Let me start out by saying that the whole idea for this blog entry was born from the simple belief, of this writer at least, that North Carolina coach Roy Williams is a good person.
Having grown up in Lawrence and hung around with his son, Scott, I know this to be true. He’s a kind, compassionate, genuine man with an intense love of basketball and a highly competitive spirit.
Fans of Kansas University basketball know this, whether they’ve spent the past 10 seasons rooting against him or not. As the old saying goes, or at least went, Ol’ Roy had more desire to win in his little finger than all of the Kansas basketball fans in the world combined. Before the divorce, KU fans loved that about him. As time goes by and more distance is put between his 15 seasons in Lawrence and the present day, I think KU fans will slowly begin to remember that.
The scene at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday certainly made that seem possible. With thousands of KU fans in the stands waiting for the Jayhawks, Williams was cheered when UNC took the floor for its open practice session.
So what does any of this have to with Caronlina’s first-round match-up against Villanova on Friday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.? That, too, is simple. It’s my contention that the basketball gods simply are not that cruel to put one man through losing to his former school on the biggest stage in the world twice in the past 12 months and three times in the past five years. It was cruel enough of the committee to put the potential match-up out there, but the gods will intervene.
Roy left. He did what he had to do for himself and his family. And, truth be told, had most of you been in his position, you would’ve done the same thing, whether you’re willing to admit it or not.
But he has paid his debt to the Jayhawk Nation. After getting drubbed by Kansas in the national semifinals in 2008, Williams stuck around for the title game against Memphis and wore a Jayhawk sticker on his shirt. For that he was crushed by the UNC fans, and when the two schools met again in last year’s Elite Eight in St. Louis, he had to relive the whole experience while suffering through another heartbreaking loss to his former school at the same time.
Every time he's been asked, Williams has had nothing but positive, heart-felt things to say about KU and his time here.
So when is enough enough?
North Carolina, which enters the game as a four-point favorite, may have more talent than Villanova. The Tar Heels may be a bit under-seeded — third in the ACC and a berth in the conference tournament title game usually gets you more than an 8 seed — and may have the luxury of having at least a few players who have experienced the NCAA Tournament and its intense pressure in much bigger games and venues. But I don’t think they’ll win.
Forget just playing the hunch, though. Villanova has real talent. Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono was a unanimous selection on the Big East’s all-rookie squad and the Wildcats have a size advantage inside, led by senior forward Mouphtaou Yarou (6-foot-10, 255 pounds) and sophomore bruiser JayVaughn Pinkston (6-7, 260). In addition, the Wildcats are the better defensive team, are better free-throw shooters and have a more quality wins. Forget about the 20-13 overall record. In the past 59 days alone, ‘Nova knocked off Louisville and Syracuse in back-to-back games and also snagged victories over Marquette and Georgetown. That’s victories over a No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament and 11 total games (4-7) against NCAA Tournament teams. UNC? Not a single victory against a team currently in the Top 25.
I think Villanova wins. I think Roy goes home sad. But, when it’s all said and done, I don’t think it hurts as bad as losing to Kansas — again.