Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Parting shots from Detroit

AP Photo/ Amy Sancetta

Ford Field hasn’t seen that much excitement in quite some time. The home of the putrid Detroit Lions hosted the NCAA Final Four, and although the title game wasn’t very close, there was still something to smile about at the end of the day, unlike when people leave Lions games.

Detroit hasn’t had much to smile about lately. On the playing field, the Lions couldn’t win a game, the Tigers were being picked as a possible World Series contender but wound up not even contending for a playoff spot, and the Pistons have fallen from grace and are no longer the team that went to six straight Eastern Conference finals (I would also be frowning if this was my team's logo at one point, when they were known as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons). Off the field, and more importantly, the city has been hit hard by the economic recession because of its strong ties to the automobile industry. So not only did the Final Four brighten up the city, but there was hope provided by home-state Michigan State University beating defending champion Kansas and number one overall seed Louisville to reach the Final Four. They continued their magical run by beating the University of Connecticut and moving onto the championship game. While they could not bring home the championship, they gave the city something to root for, something to feel good about, in a time where good things have been hard to come by.

The team that was cutting down the nets Monday night was the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Tar Heels. The Tar Heels were definitely the most talented team in the tournament. More important than talent, they were the hungriest team. They were the ACC regular season champions, but not everyone was on their bandwagon coming into the tournament. They had some bad losses on their resume; losing to Boston College after they had just lost to Harvard as well as losing to Florida State in the semi-finals of the ACC tournament. But that just goes to show you that one game, win or lose, does not make or break an entire season.

You see, UNC was embarrassed by Kansas in the Final Four in 2008. That left juniors Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green—who came to the team the year after they beat Illinois—and star sophomores Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington without a championship. So instead of bolting to the NBA, they all came back for another season at Chapel Hill, determined to finish as champions. And that is exactly what they did. They dominated the field, winning each game by double digits.

However, UNC could be in a state of transition now. Hansbrough and Green will graduate, as will guard Bobby Frasor, who filled in for Lawson while he was injured during the ACC tourney. Marcus Ginyard was also a senior this year, but because he missed all but three games with a broken foot, he will petition the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility. Now that they have won the championship and the great senior leadership they had will be leaving, we will probably see juniors Lawson and Ellington leave early. There is also the possibility that junior forward Deon Thompson and freshman forward Ed Davis—a 6’10” big man—will also test their draft stock.

While there is the possibility that everyone who is eligible to will come back, it’s more realistic that Lawson and Ellington will leave on top. With the potential for eight players leaving, the Tar Heels could be in trouble. It wouldn’t be impossible to win—’08 champs Kansas lost their starting five to the NBA and still managed to make it to the Sweet 16 in ’09—however, it will be extremely difficult for such a young team to compete against more experienced squads, especially in the tough ACC. Head coach Roy Williams (who was a part of this hilarious commercial that aired during the tournament) will restock the team with talented recruits and will make sure they are ready to compete with the best in the nation, but expect some growing pains. A second issue to consider is how hungry will the player’s be to repeat? The team’s drive this season pushed them into the Final Four. If Lawson and Ellington return, it would be to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007, and expect them to keep the Tar Heels intensity high. If a number of players leave, however, will the younger guys be ready to take over at the same level as their former teammates?

All those questions will be answered in time. For now, the Tar Heels will enjoy their latest championship. And everybody else will put the bulls-eye on their backs as they look forward to the 2010 Final Four in Indianapolis.

And Detroit will hope the Red Wings at least stay on top in the NHL to keep their high from the ’09 Final Four.

Highlights of the 2009 Division I men's basketball championship game between UNC and MSU.


  1. UNCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Great article Phil, but next time try not to sound as though you are crying while writing it j/k. I read today that Ed Davis said he is "definitely" staying but so did Sean May. I love those links you provided in your article it reminds me of the Page 2 articles on ESPN.com, I can't remember every seeing a Dicky V written article even though it was 2 paragraphs long.

    Constructive Criticism: Make those links in the article automatically a new tab so we stay on your blog while checking out the other recommend sites.
    Great Job as always Philly

  2. Great job kid! I really enjoy coming to your blog and reading your new articles. I have turned into a true fan. Keep up the good work!!