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Blogger Spotlight: Tar Heel Fan talks about UNC’s season, next year and more

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North Carolina’s week ended with its annual team banquet and various awards, but still no news on Harrison Barnes’ future in Chapel Hill.

So, while we wait for one of the nation’s top freshmen to decide on the NBA draft, let’s keep things topical, shall we? Let’s talk Tar Heel hoops with the man behind one of the best Carolina blogs out there, Brian Barbour. I read his site, Tar Heel Fan, for the hoops talk (there are other sports on there as well) and it rarely disappoints.

He took his time to talk about the Heels’ entertaining season, the development of John Henson and Tyler Zeller, why Kendall Marshall and Henson are so popular among the fans and more in Blogger Spotlight.

Q: You saw this season coming, right? The 7-4 start, Larry Drew taking off, Kendall Marshall taking over, Harrison Barnes struggling, then hitting big shots and just missing out on the Final Four. Just a typical year in Chapel Hill…or not.

A: It was different but also reminded me of 2007 when the Tar Heels were young but very talented and had their share of growing pains loses. The primary difference is this 2011 team did an incredible job winning games that were very close or they had no business winning(see the ACC Tournament games vs. Miami and Clemson.) It was also unusual to watch a UNC team under Roy Williams have struggles on the offensive end but effectively win games with their defense.

After the trauma of last season it was very much an exercise in Tar Heel fans slowly trusting that UNC was back in business.

Q: Was it a tough season to watch? That is, until late January, did you sit there thinking, “I know we can be better.”

A: Yes and no. When we did our predictions at THF we all assumed the bulk of the regular season losses would come in ACC play. The opposite was true. UNC lost four games before January and after the inexplicable 20-point loss at Georgia Tech it appeared things were again going to head south. The one interesting constant was Roy Williams who never wavered from his insistence that the team would get better.

Unlike last season when he was at his wits end trying to figure his team out, this season he appeared in full control and somehow knew this team would gel. Overall I think it was a fun season and this group(sans Drew) is quickly becoming an all-time favorite team among UNC fans.

Q: What surprised you most about the season? I was a little surprised the frontcourt thrived despite its lack of depth and relative inexperience. But Tyler Zeller and John Henson were damn good.

A: Tyler Zeller was very good. While his style is notable less physical that Tyler Hansbrough he often produces the same results on the offensive end. Zeller ended up being the most consistent and productive player on the court for the Tar Heels to the point I don’t think they went to him enough at times. As for John Henson, his defense was a game changer. Henson’s freakish length and athleticism changed how teams approached the basket and inbounded the basketball along the baseline. Putting these two on the floor together with Harrison Barnes meant UNC has three potential first round picks in their frontline, two of them lottery.

Name another team that boasted the kind of frontline that was solid on both ends on the floor.

Q: Last team I can think of like that was 2007 Florida. That speaks volume for the sheer talent in Chapel Hill. Nothing like setting up massive expectations for next season, right?

A: Not any worse than 2009 which was a team that absolutely had to win the national title or it was going to be deemed a missed opportunity. There was also an element of cementing Tyler Hansbrough as one of the greatest Tar Heels of all time. That season had a lot of pressure associated with it to the point it was almost not enjoyable. The same could be true here but at the same time his particular group has endeared themselves to UNC fans in general.

Speaking for myself, I am going to enjoy the ride with the expectation they at least make it to the Final Four and from there we will see.

Q: How much will Harrison Barnes affect next season? Carolina’s a title contender even he goes pro.

A: Interesting question because on one hand Barnes could have an outstanding NPOY-type sophomore season. Barnes has that certain intangible to elevate his game at certain points in a contest to give his team the extra boost they need. There is also his penchant for hitting clutch shots. Those aspects, his overall game and the fact he is a great defender will be missed.

However, this team should still go to the Final Four providing they can find some three point shooting(true even if Barnes returns), UNC will still have Tyler Zeller and John Henson who are both first round picks in the NBA. Incoming freshman James McAdoo is being projected in the top five. The absence of Barnes would also refine the rotation a little. Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston probably end up at SF with Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald holding down the two. Kendall Marshall will be spelled by Strickland and freshman Stillman White. Then you have a solid frontline, especially if UNC gets a commit from Desmond Hubert.

In short, with Barnes, UNC has the potential to be legendary. Without him, they are still as good as past UNC teams that were capable of winning a national title.

Q: Who’s the fan favorite on this team?

A: It is probably a close race between John Henson and Kendall Marshall. Henson is so much fun to watch and his freakish length provides those “wow” plays you love as a fan. Marshall is just an outstanding kid both on and off the court. When Larry Drew left the team and Marshall came out vs Florida St. with a record setting 16 assists, he nearly made himself a legend just halfway through his freshman season. Marshall’s proclivity for the jaw dropping pass and the leadership he shows on the team has quickly won over the fan base.

Now that they are playing against the regular students in pickup games on campus once or twice a week, these guys have achieved rock star status.

Q: Have you gotten in on any of those games? That would make for a must-read post on THF.

A: Unfortunately my job keeps from taking off to Chapel Hill in the middle of the afternoon to watch. I get by on local media video but I imagine it would be awesome to watch them play and interact with the students.

