Thursday, March 31, 2011

Charlotte's Bilas to irritate VCU -- again

I had a 30-minute phone conversation with Jay Bilas late Wednesday. A Charlotte resident since 1993, Bilas had just arrived in Houston and was getting ready to cover the Final Four for ESPN.

Bilas has been getting a lot of heat lately -- most of it good-natured -- from everyone associated with Virginia Commonwealth because he railed against VCU's selection into the NCAA tournament field so strongly on Selection Sunday. VCU coach Shaka Smart wondered aloud after one Rams' NCAA tourney win if Bilas had watched the game. Bilas has tweeted that crow actually tastes a lot like eating chicken (although he still firmly believes VCU should have never made the field).

VCU, of course, is in the Final Four, where it will face Butler. UConn and Kentucky will play in the other, far more traditional semifinal. (My column on why I really hope Butler or VCU wins the whole thing can be found here).

I'll be writing a column later this week on Bilas, whose combination of thoughtfulness and humor makes him the best studio analyst in college basketball. But I went ahead and got his picks for the Final Four, and here they are. Again, VCU fans will be irritated.

Bilas's picks:

Semifinal 1: Butler over VCU. Bilas said while VCU has played better to this point, Butler is an expert at slowing the game down and will "squeak one out."

Semifinal 2: UConn over Kentucky.

Final: UConn over Butler.

Much more from Bilas to come later this week, but he says of this Final Four: "If you played it four different times, you really could have four different champions. There just is not a single great team in college basketball this season, which is going to make this one a blast."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bobcats win, but how?

I saw the Bobcats outscore Milwaukee 7-0 in the final three and a half minutes Monday night to edge the Bucks 87-86 at Time Warner Cable Arena and remain alive in the playoff race, and I'm still not quite sure how it happened.

Gerald Henderson scored all seven of those points for Charlotte, but the Bobcats still made some serious miscues that could have easily allowed the Bucks to win. Boris Diaw had two bad turnovers in the last 90 seconds. There were some defensive errors that allowed Milwaukee's most exciting player, Brandon Jennings, to repeatedly get open (and Jennings just slithered his way open a lot of times, too).

And yet, the Bucks went 0-for-10 from the field in those final 210 seconds. Here's a list of the 10 shots they missed in that last bit while Henderson was catching the Bobcats up:

1. Jennings 3-point miss at 3:27
2. Andrew Bogut (who had 26 points but didn't score in the 4th)-- 10-foot hook shot miss at 3:01
3. Jennings 3-foot jumper at 2:11 (Jennings had 26 points as well, but went 2-for-12 in the fourth quarter)
4. Jennings 3-point miss at 1:47
5. Jennings 14-foot jumper miss at 1:02
6. Bogut misses layup at 38.9 seconds (this was the easiest shot the Bucks got)
7. Jennings misses contested layup at 15.9
8. Jennings misses contested layup at 5.9 (following his steal of Diaw's in-bounds pass)
9. Jennings misses 3-pointer at 2.0
10. Carlos Delfino misses a tip-in from 1 foot at buzzer

So you've got to put this one more on Jennings' back than anyone's -- he missed seven of those 10 shots. Said Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles: "We had multiple plays at the rim that we ran and got wide-open looks, we just couldn't make them." The Bucks ended up 4-for-22 in the fourth quarter. I didn't say it was great basketball, but it was entertaining basketball.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, won their third straight game despite playing their third-string point guard, Garrett Temple, for the game's last 9:56. It was an amazing victory on several fronts, and it kept the Bobcats (31-42) in the playoff chase, one game behind Indiana for the No.8 spot.

3 thoughts on UNC's loss

I'm back from a one-week break and am fairly astounded, like everyone else, that both Butler and VCU made the Final Four.

Kentucky beating UNC? Now that wasn't astounding. If they played 10 times, I figure each team would win five. Very evenly matched. In my mind, the difference on Sunday was:

1) John Henson's foul trouble. Why was Henson reaching down for the volleyball-spike block on some of them, instead of simply keeping his hands up and going for the tip block? It's so much safer. Henson deserves credit for staying out of foul trouble nearly all year, but this was a bad day to have a bad day, as John Fox would say.

