If you haven't heard, the NCAA went ahead and gave basketball fans Christmas in February, by releasing NCAA Vault, a video archive of every Sweet Sixteen game and beyond for the last ten years. So if you'd like to forget all about this season, you can watch the 2005 or 2009 championship teams, or even the 2007 and 2008 squads that self destructed against Georgetown and Kansas, respectively. But I've already blogged about those games, as they happened. No, I was more fascinated by the 2000 team, the underachieving, badly dressed team that would be Bill Guthridge's last. So with 150 basketball games to choose from, I picked the UNC-Tulsa game.
There are a lot of similarities between the 2000 squad and this year's team. Both started the season highly ranked, but fell out of the polls in January. What evicted that year's team was a four game losing streak, and although they righted the ship to finish 9-7 in the conference, they lost in the first round of the ACC tournament and were generally though to have only squeaked into the NCAAs on the basis of their name. They were incredibly shallow – I dare you to name anyone who came off the bench for that team besides Julius Peppers – and were prone to turnovers, like this year's squad. Yet given an eight seed, the Tar Heels knocked off the top seed in the South, Stanford, and powered their way to the Final Four, despite only having two players who would ever make the NBA.
If you need any reminder that this isn't a Roy Williams team, though, you get on the first possession, where the Heels turn it over on a shot-clock violation. The entire game it's Tulsa, coached by a young Bill Self in his last game as a Golden Hurricane, pushing the tempo, while UNC plays a slow game. They also play a lot of zone defense. The turnovers and shooting sure look familiar, though. The Heels gave up the ball 15 times, including 9 steals, and shot a miserable 2 of 12 from beyond the arc. So how did this team succeed where the current crop flounders?
In two ways, both in the backcourt. One, they have Ed Cota handling the ball. He plays almost, if not the entire game (he's listed at 40 minutes, but I'm pretty sure he's absent at one point). Even though he coughs it up seven times, he has four years experience at this point, and never loses his cool no matter how the team struggles. The second thing this team has is a go-to scorer in Joseph Forte. Forte's kind of overlooked in recent Carolina history after chafing under Matt Doherty's coaching, leaving prematurely, and flaming out with the Boston Celtics. But he's the primary offensive spark on this team, and especially in this game, where he went 10 for 17 from the field, while the other five players combine to go 12 for 33. During a 14-4 second half run that breaks open a tie game, ten of those points come from Forte, who is everywhere on the court, picking up every rebound and punishing an opponent who chose to focus exclusively on Brendan Haywood.
This year's team lacks both of those, and as a result are prone to turning small runs against them into large ones. The 2000 team doesn't seem fazed by anything – from their opponents' size and speed to the fact that Bill Guthridge's mother passed away earlier that week. If you want to see what this year's team should be capable of, this is the game to watch. The play is slower, and the players bigger – between Haywood, Lang and Peppers there's some serious bulk up front – but the frustrations are still there. That team just overcame them in a way this year's team cannot.
Oh, and as a bonus, James Worthy does the color commentary on the game. Some nice anecdotes there.