Q: How’d you get into blogging? Was it one specific aspect of being a North Carolina fan that prompted it? The blog tackles everything now, but I always looked to it for hoops first.

A: I used to spend time on various blogs and message boards posting my opinions or debating with other posters. I reached a point where I decided to channel my content into my own blog rather than posting on a message board where smart content gets lost in the insanity of others. So I started THF with a goal of running a fan site that while obviously biased is also intellectually honesty and extremely credible.

The growth of the blog and its recognition among those in the local media here in Raleigh confirms we are doing something right. As for content, personally speaking UNC basketball is my first love among all sports. That probably does tilt the direction of the blog but so does the general readership which is always more basketball-centric. UNC basketball has also been far more successful during the life of the blog though the football program has given us plenty to write about for the right and wrong reasons.

Q: You’ve expanded THF as well. How’d you go about adding writers? Necessity?

A: I really wanted to add some new voices to the blog rather than giving readers just my take. Both Doc and C. Michael had been contributing in the comments section and I thought it would be interesting to have them contribute regularly in the main content area.

C. Michael handles most of the heavy statistical analysis which has really augmented the blog reputation for smart analysis. C. Michael’s regular feature of in-depth box score analysis was some of the best out there. Doc, who has spent time in the coaching ranks and also a graduate of UNC, provides great opinions on variety of issues all across the spectrum. His work during the NCAA scandal has been must read and spot on. Overall the more content a blog produces the more growth you see and their contributions have been invaluable in this regard.

Q: As some blogs go dark (Free Darko) and some bloggers (KJ at The Only Colors) phase out of regular duties, I’m reminded of what a grind blogging can be. What’s in your future?

A: The blog really has some good momentum going fueled by having multiple contributors to help carry the load. I work a full time job and have a family so being able to lean on two other writers has really made blogging less of a grind than it was two years ago. My plan is to ride it as far as it will go and see what happens.

The internet is so fluid. When I started THF blogging was just emerging as a semi-legitimate media outlet and Twitter was non-existent. Now Twitter and blogging are intertwined and blogs like THF are acknowledged by serious journalists as legitimate sources of opinion. Ultimately what I would love to see is THF be recognized as a legitimate media outlet with the same access as other online sites like Inside Carolina. There has been a lot of progress in terms of how bloggers are viewed and I would very much like to see THF at the forefront as this new media develops.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

UConn-Syracuse rivalry game brings back memories of the best of the Big East

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05:  Rodney Purvis #15 of the Connecticut Huskies reacts after hitting a three pointer against the Syracuse Orange during the Tire Pros Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 5, 2016 in New York City. Connecticut defeated Syracuse 52-50  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The cliché ‘here, it just means more’ has never rang more true than it did on Monday night in Madison Square Garden.

A bad Syracuse team and a worse UConn team got together in New York City to play an awful basketball game, one where the two teams didn’t crack 100 points combined until there were 2.2 seconds left; where UConn won 52-50 despite shooting 31.4 percent from the floor because the Orange made just 25.9 percent of their field goals; where UConn did everything they could in the final minute to give the game to the Orange, including missing five free throws.

In a game between two teams that entered with a combined 8-6 record, Syracuse and UConn fans packed the Garden and created an environment that was just as rowdy, raucous and bi-partisan as a Big East tournament quarterfinal game that goes to six overtimes.

Businessmen in $5,000 suits were court side, going just as crazy as the UConn fans that packed their student section. Day-traders showed up in Orange t-shirts over their shirt and ties.

It didn’t matter that the Orange entered the game on a two-game losing streak. It didn’t matter UConn, a young team that has already lost two starters to season-ending injury, looks like a team that will be lucky to earn an invite to the NIT.

It never matters when these two former Big East rivals get together in the Basketball Mecca.

“It may be a slap in the face,” said Larry Avitabile, a Connecticut native that now calls Manhattan home, “but I hope UConn shows up as a bad loss when they show Syracuse’s NCAA tournament résumé.”


The rivalry between UConn and Syracuse is unlike any other rivalry in college basketball because of their proximity to New York City and Madison Square Garden, where the Big East has held their conference tournament since 1983.

Both fanbases claim the Big Apple as their own. Both schools consider themselves New York City’s college basketball team. None of the schools that left the Big East and none of the programs still in the conference traveled to the Garden the way that UConn and Syracuse travel to the Garden.

And the result is what you saw on Monday night.

Half of the Garden was blue.

The other half was Orange.

It simply does not get better than that.

Every season, one of the biggest talking points this time of the year is how neutral site games sterilize what makes college basketball special: the energy that comes with playing a game in front of a home crowd. The product on the court is never going to be as good as the product on the floor of any NBA game. That’s a fact of life when the best players at this level are 19 year olds a couple of years away from being able to impact an NBA game or 22 year olds that weren’t quite good enough to be able to make the jump to the pros.

And basketball at any level is never going to be a more popular than the NFL or college football. Unless you live in places like Lexington or Lawrence, college basketball probably isn’t even as important as the MLB or the NHL.