2) 3-point issues. Kentucky made 12 of 22 from three-point range, which is not that easy to do even if you're shooting alone in an empty gym. Kudos to the Wildcats for that -- like Arizona against Duke, Kentucky got a 3 whenever it needed one. But as for North Carolina... Leslie McDonald sure slumped late in the year, which meant that Harrison Barnes was about the only guy who could make a 3 for the last couple of weeks. And when Barnes' outside shot was off -- he was 2-for-9 from 3-point range Sunday -- there just wasn't enough help.

3) The knife edge. This Carolina team had a very good season -- a great one, really, given that it made it to the final 8 after not making the NCAA tournament at all in 2010 and was also the final ACC team to go out.

But it also had a disturbing tendency to play on a knife edge. Other than the Marquette game in the Sweet 16, it's hard to remember a game against a quality opponent in which UNC simply put the other guys away early and then kept that team down. It made valiant comeback attempts many times, but you can't live like that forever.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Duke, UNC win nailbiters

A few notes on UNC and Duke as the Tar Heels and Blue Devils each advanced to the Sweet 16 out of Charlotte on Sunday, winning two outstanding NCAA tourney games by a combined total of only five points:

-- Sunday was a lot better day than Friday was in general for both Charlotte and the NCAA tournament. The games were great, the crowd was far more into it, and both Washington and Michigan proved to be excellent sparring partners for the two ACC rivals. If it had gone just a little differently, it could have been a Black Sunday for both UNC and Duke (the 1979 edition, for those with long memories), but both did just enough at the end to win.

-- I thought the officials needed to do some more video review at the end of the UNC-Washington game. First of all, Washington should have had about 1.1 seconds left to get off that final shot, not 0.5, but no official corrected that.

-- I also thought John Henson goal-tended Washington’s final shot, although since it was mistakenly shot from two-point range it would only have made the score a one-point UNC margin instead of the three-point UNC win (86-83) that officially resulted.

-- Henson is involved in so many weird plays, isn’t he? Just in the final 10 seconds, he tipped a ball on an in-bounds pass to cause a turnover, then dropped a desperate heave from a Washington player out of bounds, then did his “was it a goaltending?” act.

-- I know Duke guard Kyrie Irving is supposed to be the next John Wall and all, but he still looks rusty. There’s no doubt that Duke’s Nolan Smith, the ACC Player of the Year, remained the best player on the floor Sunday in Duke’s 73-71 win.

Smith (24 points) was great. He almost broke a Michigan defender’s ankles with one crossover move. Irving was just OK, but he did hit a key bank shot in the final minute (his only field goal of the game).

-- Congrats to Coach K and his 900th career victory. Amazing.

-- The attendance at Time Warner Cable Arena Sunday was a bit better than Friday. There were about 1,500 more tickets sold for Sunday’s session compared to Friday’s – the Sunday session ticket was $77.

The announced crowd was 18,329 Sunday, compared to 16,852 Friday. Still, it’s a stunner the whole weekend wasn’t a complete sellout with both North Carolina and Duke in the house.

-- I am off until Monday, March 28 and won’t be posting on this blog until then. Thanks to all of you so much for reading this blog, and have a good week!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Washington a dangerous matchup for UNC Sunday

Washington will pose a serious “round of 32” threat to North Carolina Sunday when the two teams square off at 12:15 p.m. And one Georgia player came just short of predicting a Huskie victory early Saturday morning.

Georgia’s Trey Thompkins, who had 26 points in Washington’s 68-65 win over the Bulldogs Friday night, was asked after the game how far he expected Washington to go in the tournament.

“I feel this Washington team will go deep into the tournament,” Thompkins said. And although he didn’t explain that by further, I wouldn’t think one victory would be considered “deep” by anyone.

Washington, a No.7 seed, has far more NCAA tournament experience than the current crop of Tar Heel players. The Huskies made it to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2010 before losing to West Virginia.

They have a 5-9 junior guard in Isaiah Thomas (no relation to the original Isaiah Thomas) who makes them go, and a couple of seniors in the post (6-9 Matthew Bryan-Amaning and 6-6 Justin Holiday) who are very respectable players.

Said Georgia coach Mark Fox, who is a longtime friend of Roy Williams, shortly after his team had lost to the Huskies Friday night in Charlotte: “Washington scores it from so many places…. It should be a heckuva ballgame.”

For the second game in a row, the Tar Heels have also found a team that wants to run with them. Long Island was the nation’s No.4 scoring team (UNC beat the Blackbirds, 102-87 Friday night).

Washington? It’s the nation’s No.3 scoring team, averaging 83.5 points per game.
The Huskies won the Pac-10 tournament this season (but finished only third in the Pac-10 regular season).

In the game vs. Georgia Friday, Washington was slowed considerably by the Bulldogs’ insistence on playing at a leisurely tempo. But the Huskies had a nice run early in the second half and held a lead of around 10 points most of the way until Georgia made a furious comeback at the end. A missed Bulldogs’ three-pointer from about 25 feet was all that kept the game from going into overtime.

One other note: attendance for the night session at Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena was announced at 16,852, which is a couple of thousand people short of a sellout. That's something, isn't it? Duke and North Carolina can't sell out in Charlotte?!

Friday, March 18, 2011

First-day thoughts from Charlotte's NCAA tourney

You want buzzer beaters? You want last-second drama?

Maybe Sunday -- at least in Charlotte (where, by, the way, the times have been announced for Sunday's two games). Not Friday.

On Sunday, North Carolina plays Washington at 12:15 p.m. Duke plays Michigan 30 minutes after that game, which will allow for a likely 2:45 or so start. Both games will be televised by CBS -- it's sort of an old-school afternoon coming up.

Through the first three games of Charlotte's latest NCAA hosting experience Friday, we saw a 30-point win (by Michigan), a 42-point win (by Duke) and a 15-point win (by UNC).

The final Friday game -- which actually ended at about 12:15 a.m. Saturday -- was a little better. Washington edged Georgia, 68-65, although the Bulldogs had about a 30-footer at the buzzer that could have tied it (but wasn't close). Washington led most of the second half by 8-10 points, though -- it wasn't exactly a thriller.

Washington will likely run with the Tar Heels Sunday. The Huskies were No.3 in the country in scoring this season, averaging 83 per game, although Georgia slowed them down a little.

In the UNC game, the Tar Heels led by 10-16 points for most of the second half over those gritty Long Island Blackbirds before winning 102-87.

As I write in my column for Saturday's newspaper, though, this game again exposed some flaws in the Tar Heels. They committed too many turnovers (18), shot poorly from three-point range (3-for-17), allowed too much penetration by LIU's quick guards and had some concentration lapses that allowed LIU to stick around too long.

As Roy Williams said afterward: “I’m not pleased with the way we played, but I’m pleased we’re still playing.”

Duke was much more impressive in its first-round victory, but of course Michigan won by 30 as well (in what was likely Bruce Pearl's last game as Tennessee coach). I think the Blue Devils are too athletic for Michigan, though, especially now that Kyrie Irving is playing again.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kyrie is in -- and that changes a lot

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made official Thursday afternoon what had been long suspected -- Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving will play in the NCAA tournament.

Irving hasn't played since December, when he injured his toe against Butler. Coach K said he would come off the bench and play a limited number of minutes.

Still, I can easily see this becoming one of the biggest storylines of the NCAA tournament. Without Irving, Duke still grabbed a No.1 seed. With a healthy Irving? Well, if he plays like he did in December, let's just say I'd like to rethink my pick of an Ohio State-Kansas final.

Too late now on that, but it was good to see Irving running with the other Blue Devils in Thursday's open practice and it will be good to see him play in Charlotte this weekend. He was a good soldier by all accounts during his absence, and so now we all get to see what he's got.

"To have Kyrie back will be a huge lift," said Nolan Smith, who now won't have to constantly pressure the opposing team's point guard on defense since Irving can do that whenever he's in the game.

Said Coach K of Irving: "This kid will be a great player. He won't be a great player tomorrow (against Hampton, 3:10 p.m. tipoff Friday)."

That's probably true, but by next week? Irving may well be a great player once again, and he may make Duke a very serious contender for its second straight national title.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Where is truTV?

Where to find truTV is a question a lot of college basketball fans are asking this week, since the truTV cable network for the first time (along with sister stations TNT and TBS) will be telecasting entire games of the NCAA basketall tournament.

The truTV network, once known as Court TV, will telecast all four of the “First Four” games Tuesday and Wednesday (including Clemson’s and UNC-Asheville's first-round games tonight) and then have games throughout the weekend (including Duke’s 2:40 p.m. first-round game Friday vs. Hampton in Charlotte -- that game will NOT be on CBS).

This is all part of the NCAA’s new 14-year TV deal, which was hammered out in Charlotte last April and which I’m writing about in depth for Wednesday’s newspaper.

But in the meantime, where’s truTV? Here’s a partial list, and if you aren’t on one of these then look on your TV for the channel guide or go to for more details.

In Charlotte on Time Warner Cable, truTV can be found on Channel 75; the HDTV version is 1313. For Comporium, it is channel 233. For Dish Network it is channel 204 and for DirecTV it is channel 246. On AT&T U-verse, it is channel 165. For MI-Connection, it is channel 31.

In general, truTV is usually found very close to TNT and TBS because all three are owned by Turner Networks. It is on most basic cable packages.

More from Bob Knight in Charlotte

I had limited space in today's column about Bob Knight's appearance alongside Billy Packer, Mike Gminski, Phil Ford and Jay Bilas in Charlotte Monday night, but here were a few more of the interesting things Knight and others said that I couldn't get into the newspaper:

-- Minutes before Knight's first appearance in the NCAA title game, in 1976 against Michigan, he called Packer over to his huddle. Packer, who was announcing the game, trotted over, thinking Knight needed some "advice," he said.

Instead, Knight got Packer into the huddle and growled: "Hey, Packer, where the (heck) is the ACC tonight?"

-- Both Knight and Gminski agreed that Bill Russell was the most valuable player in basketball history, due to the sheer number of championships that Russell's teams won.

-- Knight said he "hated the three-point shot" even now and said he thought Duke shot the three-pointer far more than he would ever allow his own teams to.

-- Bilas said one of the dark horses in the NCAA tournament was 13th-seeded Oakland (which plays Texas in its first game).

-- Knight said that the shot fake is one of the most under-utilized plays in college basketball and that everyone who has kids or grandkids should teach it to their sons and daughters.

-- Knight said that when Mike Krzyzewski came to play for him at Army he took one look at Krzyzewski on the court and told him: "Don't throw the ball away, play like (heck) on defense and don't ever shoot."

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Final Four picks

My colleague Tom Sorensen and I like to pick games against each other. We have a contest every year regarding who will pick the Carolina Panthers' final record most accurately. In 2010, I'd say we both lost -- the Panthers went 2-14. I picked them 7-9 and Tom picked them 9-7.

Hopefully our Final Four picks will be a bit better. Here's Tom's, from his column today, in which he wrote that Ohio State, San Diego State, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame would make the Final Four. Then: "Ohio State beats San Diego State and Pitt beats Notre Dame. The Panthers upset the Buckeyes. Pitt is your unlikely national champion."

OK, so here's mine: Ohio State, Duke, Kansas and BYU.

Then I've got Kansas beating BYU, Ohio State beating Duke, and Ohio State edging Kansas for the national title.

Three of our four Final Four picks are different -- Ohio State is the only overlap.

And I know I picked three No.1 seeds and a No.3 for the Final Four. The only time I won a large-scale bracket contest, though, I also picked three No.1 seeds. If you fall too in love with upsets, it's difficult to win a bracket in my opinion.

Incidentally, in Charlotte, Duke and UNC will both win a couple of games this weekend. I have the Tar Heels going out to Ohio State in the Elite Eight.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Enjoy Barnes while you can, UNC fans

After watching Harrison Barnes light up Clemson for 40 points Saturday in North Carolina’s improbable 92-87 ACC semifinal overtime win, I get the feeling we all just saw the best game Barnes will ever play in a Tar Heel uniform.

Maybe I’m wrong and Barnes, a precocious freshman, won’t come out early for the NBA draft. Maybe the impending possible lockout will keep him in school, or maybe he just likes school and wants to stay like Tyler Hansbrough (who also once hit 40 points as a freshman) did for four seasons.

But when you can do something like that, it’s hard not to hear the siren song of the NBA.

A couple of notes about Barnes’ 40 points, which matched his uniform number:
-- They were the most ever in 115 previous ACC tournament semifinals.
-- They were the most points scored by a UNC player in the ACC tournament in 40 years (Lennie Rosenbluth still has the school record with 45 in a 1957 quarterfinal).

For the second straight game, UNC lived very dangerously. The Tar Heels fell behind 14-3 early and were down 73-66 with 2:30 left (and Clemson had the ball). But the Tar Heels scored the final seven points of regulation, then never trailed in overtime.

Barnes had 14 of the Tar Heels’ 19 points in that overtime period, assuring the win. It was amazingly good. Said Barnes of the NBA after the game: “When the season is over, I’ll think about it.”

Enjoy No.40 while you can, Tar Heel fans. I don’t think he’s going to be around very long.

Friday, March 11, 2011

5 thoughts on Duke's win over Maryland

Duke's 87-71 win over Maryland in an ACC quarterfinal Friday night was impressive, especially considering Duke lost point guard Nolan Smith due to a toe injury (his second toe, to be exact) with a 65-60 lead and 6:48 to go.

After that:

-- Duke played very inspired basketball. Without Smith, the 2011 ACC player of the year, Duke still outscored Maryland, 22-11, in the final minutes.

-- Charlotte's Seth Curry (11 points, 3 assists) filled in ably at point guard for Smith.

-- Kyle Singler broke out of his shooting slump with a flourish, scoring 29 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Singler said he still didn't think he shot that well, noting he was 0-for-4 on threes.

-- The Plumlee brothers had 20-20 vision Friday, combining for exactly 20 points and 20 rebounds between them. Their rebounding in particular was a huge reason why Duke won.

-- Coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game he won't know Smith's availability for Saturday's game until shortly before gametime, but that he hoped Smith would at least be available for the NCAA tournament given that it was his second toe that was injured (big-toe injuries are considered to be more serious).

This means both Duke and UNC are into the semifinals of the ACC tournament. If they both win Saturday, we'll get the first Duke-UNC ACC tournament final since 2001.
Weird, huh? The two schools have won every ACC tourney since 1997 except one between them (Maryland, 2004) and yet they haven't met in 10 years in the final.

5 thoughts on UNC's last-second win

North Carolina gave a double jolt of caffeine to the ACC tournament Friday – first by nearly losing to Miami, then by clawing back from a 19-point deficit to beat the Hurricanes on a buzzer beater by Tyler Zeller.

Zeller’s layup just before the buzzer – off a beautiful feed from Kendall Marshall – gave North Carolina a 61-59 ACC quarterfinal victory that seemed very unlikely until the final minute. The result: a crowd of more than 23,000 at the Greensboro Coliseum, made up of 90 percent Tar Heel fans for this one, got very scared and then got overjoyed.

Five reasons why North Carolina finally pulled this one out after never leading for the game's first 39 minutes and 59 seconds:

1. A three-point binge. Down 55-39 with 7:46 to go, the Tar Heels reeled off four three-pointers while Miami went scoreless in a span of two and a half minutes. That made it 55-51, and it obviously rattled Miami.

2. Zeller awakens. UNC’s leading scorer at 14.6 points per game, Zeller was flummoxed by Miami’s matchup zone until the last four minutes. He then scored the Tar Heels last eight points on four straight field goals from inside.
In the first 36 minutes, Zeller had five points. In the last four, he had those eight, including the last left-handed layup. “I just sort of shot-putted it up there,” Zeller said.

3. Miami miscues. You can’t make a comeback from 19 points down with 10 minutes to go – UNC’s largest comeback since 2006 – without a lot of help. Miami gave it by not being able to score. One shot after another went sour for Miami. And with the score tied at 59-all, the Hurricanes fumbled a relatively simple pass out of bounds, setting up Zeller’s layup.

4. Coaching strategy. Roy Williams went small with a three-guard lineup for much of the comeback, allowing the Tar Heels to trap more and make a few more three-pointers. Williams also sent in five walk-ons early in the game – basically to give him time to yell at the starters – but that didn’t do much immediately as the Tar Heels still trailed by nine at halftime.

5. The crowd. It was full, it was very loud and there’s no doubt it helped.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Packer: UNC more likely to make Final Four than Duke

Billy Packer says it would be “a shocker” if Duke makes it to the 2011 men’s Final Four. If North Carolina does, however, Packer said it would be “no surprise at all.”

Packer, 71, told me that today while I interviewed him about college basketball. The interview was in conjunction with an event Packer has going this Monday at 7 p.m. at Spirit Square in uptown Charlotte called “Inside the Brackets.” At that 90-minute event, Packer, Bob Knight, Phil Ford and Mike Gminski will talk college basketball and speculate about the just-released NCAA 68-team bracket.

It should be a lot of fun. Tickets are on sale to the general public for $20 at 704-372-1000 or

As part of the interview I asked Packer – who worked more than 30 Final Fours as a TV analyst and broadcast his last Final Four for CBS in 2008 – what he thought about Duke and North Carolina’s chances to reach this year’s Final Four.

