As Coach Matt Doherty said in the post game presser, "It was a feel good game."
The Tar Heels will need any and everything positive garnered from the game because with all things good, come things not so good. Playing and squashing A&T can certainly be a welcome respite to the grind of the ACC. Unfortunately, last night's game could be the pin to pop the Tar Heel bubble. The tough loss at Clemson last Saturday coupled with A&T's bottom dwelling computer ranking, forces the Heels to play perfect basketball from here on in.
Prior to any season, it's always fun to check out the schedule and predict the outcome of the season. Of course, you never know what will happen during the season itself and there are always ‘what if's' and ‘if then's' that make the prediction game much more interesting.
As the season progresses in reality, ‘what ifs' become ‘need tos.' As the season comes to a close, those ‘need tos' become ‘musts.'
That is where the Tar Heels stand right now. Simply put, the Heels must win the remaining three at home (State, Tech and Duke) and must either win at Wake or at Maryland to have a chance to dance. (Of course the Heels can win the ACC Tournament and get the automatic bid. Should everyone stay healthy and an effective Sean May return…)
Two weeks ago, I said a 7-9 finish in the ACC should not garner an NCAA Tourney berth. I still hold that belief. And unless the Heels sweep the remaining Dean Dome games AND steal a win in Winston or in College Park, the Heels will finish 7-9 at best. In a year when the NCAA Selection Committee has openly discussed not inviting a team that failed to finish .500 in its conference, being on the bubble sporting a losing conference record is not an enviable position.
The coaching staff's task at hand is simple, yet trying. Take what was gained from beating the Aggies, expand on the successful formula, and translate those positives into fuel for the stretch run. No room for even the slightest misstep. None. Daunting, yet doable. Fortunately for the Heels, it all lies in the hands of those in Carolina blue and beginning Saturday in College Park, the final journey begins.
Credit A&T head coach Curtis Hunter for handling any coach's worst nightmare with class and dignity. 20 straight times this season prior to last night's game, Coach Hunter and his team left an arena a loser. In many of those games, the Aggies had little chance of winning. Despite that, A&T came into the Smith Center and put forth 100% effort in a game that was essentially over by the second official timeout. His team didn't quit and that alone speaks volumes about the character of the Aggie players, coach and staff.
As this grueling and often cruel season has flooded past, one thing has come into focus. Raymond Felton is simply the best point guard in the ACC. Right now. As a true freshman. His scoring outbursts at State and Duke and his wizardry with the basketball in the second half of the Virginia win were simply amazing. Throw in his ability and desire to play lock down defense and he has no equal in the ACC. Saturday's matchup with Terp PGs Steve Blake and John Gilchrist should be "must see TV" for any basketball fan. Felton reminds me of Ed Cota on the court, though his combination speed and strength with the basketball are unmatched by anyone to wear the light blue. Hefty, but deserving praise for a special player.
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