As much as Joel Berry and Theo Pinson wanted to savor their win over Duke on Thursday, a less enjoyable ritual awaited. With a short, 42-hour turnaround to play North Carolina’s other rival – despite what Berry says about N.C. State – on Saturday afternoon, it was time for ice.
So North Carolina capped its postgame media availability at 20 minutes to ensure its players made it into their ice baths and rehab routines promptly, and even that length of time was despite the objections of the training staff.
“It’s not a good situation but it’s what the schedule says,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said after the 82-78 win over Duke. “So I told them they better be in class tomorrow and better get some rest and we’ll get them together tomorrow and do a few things and show them some clips and then I’ll go recruiting and then we’ll come back and take a nap and then go play on Saturday.”
It’s a busy weekend. The Tar Heels will have another quick turnaround to host Notre Dame on Monday, and while the ailing Irish were cannon fodder on the first two legs of Notre Dame’s tour of the Triangle, losing by 22 at Duke last week and by 18 at N.C. State last Saturday, the Irish have Matt Farrell back and even broke a seven-game ACC losing streak with a home win over Boston College on Tuesday.
In the short term, the Tar Heels may even have an advantage by Monday; Notre Dame also plays Saturday, at home against Florida State, then has to travel to Chapel Hill. At least in North Carolina’s three-game stretch, it doesn’t have to leave its own area code.
Louisville plays three ACC games in six days this season, but no one in the ACC plays three in five. North Carolina hasn’t done it since 1991, and even that was because of the Gulf War.
This particulary busy stretch happened because ESPN wanted Notre Dame-North Carolina for its Big Monday slate of games, and Williams said ACC senior associate commissioner and schedule czar Paul Brazeau called him and asked if he’d agree to waive the ACC’s scheduling guidelines to make it happen, as coaches are occasionally asked to do.
“I don’t necessarily like it,” Williams said. “I definitely don’t like that we’re the only one doing it. But Paul called and said we’ve got a stretch for you that’s going to be very difficult but we need to do it. I said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ Does that say I was asked if I would do it? If I had said no, would they have changed it? I didn’t get that impression. I don’t think he was asking for permission. I thought he was asking for forgiveness. But it’s a schedule, it’s what the hell we play. That’s how I look at it.”
The fact that both Duke and N.C. State are involved only heightens the intensity, and the Wolfpack has an extra day off since its loss at Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Is that unfair to North Carolina? In a micro sense, maybe. (Williams is also 14-0 in the game after the first Duke game.) In a macro sense, every team in the ACC has unwelcome quirks in its schedule, thanks to the impositions of ESPN and the ACC’s other television partners. Miami agreed to play the Saturday before a Big Monday game two years ago, even though its Monday opponent had Saturday off, because the Saturday game was a CBS broadcast.
“I don’t mind disagreeing,” Williams said. “(Brazeau) said, ‘You’ve got a tough stretch.’ I said, ‘No joke.’ But it sounded like something that the league needed to do, so I said OK.”
The days of a regular, predictable ACC schedule went out the window with the round robin. And that’s only going to get worse in the future with the impending demand for ACC Network content on every night of the week. This season, North Carolina is already feeling the brunt of it.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock