forget it.

"I can't tell you how we're going to match up," Navy men's basketball coach Don DeVoe said. "I haven't figured it out."

He's not going to, and neither will any other coach in the NCAA tournament.

North Carolina is too good.

As long as Antawn Jamison can walk, the Tar Heels should win the national title -- and Jamison made a rather miraculous recovery, didn't he?

He certainly looked fine in the ACC tournament final yesterday, scoring 22 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in Carolina's 83-68 victory over Duke.

And trust us, he won't need to extend himself against Navy and Carolina's second-round opponent, North Carolina-Charlotte or Illinois-Chicago.

Maryland fans probably view Duke as the superior ACC power -- the Terps lost twice to the Blue Devils by a combined 59 points, yet were one of three teams to beat the Tar Heels, and nearly did it twice.

Those games were significant, but not nearly as significant as the three Carolina-Duke matchups. The Tar Heels dominated for 110 of 120 minutes, faltering only when they blew a 17-point second-half lead at Cameron.

Their top four players -- Cota, Jamison, Carter and Shammond Williams -- are better than anyone on Duke's roster. Their one loss to Duke was on the road by two points. Their victories were by 24 at home and 15 on a neutral court.

Why was Duke ranked No. 1?

The reason is simple -- the Blue Devils lost only one other game, to Michigan. They struggled in the ACC tournament, but they're still the second-best team in the NCAA, and a Carolina-Duke title game looks entirely possible.

Indeed, this could be the year when all four No. 1 seeds make the Final Four. Carolina, Duke, Kansas and Arizona are a combined 120-13. Five of those losses were to each other. Two were by Kansas without Raef LaFrentz.

It all sets up rather nicely -- if the Tar Hells can survive Navy.

The Mids own Carolina, as their 14-5 all-time record attests.

Of course, their last meeting was in 1959.

If nothing else, this game will decide bragging rights in Dakar, Senegal, the home of Carolina's Makhtar Ndiaye and Navy's Sitapha Savane.

The Mids rarely play zone, but DeVoe plans to abandon the man-to-man ship against Carolina, noting that his team is "really overmatched in size."

C'mon, Don, it's all relative.

The 6-foot-3 Booker drew Utah's 6-10 Keith Van Horn in last year's NCAA tournament. This year he'll catch a break: Jamison is only 6-9.

Then there's Skip Victor, the Navy defensive specialist who carries five combination locks as lucky charms.

He'll need a safe to stop Williams.

Too bad Dean Smith is retired. It would have been great hearing him talk up Navy, the Patriot League and all things Annapolis.

"We don't often face many future military officers," Dean might have said. "Frankly, we might be intimidated."

For his part, DeVoe said he was "very surprised" to draw Carolina: Navy, with a higher Rating Percentage Index ranking (173) than both Radford (181) and Prairie View A&M (263), figured to play a lesser No. 1 seed.

The Tar Heels, presumably, rated the highest of the No. 1s, but the tournament committee evidently didn't want Navy and Prairie View to travel too far to take their whippings.

So, lucky Prairie View -- the team with the lowest RPI in tournament history -- gets to face Kansas in "nearby" Oklahoma City, not that it will matter.

Prairie View is -- ahem -- a 36-point underdog.

"I'm going to tell my players that we're going to win the basketball game," Prairie View coach Elwood Plummer said. "Kansas is Kansas, but Prairie View is Prairie View. We've won our last five games to get here."

Actually, the Prairie View placement was the least of the committee's offenses. Used to be that an ACC team needed an 8-8 regular-season league record to ensure a berth. No more.

Florida State finished 6-10 in the conference, lost 11 of its final 16 games and bowed out of the ACC tournament with a quarterfinal loss to North Carolina State.

Purdue, meanwhile, earned a No. 2 seed without winning the Big Ten regular-season title or conference tournament, and despite losing back-to-back games to Iowa by 19 and Penn State by 11 in late February.

This is Kansas' main threat?

It's the Carolina conspiracy: The committee paved the road to the Final Four for former Tar Heels assistant Roy Williams, and provided Bill Guthridge's team with a home-cooked meal between Hartford and San Antonio.

That's right, the Tar Heels' next stop would be none other than Greensboro, N.C., where they would face Princeton in the Sweet 16 and Connecticut in the regional final.

Princeton, the No. 5 seed in the East, could play three fascinating games -- first UNLV, then Eastern Michigan's 5-foot-5 Earl Boykins, then Carolina. The Tigers' one loss this season was at Chapel Hill -- 50-42 on Dec. 18.

They're not going to beat Carolina in Greensboro. Duke won't beat Carolina in San Antonio.

Anchors aweigh, Midshipmen!

You're facing the eventual national champion.

Pub Date: 3/09/98

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