Art Angle: Glue Guys

Three certainties preceded the Final Four game between Carolina and Duke.

One: It would be the epic battle of the neighborhood blue bloods on the biggest stage and in front of the biggest audience to ever watch a college basketball game.

Two: Due to its national (and global) reach, it would become a celebration of rivalry long held to be the best in its sport or any sport.

Three: It would usher in the new era of Duke-Carolina, with the Hall of Fame coach stepping out after 42 years and the young rookie coach already here.

But so much more came out of the game that validated the above premises.

For both universities, it underscored UNC’s shock win over Cameron, a brace that can never be forgotten by alumni and fans alike.

For the 1,202 wins in his 48-year career, Mike Krzyzewski’s last two losses to an underdog freshman coach will be a nightmarish footnote on his all-time record. And yet he couldn’t help but throw one of his star players under the team bus: foul-ridden sophomore center Mark Williams, for missing two late free throws when both teams threw crucial shots in moments of high pressure.

For Coach K, who used the Dean Smith method of three- and four-year-olds for the first half of his time at Duke, the sudden shift to recruiting one-and-dones must be seen as a dismal failure in terms of his long-stated ultimate goal, winning national championships. His first four were with top-class teams, and his 2015 NCAA title was as much the work of veterans Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson as freshmen.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski gives direction to his players during their game against UNC men’s basketball in the Final Four on Saturday. Carolina’s victory means Krzyzewski’s record at 50-50 against the Tar Heels. (Photo via Todd Melet.)

For Hubert Davis of Carolina, these two national television whoppers elevated his status from a struggling rookie to a hardwood Houdini, who preached Bible verses for team tunnel vision and tough love to cheer. energy and emotion.

Caleb “never too late” Love scored 49 of his 58 points against UCLA and Duke in the second half; RJ Davis had a second straight near-flawless ground game against the Dukies; Armando Bacot with yet another monster 21 rebounds; Brandy Manek whose defense on Paolo Banchero will be overlooked; and Leaky Black, whose 40 minutes included 8 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block.

Add them all up: Complementary guards who can drive it, pull it, and pass it to others with better looks. A center who is now a double-double away from tying the NCAA single-season record of 31. A ground-stretching four-man who goes 1 for 5 in the first half and 3 for 5 in the second, all three bombs deep from the sideline. And a defensive specialist who turns on the opponent’s best players, regardless of size, and occasionally knocks down a three-pointer.

This indelible Iron Five has played 561 of 600 minutes over the last three games, scoring 217 of the team’s 223 points (Puff Johnson had the other 6.) It was an incredible addition by subtraction after losing the first two substitutes from the bench mid-season. And the best part? All were crying tears of joy at the end after beating their arch-rival away from home again, as hundreds of thousands of their fans will be left with misty eyes from the Superdome to the supermarket over the next 48 hours.

For a program that Davis has characterized as having lost relevance in recent years, Carolina should be the cool new school to consider for 4- and 5-star recruits. As social media shares and spreads all of this, the Tar Heels spotlight shines brighter than ever. And it’s clear that Hubert likes the Smith-Williams way – having a team with a fundamental base that includes players who can only stick around for a year or two.

UNC’s RJ Davis and Armando Bacot play defense against Duke’s Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams in their Final Four match on Saturday night. (Photo via Todd Melet.)

It also highlights, garbled by the Duke hype machine, the fact that UNC has now appeared in three Final Fours and championship games (the first two under Roy Williams) since 2016, while the last visit of the Coach K at the holy grail of hoops college was in 2015, seven long years ago.

And in the fastest reversal imaginable, Davis is a National Coach of the Year in his first season and suddenly the standard against which Duke successor Jon Scheyer will be measured. How did that happen, virtually overnight and into the next era of college basketball’s (and any other type of ball?) greatest rivalry?

Beating the prohibitive pick to raise a sixth NCAA banner, Carolina has gone this far with these five glue guys — none of whom to date are included in the first round of various NBA mock drafts like four Blue Devils who are expected to add to the list of 19 freshmen leaving Durham after a semester and a half.

More one-and-doners are already in the fold, but they can’t aim to win national championships; rather a bit of being on TV so often and more of being assured of NIL seven-figure earnings. It’s not illegal under current rules, but Paolo Banchero would earn $2 million for a few Instagram posts, which is pure poppycock against Duke’s Ivy-League good looks.

Carolina could lose up to four starters next year, regardless of the result against Kansas on Monday night: a sophomore, a junior, a senior and a super senior. Hubert’s plan is to solidify that base with promising reserves already on the roster, a strong class of freshman rookies and transfers that saw Manek rise from 57th place before the season to win the Riley Wallace Trophy as a than BEST transfer in the country.

To do what Davis did by mixing up starters with decidedly different skill sets who aren’t swayed by mistakes in the game, such as unforced turnovers and missed free throws, is an amazing achievement. The Tar Heels eliminated Duke’s dangerous leads in both halves with quick and courageous strikes that kept the game going with 18 lead changes and 12 draws until time ran out and Carolina advanced. by four points.

And while Duke’s national fan base may rationalize that the players were too young or that Coach K was too old, their much-loved rival public university (with millions of followers within the borders of a state they care about more than any other) is having a hell of a weekend.

Can’t you hear them reveling across North Carolina in the beauty, as Dean Smith said, of five guys playing with a single heartbeat?

Featured photo via Todd Melet.


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About Oscar L. Smith

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