What we learned in the first two rounds

UNC proves its mettle, but the ACC has its share of problems

Staff WriterMarch 23, 2009 

UNC needed an early test from LSU

If North Carolina wins the national basketball championship, Roy Williams should send Louisiana State a thank-you card.

UNC got exactly what it needed from LSU in Saturday's NCAA Tournament second-round win -- a push.

Not once before the 2008 Final Four did UNC trail in the second half of the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels beat Arkansas by 31, Washington State by 21 and Louisville by 10 before Kansas pushed the Tar Heels right out of San Antonio.

The Heels weren't quite resolute enough to shove Kansas back. Saturday, basically the same group but a year older, showed a fight they hadn't in tournament exits to Georgetown in 2007 or Kansas in 2008.

With 12:25 left in the second half on Saturday, and possibly the season, UNC trailed the eighth-seeded Tigers 54-49.

That's when guards Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson, two of the biggest reasons UNC's '08 season ended against Kansas, would not let the Tar Heels go home.

Lawson's return from injury and heady performance dominated the headlines, but it would be a mistake to ignore Ellington's timely scoring and willingness to take the big shot.

Remember, Ellington and Lawson went a combined 2-of-11 from 3-point range in the 84-66 loss to Kansas. They were 5-of-9 from beyond the arc on Saturday.

More important was when the points came. Ellington scored five of UNC's next seven points -- setting up Ed Davis for a dunk on the other basket -- after it fell behind by five.

Thirteen of Lawson's 23 points came after the same juncture.

And the perimeter contributions happened while All-American forward Tyler Hansbrough was wrestling with LSU's shot-blocker Chris Johnson. Hansbrough scored all but two of his 15 points in the first half.

Williams doesn't have to worry about the rock-steady Hansbrough, who will get his numbers (he did against Georgetown and Kansas), it's the production of Lawson and Ellington that will ultimately decide if UNC wins a second national title in five years.

When push came to shove, Ellington and Lawson passed their first test on Saturday.

Stout Big East embarrasses ACC

ACC commissioner John Swofford didn't bring a white flag to Greensboro. He probably should have.

The Big East didn't just outshine the ACC in the NCAA Tournament, after both conferences sent seven teams, the Big East made a mockery of the ACC with an 11-2 first-weekend record and a record five teams in the round of 16. (The best the ACC has done is four teams, seven times, but not since 1995.)

The ACC's record stands at 5-5 with two teams left. Making matters worse, four teams lost in the first round (compared to one for the Big East), including an 0-for-Friday -- a fitting tribute to the 30th anniversary of "Black Sunday."

ACC coaches bragged all season, right through the conference tournament, about the strength of the conference. The supposed strength never materialized past Duke and Carolina with the biggest reason for the failure being the lack of quality coaches.

The good news for the ACC is it avoided any head-to-head matchups with the Big East in the first two rounds.

The bad news is Duke and UNC potentially will have to go through Big East teams (definitely Villanova and maybe Pitt in Duke's path and maybe Syracuse in UNC's) to get to the Final Four.

A second look at that ACC's 10-6 record against Big East during the regular season shows none of the ACC's wins came over a Big East team that made the tournament.

The only thing the ACC proved it could do was beat St. John's. And it did that four times.

Backcourt congestion Wake's biggest problem

If Jeff Teague skips the NBA for his junior season at Wake Forest -- and that's a big if despite coach Dino Gaudio's public declarations to the contrary -- the Demon Deacons need to figure out a way to be effective with Teague and point guard Ish Smith on the court at the same time.

While Smith was on the mend from a preseason ankle injury, Teague carried the Deacons offense and helped Wake to a No. 1 national ranking.

With a healthy Smith, Teague couldn't find as many shots or points. Teague has to have the ball in his hands to produce. That's impossible if Smith's going to run the point. Short of using two basketballs, Gaudio has a decision to make.

In Wake's disappointing postseason, Teague scored 21 total points and made 7 of 20 shots. By comparison, in Wake's biggest win of the season -- a 92-89 win over No. 1 UNC on Jan. 11 -- he scored more points (34) and took almost as many shots (17).

Of course, given Teague's projected lottery status, that would be a problem Gaudio would welcome in 2010.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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