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.

No. 8 Kansas avenges earlier loss to No. 7 Kansas State, 90-78

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jalen Wilson had 20 points, Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 8 Kansas avenged a loss to Kansas State just a couple of weeks ago with a 90-78 victory over the seventh-ranked Wildcats.

Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 18 for the Jayhawks (18-4, 6-3 Big 12), who built a 12-point halftime lead before coasting to their 17th straight home win over the Wildcats in the 10th matchup of top-10 teams in series history.

Kansas has rebounded nicely from a rare three-game skid that included the overtime loss to Kansas State, and made sure to avoid taking back-to-back losses in its storied home for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

Markquis Nowell scored 23 points and Keyontae Johnson had 22 to lead the Wildcats (18-4, 6-3), who were trying for their first regular-season sweep of their biggest rival in four decades. Nae’Qwan Tomlin added 11 points and David N’Guessan had 10.

In their first meeting on Jan. 17, the Wildcats raced to a big early lead and controlled the game until late in the second half, when the Jayhawks forced overtime — only for Kansas State to win on Johnson’s alley-oop dunk.

It was the Jayhawks who controlled the rematch.

They used a 16-7 run in the first half that included a technical foul on Kansas State coach Jerome Tang to build a 32-19 lead. And when Johnson answered with eight straight points for the Wildcats, and the lead was eventually trimmed to four, the reigning national champs pulled away again down the stretch.

It was 37-32 when Wilson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Zach Clemence added one of his own. And by the time Wilson made two foul shots with about 10 seconds left, Kansas had built a 49-37 lead that it took to the break.

The Wildcats briefly got within six in the second half before the Jayhawks stretched their lead to as many as 16.

OFFICIATING OOPS

Johnson had to sit with two fouls just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. Only problem? The crew of John Higgins, Kip Kissinger and Marques Pettigrew gave one to the wrong player. By the time they corrected their mistake, the Wildcats’ leading scorer had unnecessarily ridden the bench for several minutes.

SELLOUT … AND THEN SOME

For the first time in more than 15 years, more Kansas students redeemed tickets than there was space available inside Allen Fieldhouse. The overflow had to watch the game on screens in the adjacent Horejsi Family Athletics Center, where the Jayhawks play volleyball games. Those students also got refunds and concessions vouchers.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State’s three losses in league play have been to ranked teams on the road: TCU, Iowa State and Kansas. And with a more forgiving second half to the Big 12 schedule, the Wildcats remain firmly in the conference title hunt.

Kansas got its mojo back with its win over Kentucky last weekend. This victory over another bunch of Wildcats was crucial because the road doesn’t get any easier for the Jayhawks, who are in the midst of three straight games against teams ranked 13th or better.

UP NEXT

Kansas State returns home for another top-10 showdown Saturday against No. 10 Texas.

Kansas hits the road for the third time in four games against No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday.

BC beats No. 20 Clemson 62-54; Tigers fall into ACC tie

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — Makai Ashton-Langford had two key driving baskets in the closing two minutes and finished with 15 points to help Boston College beat No. 20 Clemson 62-54 on Tuesday night.

Jaeden Zackery added 13 points for the Eagles (11-12, 5-7 Atlantic Coast Conference). BC held Clemson to one field goal — and that came with 18 seconds left — in the final 13:16.

Hunter Tyson led Clemson (18-5, 10-2) with 22 points and Chase Hunter had 12. The Tigers fell into a first-place tie atop the ACC with No. 6 Virginia.

The Eagles used a 5-0 spurt — with T.J. Bickerstaff hitting a free throw and getting a driving layup — to pull ahead 50-45 with just over five minutes to play.

Clemson sliced it to 50-47 before Aston-Langford made his two big baskets. He followed that by making two free throws with 32 seconds left.

Trailing by 10 midway into the second half, the Tigers went on a 10-0 spree, tying it at 45 when RJ Godfrey hit both ends of a 1-and-1.

