Just to write that title feels weird...North Carolina. The Tar Heels. Dean Smith. Michael Jordan. Five men's basketball national championships. Carolina blue and white. To put it simply...tradition.
Washington State is trying to get to that point (it's going to take a long time) and they're finally off to a good start (100+ years into the program's history). The Cougars are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history (WSU played for the national championship, but lost to Wisconsin...there were only eight teams in the tourney).
The two squads go head-to-head Thursday in Charlotte, North Carolina (start time set for 4:27pm and can only be seen on KREM).
Here's what I think: That UNC "tradition" I talked about earlier has everyone blind to the fact that Washington State might actually stand a chance (North Carolina against Washington State? That's a no-brainer...Tar Heels blow them out). Don't get me wrong, I know the Heels are a great basketball team (I was watching their highlights last night against Arkansas and sat there in awe. It was almost like the USA hockey team watching the Russians on film before they played in 1980...can anyone beat these guys?), but just because we are WSU doesn't mean you can quickly count us out.
Where's the love? (Oh, it's on the East Coast)
In the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, Wazzu beat their opponents by a combined 51 points (playing the best basketball they've played all year). No one seems to care. Instead, everyone makes a big deal out of North Carolina drubbing their first foes (113-74 against Mount St. Mary's; 108-77 against Arkansas). Sure they scored 100+ in those battles, but keep in mind that Mount St. Mary's was a 16-seed and Arkansas was a 9-seed (a pretty good team out of the SEC, but not great). The Cougs have been just as dominant, but they've done it in less exciting fashion (71-40 against Winthrop and 61-41 against Notre Dame).
The odds are stacked against us (the Heels are an eight point favorite). North Carolina gets to play a home game (pretty much). Chapel Hill is only about three hours from Charlotte (if you don't think that matters just looked what happened to Davidson when they were in their own backyard). The Tar Heels haven't even left North Carolina since March 3rd (and just won the ACC Tournament in Charlotte two weeks ago). Meanwhile, Wazzu needs to travel across the country to play in a hostile environment.
Not scary enough for you?
North Carolina beats their opponents by an average of 17 points per game (89.9 to 72.9). That's right...89.9 points per game (second best offense in the country). Plus, they lead the nation in rebounding and their tallest player is Tyler Hansbrough at 6'9" (he's also likely going to win some national player of the year honors). He averages nearly 23 points and 11 rebounds a contest. Here's the good news: Notre Dame averaged 80 points a game this year and the Cougs held them to 41 tallies. Plus, WSU kept Big East player of the year Luke Harangody (6'8" 250 lbs) to ten points (he did however nab 22 rebounds). Again, it will come down to who can control the tempo (Wazzu has the second best defense in the country).
I'll be on the road with the Cougars again this week (I leave tomorrow), so expect to see my blog updated as often as possible. Thanks to everyone for their comments over the last week: Ryan Camp, Joe Kane, Aaron Allina, Megan, and everyone else who gets involved.
I hope for a good showing by the Cougar faithful in Charlotte (there was a great crowd in Denver) we'll need all the support we can get. It would also be nice to get some of those neutral fans rooting for the upset.
I'll talk to you soon...GO COUGS!
P.S. Our friend Ken Pomeroy (www.kenpom.com) might be the only person in the world who believes in WSU. He still has North Carolina winning, but has the score at 71-69. He gives the Cougars a 45% chance of winning. He's been right in the past and I hope he's 55% wrong on his prediction.
P.S.S I like that the P.S.'s have caught on with faithful blog commenters (if that's a word).
Baseball Update: The Cougs, ranked No. 25 in the country last week, lost two out of three to California to open the Pac-10 season. They play Gonzaga in Pullman tomorrow then open a three-game series against Stanford on Friday.