Well, I guess I have to say something. On this, the 20th anniversary of KU’s glorious victory over Oklahoma in the 1988 NCAA championship game, I will offer some thoughts on KU-UNC and the Angstfest once known as Roystock.
I’ve done my best to avoid much of the national media coverage of the background story to the game. I didn’t want, for the second time in five years, a week leading up to a KU Final Four appearance to be all about Roy Williams rather than the team. Oklahoma State was nice enough to make things a little more interesting, but the big story remains Roy’s departure from KU for North Carolina in 2003.
So let’s just lay some things out. I’m not still mad at Roy. I understand his decision; I just wish he had handled the process better. I maintain he could have diverted much of the media circus of 2003 with a single phone call to Chapel Hill. Despite his protests, I think he knew exactly what was going on with the Carolina coaching position. Perhaps he hoped if he didn’t get involved, it would blow over. But the fact remains his refusal to make that call cost the 2003 Jayhawks the attention and honor they deserved.
I don’t subscribe to the theory that the Carolina coaching situation contributed to KU’s loss to to Syracuse in the title game. I seem to remember KU looking pretty damn on Saturday against Marquette. No, the loss to Syracuse was because of a typical Roy Williams brain lock in an important game, refusing to put his best perimeter defender on Gerry McNamara until G-Mac had knocked down five three pointers and KU was down by 18. He only scored three more points after Roy pulled his head out of his ass and put Kirk Hinrich on him.
<Must stop before anger rears its ugly head.>
OK, so Roy moved on, won a title at Carolina with Matt Doherty’s players, and is back in the Final Four again. KU hired Bill Self, had some rocky times off the court, some occasional ugly times on the court, but still managed to win four straight Big 12 titles, three straight Big 12 tournaments, get to three elite eights, and finally get back to the Final Four this year. I think things worked out ok all around. We may be tired of Bill’s act in another ten years, but for now he remains a breath of fresh air with his relative openness and honesty compared to Roy’s act.
So, I don’t hate Roy. I’m not mad that he left. I think he could have handled things a whole lot different, but that’s in the past. He’s not my favorite coach, and I tend to avoid his games, but the anger is gone. I want KU to win tomorrow because they’re my school and my team, not because I want to beat Roy and shut up Carolina’s arrogant fans (Memo to Big 12 fans: You think KU fans are arrogant, Carolina fans are 1000x worse. They are by far the most annoying fans in college basketball, worse than even Dukies, because as a rule, they refuse to give anyone else any credit for being good.)
Before I move on to the games, two quick suggestions for Roy.
1) Stop saying no one could love KU any more than you can. You wonder why people think you’re an arrogant prick, why some KU fans won’t forgive you for leaving, just look at this statement. You’re honestly saying that no one could love your second love more than you? I would hazard a guess that there are tens of thousands, probably into the hundreds of thousands, of people who love KU as much if not more than you. You can love KU, that’s fine. You can be proud of what you accomplished there. But don’t tell us that you love it more than us. (At least I haven’t heard him mention his little finger this week.)
2) Please refrain from the statements that begin with “I gave them 15 years of my life…” We midwesterners are sensitive to slights, and often see them where they don’t necessarily exist. When we hear that line, we think you’re saying you never got anything out of it. We’re quick to remind you that you got fame, fortune, respect, and rose to the top of your profession while there. It smacks of the comments you made when you left about being sorry about leaving your recruits “stuck out there.”
You can’t please everyone all of the time. You claim you understand that, but you keep trying. There are always going to be knuckleheads at Kansas who won’t forgive you. You can’t change that. I remember some Carolina fans booing you back in the 2002 NIT a Carolina was waxing KU’s ass. You seem to have moved past that. Be proud of what you accomplished at Kansas, but stop whining about the minority of fans that won’t get over it. The vast majority of KU fans appreciate what you did while coaching our team.
Now, for the games.
It’s hard for me, after last weekend, to see anyone other than Memphis winning it. Their offense rivals Carolina’s, and their defense is tremendous as well. They are so athletic that they can handle any match-up. They seem to be playing with a sense of purpose beyond what the other three teams are playing with.
But, things change quickly in March. The first game should be fascinating. UCLA loves taking people out of their games and grinding out a win. Memphis might be too athletic for them. Darren Collison might be able to beat the first guy off the dribble, but Memphis can cover and recover so fast I don’t know that he can play his normal role. I’ve said UCLA is the luckiest team in the country, the new Duke, and I expect their luck to finally run out.
As I said earlier this week, when KU is on, they’re as good as Carolina on offense. Maybe a little better with their balance. They’re even deeper with Sasha Kaun’s play of late. KU is clearly the better defensive team, but Carolina’s style can give them fits. Missouri kept the game in Columbia close this year by beating KU down the court after makes. That’s exactly what Carolina does, only perhaps better than any team has ever done it. And I expect Carolina to come to play on the defensive end. They’re athletic enough to cause problems even if their core scheme is suspect.
I’m hoping Ol’ Roy will be wound extra tight, and that will wear off on his team. Despite winning a title, he’s still prone to that, as last year’s collapse against Georgetown showed. But the fact is his team is firing on all cylinders right now, and are a very difficult match-up for anyone, even a good defensive team.
You know, as I look at it, Carolina reminds me of Virginia Tech in football. Bigger, stronger, faster than KU. In fact, I don’t know how KU can hope to stay on the court with the Tar Heels. It’s going to be like a varsity-JV scrimmage, with Carolina getting easy dunks and KU throwing up brick after brick as they struggle to get anything going. They might as well put on practice jerseys.
Oh, and when will Larry Brown’s head explode? With his direct ties to each team, he has to be having trouble sleeping trying to figure out who to please this week.