The Eagles had opened a double-digit lead twice in the opening six minutes of the second half, the later 45-35 on Prince Aligbe’s foul-line jumper with 14:12 to play.

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: Off to a solid start in conference play, the Tigers were tested on the road for the second straight game after edging Florida State by a point on Saturday. It hasn’t been easy for them away from home with a 4-3 record and with three away matchups against North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia to go, they’ll need to get it straightened out of they’re going to won the ACC regular-season title.

Boston College: The Eagles proved when they play defense that they’re a tough out in coach Earl Grant’s second season. A little more offense could make them very dangerous for top ACC teams to play.

ARRIVING LATE

In the first half, Clemson’s man-to-man defense smothered the Eagles’ offense for the opening 10 minutes, holding them in single digits in scoring until just about the same time the student section finished filling up late, bringing some energy to a very quiet building.

BC’s players then responded, closing the half with a 22-4 spree that turned an 11-point deficit to a 30-23 halftime edge.

SIDELINED

Both teams were missing key players. Guard Brevin Galloway, Clemson’s fourth leading scorer at 10.6 points per game, was sidelined with an abdominal injury. For BC, guard DeMarr Langford Jr., who logs big minutes at the point, was out with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Clemson: Hosts No. 23 Miami on Saturday.

Boston College: Hosts Syracuse on Saturday.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Ohio State tumbles

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
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It was a rough week for Ohio State, which lost all three of its games and tumbled down the AP Top 25 as a result.

The previously unbeaten Buckeyes fell from second to 10th in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll released Monday after losing to Iowa and Indiana, two top 10 teams, as well as Purdue. Ohio State fell two games back in the Big Ten Conference standings.

South Carolina remained No. 1 for the 32nd consecutive week. The Gamecocks, who were again a unanimous choice from the 28-member national media panel, have the fourth-longest streak ever atop the poll. Only UConn (51 and 34 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

Stanford moved back up to No. 2 in the poll and the Cardinal were followed by LSU, Indiana and UConn in the top five. LSU is the only other undefeated team in women’s basketball besides South Carolina, which visits UConn for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

Iowa jumped out four spots to sixth with Utah, Maryland and Notre Dame coming in ahead of Ohio State. The Hawkeyes started the season No. 4 in the poll.

The Fighting Irish split a pair of games last week against ranked opponents, routing Florida State before falling to N.C. State.

“There’s a lot of parity right now, which is great, great for the game,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “The game is growing, which is what you want. But yeah, I mean, every night, especially the ACC, the ACC is the strongest league and, you know, we have just a tough stretch every night.”

One week after falling out of the rankings, Texas re-entered the poll at No. 24. The Longhorns routed then-No. 14 Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last week. South Florida also came in at No. 25. Colorado and Illinois fell out of the poll.

RISING BULLS

No. 25 South Florida continued its streak of being ranked for at least one week every season since the Bulls entered the poll for the first time in 2015.

“For us not being in a so-called football five conference, that’s a huge accomplishment,” South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. His team has won 10 consecutive games and has 20 victories this season. The team’s four losses have all come against ranked opponents (Michigan, Villanova, Ohio State and N.C. State).

“This group has been fun to coach. We always play a great non(equals)conference schedule,” Fernandez said. “We won on the road at Texas, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas. We challenged ourselves in November and December.”

RECORD PERFORMANCES

Cameron Brink carried Stanford to a win over Oregon with a triple-double that included 10 blocks. It was the first triple-double in NCAA Division I women’s basketball featuring double-digit blocks since Tamari Key did it for Tennessee in an overtime win against Texas on Nov. 21, 2021.

No. 20 Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson set the all-time NCAA women’s career record for 3-pointers when she hit her 498th in a loss to Iowa State on Saturday. Robertson has 503 entering this week. The all-time NCAA record, men or women, is held by Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy, who has 534 and counting.