But those big, on-campus games are unparalleled in any sport at any level in this country. The experience of watching, say, UCLA’s visit to Rupp Arena on Saturday or North Carolina’s trip to Assembly Hall last week comes through on the television broadcasts.

When UConn and Syracuse square off in the Garden, it’s like two teams are playing a home game in the building.

“It’s New York City, it’s one of the best venues to play basketball in, it’s on everybody’s bucket list,” said Syracuse guard Andrew White. “Then, given the teams that were here, and the location, you’re dipping into history. This venue and this game is one of the tops all-time.”

White is a fifth-year senior that spent the last four seasons playing for Kansas in the Big 12 and Nebraska in the Big Ten. He’s seen it all. He’s played in the most electric college gyms. He knows what constitutes a great place to play a basketball game.

“I knew what to expect,” said White, who hails from southern Virginia. “I knew what I was getting into coming into this game. It’s Syracuse and UConn at the Garden. Say no more.”

College basketball needs all the games like this that it can get. It’s why those two programs would be doing a disservice to the sport if they decide to discontinue the series after the 2017 Jimmy V Classic, when they will play in the Garden for the second straight season.

Because UConn has too much talent and Kevin Ollie recruits at too high of a level to be down for that long. The Orange are just a year removed from getting to the Final Four and have plenty of young talent of their own on the roster.

Those programs will return to their rightful spots in the top 25 sooner rather than later.

And if those two fanbases can turn one of the ugliest games of the season into what we experienced in the arena on Monday night, imagine what it will be like in that building when those two teams are actually good.

 

Eastern Kentucky basketball player charged with rape

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RICHMOND, Ky. (AP) Authorities say an Eastern Kentucky basketball player has been arrested on a rape charge.

Records at Kentucky’s Madison County Detention Center show 23-year-old Jaylen Babb-Harrison was arrested Sunday in Richmond and charged with first-degree rape.

A statement from Eastern Kentucky says Babb-Harrison, a redshirt senior guard, has been suspended from the team. It says the school is cooperating with police.

Local media organizations cited an arrest citation in reporting that police were called to a Richmond hospital when a female reported she was at Babb-Harrison’s home and that he had sex with her against her will.

WKYT-TV reports Babb-Harrison declined to be interviewed at a jail. His first court appearance is set for Wednesday.

Online jail records didn’t list an attorney for the player.

Judge dismisses sex charges against ex-Michigan State star

3 Apr 2000: Mateen Cleaves #12 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates on the floor as he holds up the trophy after winning the NCAA Men''s Finals Four Game against the Florida Gators at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Spartans defeated the Gators 89-76.
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FLINT, Mich. (AP) A judge has dismissed all charges against former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves, who was accused of sexually assaulting a woman after a charity golf event.

Judge Cathy Dowd in Flint, Michigan, said Monday there wasn’t enough evidence to send Cleaves to trial. Prosecutors can appeal.

A woman said she twice tried to get away from Cleaves but was pulled back into a motel room and sexually assaulted in September 2015. A witness confirmed that she saw the woman try to escape a room at the Knights Inn near Flint.

But a police officer said the woman never indicated that she was assaulted. Cleaves pleaded not guilty.

The Associated Press generally doesn’t name people who say they were sexually assaulted. Cleaves led Michigan State to the 2000 national championship.

Coaches Poll: Villanova takes the top spot

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats yells to his team in the first half against the Saint Joseph's Hawks at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Villanova has overtaken Kentucky as the new No. 1 in the Coaches Poll on Monday.

The defending champions also took No. 1 in the new AP poll thanks to an 8-0 start while UCLA beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena this weekend. The Bruins finished at No. 2 while Kansas and Duke are right behind them.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

  1. Villanova (28)
  2. UCLA (1)
  3. Kansas (1)
  4. Duke (2)
  5. North Carolina
  6. Baylor
  7. Kentucky
  8. Gonzaga
  9. Indiana
  10. Creighton
  11. Saint Mary’s
  12. Virginia
  13. Louisville
  14. Xavier
  15. Butler
  16. West Virginia
  17. Wisconsin
  18. South Carolina
  19. Purdue
  20. Arizona
  21. Florida
  22. Notre Dame
  23. Cincinnati
  24. Oregon
  25. Iowa State

AP Poll: Defending champion Villanova is the new No. 1

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Josh Hart
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The defending national champs are back at No. 1.

Villanova is atop the latest Associated Press top 25 poll this week as the 8-0 Wildcats are off to a hot start. With Kentucky’s loss to UCLA and North Carolina’s loss at Indiana there were some major shakeups in the polls this week.

  1. Villanova (57 first-place votes)
  2. UCLA (2)
  3. Kansas
  4. Baylor
  5. Duke
  6. Kentucky
  7. North Carolina
  8. Gonzaga
  9. Indiana
  10. Creighton
  11. Louisville
  12. Saint Mary’s
  13. Xavier
  14. Virginia
  15. West Virginia
  16. Butler
  17. Purdue
  18. Wisconsin
  19. South Carolina
  20. Arizona
  21. Florida
  22. Cincinnati
  23. Notre Dame
  24. Oregon
  25. Iowa State