North Carolina Tar Heels (32-2) vs. Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers (19-14)
When: Friday, 7:10 p.m.
Where: Raleigh, N.C.
NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
1. Look Out.North Carolina enters the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and prohibitive favorite. Their path to the Final Four would start in Raleigh and move all the way to Charlotte. (Jim Boeheim on PTI Monday: "Does Carolina even need to get out of bed to advance?") They are peaking at the right time, with their ACC tournament championship capping a strong stretch in which the Heels won their final six ACC games by an average of 17.5 points. Point guard Ty Lawson is fresh, back from injury, and the rest of the team is as healthy as you can hope for. And Tyler Hansbrough is still, presumably, yelling at his muscles to "lift harder!" and, when they refuse, subjecting them to ping-pong punishment. Anything short of a Final Four berth would be something of a disappointment. Luckily, UNC will win the NCAA Tournament.
2. Blood Bracket. The bracket is set up for what would be two dream Final Four matchups for any blue-blooded Carolina fan. With Kansas #1 in the Midwest, UNC could face Roy Williams's old team in the semifinals, in an environment that surely will cause the dag-nabbed coach to, finally, give a shit. That's happened before; in 1991, Kansas beat UNC in the national semifinal; in 1993, UNC returned the favor. But looming as a possibility beyond that is the Holy Grail of college basketball What-Ifs, the ratings bonanza that might save CBS no matter how badly their fall series tank, the event that would cause Dick Vitale's tonsils to rip free from his throat and flee to Canada: a potential UNC-Duke matchup in the championship game. (Ed. Note: UNC-Duke is actually the Finals pick of this site's humble editor.) We can't even begin to express the amount of anxiety that would cause us, imagining Duke and its coach, Satan-Rat-Spawn, beating the Heels in the biggest game of their lives. Luckily, UNC will win the NCAA Tournament.
3. A Doherty Year. 2001-2002 was a great year for ACC schadenfreude, as the Heels went 8-20 under coach Matt Doherty and missed the tournament for the first time in 27 years. That disaster led my friends to coin the phrase "a Doherty year" to describe a period in your life when, in the midst of a long tradition of success, everything goes to shit, only to return fairly quickly to previous levels of quality. Our own personal Doherty year was 1995-1996. For Duke's lacrosse team, it was 2006. Queen Elizabeth's was 1992. It's possible that for Eliot Spitzer, it's 2008, or it's possible that things will never get better, making this less a Doherty year than a, say, Art Shell year. Matt Doherty's safely out at SMU these days, leading the Mustangs to a 10-20 record in his second year. Luckily for us, Roy Williams is our coach now, as we abandoned Matt Doherty like he was an Enron stock certificate dipped in herpes. Luckily, UNC will win the NCAA Tournament. — Dan Kois
MOUNT ST. MARY'S MOUNTAINEERS
1. Fun facts about your Mount St. Mary's University Mountaineers. Mount St. Mary's University was founded in 1808, making it the oldest independent Catholic college in the United States. It's located in Emmitsburg, a tiny mountain town in Central Maryland just south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The Mount (and yes, that's really what they call it) has been co-educational since 1972 and has seen a sharp spike in impure thoughts in the ensuing decades. According to my friend John, a 2002 grad, a popular saying around campus is, "Mount. It's not just a school. It's a verb." Basketball-wise, the most famous alumnus is former Bullets, 76ers, and Bucks guard Fred "Mad Dog" Carter. The Mount (18-14) gained the third tournament berth in school history by winning the Northeast Conference tournament. Strong efforts from the Mountaineer bench powered the team down the stretch, as the reserves notched at least 39 points in each of their last three games.
2. Hooked on a Phelan. If you have any familiarity with the Mountaineers, it's probably because of their former coach, the legendary Jim Phelan. He coached at the Mount for his entire 49-year career before retiring in 2003 with 830 wins (fourth all-time) in an NCAA-record 1,321 games. He guided his teams to 16 Division II tournament appearances, reaching the Final Four five times and winning it all in 1962. Phelan has received the honor of having the Mount's home court named for him; the NEC Coach of the Year award and the collegeinsider.com National Coach of the Year award also now bear his name. His trademark was an ever-present bow tie, and he kept a set of ninja throwing stars in his breast pocket, which he used to intimidate referees and gain favorable calls for his team. I may have just lied to you.
3. They Don't Burn Couches in Emmitsburg. The Baltimore Sun's recap of the NEC tournament final in Fairfield, CT notes that an unspecified number of Mountaineers fans celebrated the victory by storming the court post-game and ... throwing confetti. The reporter fails to describe the manner in which the fans threw the confetti. Were they tossing it in the air and letting it rain gently down? Or were they firing it at the Sacred Heart players and fans in an aggressive and taunting fashion? Personally, I approve of the injection of small-time whimsy into what is becoming an overdone and unimaginative expression of euphoria by college hoops fans. But I suppose Storming The Floor will have the final ruling on the matter. — Kevin Brotzman