Purdue a unanimous No. 1 in AP Top 25; Tennessee up to No. 2

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Purdue became this season’s first unanimous No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 men’s college basketball poll Monday after wins over Michigan and Michigan State last week as chaos ensued behind the Boilermakers among other ranked teams.

More than half of Top 25 teams lost, including second-ranked Alabama, which was routed by Oklahoma in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. That allowed Purdue to grab the remaining No. 1 votes and tighten its grip atop the poll, while Tennessee jumped two spots to second and Houston held onto third in voting by 62 national media members.

The Boilermakers (21-1) have won eight straight since a one-point loss to Rutgers on Jan. 2.

“We’re the No. 1 team in the country because of how unselfish we are as a team,” Purdue guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “We had a lot of people doubting us in the beginning because, you know, we may not be the most talented team or whatever, but we’re close on the court and off the court and it’s really translating to how we’re winning.”

The Volunteers climbed to their highest perch since reaching No. 1 for four weeks during the 2018-19 season. They routed Georgia before becoming one of three SEC teams to beat Big 12 opponents on Saturday, knocking off No. 10 Texas 82-71 for their fifth consecutive win over a top-10 team.

Perhaps this is the year Rick Barnes finally gets the Vols through the Sweet 16 for the first time as their coach.

“We have a chance to be as good as we want to be,” he said. “It’s up to one thing: Are we tough enough to embrace the daily grind? And not worry about going to the Final Four or worry about going to the NCAA Tournament, but can we build a team that can be successful that time of year? It starts with truly embracing the grind.”

The Crimson Tide dropped to fourth after the blowout loss to the Sooners, when Alabama fell behind by 17 at halftime in an eventual 93-69 defeat. The Tide edged fifth-ranked Arizona by just two points in this week’s poll.

“It doesn’t have any effect on SEC standings, which is the only good thing to come out of this,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said of the lopsided loss. “Hopefully we’ll recover from a loss out of conference, but you know, it’s not good.”

Virginia was sixth and Kansas State, which rebounded from a narrow loss at No. 13 Iowa State by pummeling Florida on Saturday, fell two spots to seventh; the Wildcats face eighth-ranked Kansas in a top-10 showdown Tuesday night.

UCLA dropped to ninth after losing to Southern California and Texas rounded out the top 10.

Baylor continued its climb from unranked to No. 11 following wins over the Jayhawks and Arkansas. The Bears were followed by Gonzaga, Iowa State, Marquette and league rival TCU – the sixth Big 12 team in the top 15.

Xavier, Providence, Saint Mary’s, Florida Atlantic and Clemson completed the top 20, while poll returners Indiana and San Diego State joined Miami, UConn and Auburn in rounding out the Top 25.

RISING AND FALLING

The No. 11 Bears and No. 17 Providence made the biggest leaps, each climbing six spots from last week.

“I think our defense is better. Our turnovers are better. When you don’t give people easy transition baskets, now its five-on-five in the half court,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team had a date with the Longhorns on Monday night.

“We execute at a pretty high rate,” Drew said. “It really comes down to taking care of the ball, making sure we get shots up and when you don’t make them, you’ve got to get rebounds. And our guys are buying into that.”

Auburn took the biggest hit of those still in the poll, dropping 10 places after losses to unranked Texas A&M and West Virginia.

IN AND OUT

The Hoosiers returned to the poll at No. 21 and the Aztecs rejoined it right behind them. They took the place of Charleston, which fell out from No. 18 after losing to Hofstra, and New Mexico, which lost to Nevada in double overtime last week.

CONFERENCE CALL

The Big 12’s dominance of the SEC in the final year of their head-to-head challenge was rewarded in the poll, where the league led the way with six ranked teams and all of them in the top 15. The Big East has four teams in the poll but none higher than No. 14 Marquette, while the SEC and ACC have three teams apiece.

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.