Of Duke, Packer said: “Unless Kyrie Irving comes back – and I have no information that he will or anything like that – it would be a shocker to me to see Duke in the Final Four.

“There are certain players that can make a team special. Duke had that player in Irving. He could break down the defense. You had to guard him with two people when he got inside. Now Duke is too perimeter-oriented. To me, Duke has gone from a team that could separate itself from the field like Ohio State is doing now to just a good team among 30-40 other good teams around the country.”

Of UNC, Packer said: “North Carolina has excellent balance. Kendall Marshall has such a high basketball IQ, and is such a good distributor at point guard, that he has made every man on that team half a man better. The Tar Heels certainly could be haunted by a game with poor outside shooting or foul trouble, because their depth is weak, but overall it would be no surprise at all to see them in the Final Four.”

In the current Associated Press poll, Duke is No.5 in the country and North Carolina is No.6. The teams split their regular-season matchups. Both clubs open ACC tournament play Friday and could face each other again in Sunday’s championship game in Greensboro.

As Cam's crazy world turns

How many times do the Panthers really need to see Cam Newton throw the ball in a T-shirt and shorts with no rush? Apparently, at least one more, as they have scheduled a private workout with Newton for sometime next week.

Not only that, but they still plan to bring Newton into Charlotte for a meeting with team officials sometime before the late April draft (which will still be held regardless of the current labor negotiations).

What to make of all this interest? I have two competing theories:

1) The Panthers are going to take Newton. All of these repeated job interviews are just making sure. He's got great size, he plays the most important position on the field, it's a huge need for Carolina, plus he's got charisma, he wins, they think the wild-card father can be kept out of the mix.... they are going to harness the franchise to Newton.

2) The Panthers want everyone else in the NFL to believe they are about to take Newton. Why? This makes his trade value higher. Newton is the most marketable asset in the draft (eight other teams have scheduled private workouts with him too). If other teams believe Carolina doesn't want him and is fairly desperate to get out of that No.1 slot, then why offer a lot? But if Carolina can say, "Well, we really want him, as you can see, but if you throw in a couple more draft picks and that veteran quarterback you have sitting over there, then we'll consider it..." that's better for the Panthers.

Maybe you've got another theory that's even more plausible and if so, I'd like to hear it. Otherwise, which one do you buy? Right now, I'm leaning toward No.1.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Duke, UNC should be in Charlotte

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and UNC coach Roy Williams are lobbying a little for their teams to be in Charlotte for our NCAA tournament weekend March 18 and 20, and they're both right.

It makes a lot of sense for both schools to get rewarded and play in Charlotte. They should each be No.1 or No.2 seeds in the NCAA tournament after excellent regular seasons -- Duke is currently No.5 in the AP poll and UNC is No.6. Top seeds like that should get to play close to home and usually do.

Since the advent of the NCAA's pod system, it's no longer necessary to ship one team far away so the clubs won't meet each other too early. UNC and Duke could be in entirely different regionals -- and undoubtedly will be -- but will both play here. Tickets at Time Warner Cable Arena will sell out in a heartbeat Sunday night if that's the way it goes. And if either Duke or UNC gets moved somewhere else for the opening two rounds, then you can bet there will be some howling -- and well-deserved howling.

A couple of other notes:

-- I wrote my column for Tuesday's newspaper on Blake Griffin's first-ever trip to Charlotte Monday night, and here's the link.

-- At that Bobcats game, the team was trying to sell tickets by advertising Friday night's home game against Portland as "The Return of Gerald Wallace." That strikes a very off note to me. Wallace didn't want to get traded, told our Rick Bonnell last week that he felt "betrayed" by the Bobcats for doing so... and now they're using his face to sell tickets again to his "glorious homecoming," just like they used his face for years when Wallace was here? I know the Bobcats paid Wallace extremely well while he was here and are within their rights on this, but I think I'd quietly drop that little ticket campaign if I were them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

5 Monday thoughts: Wallace, UNC-Duke and Griffin

A quick look ahead and back on a Monday:

1) The NFL and NFLPA are back at it today, trying to divide a few billion. If you missed my Sunday column on the NFL labor dispute and how ridiculous it is, here's the link.

2) Gerald Wallace saying he felt "betrayed" by the Bobcats to our Rick Bonnell over the weekend makes sense. Wallace always gave everything he had to this team. It will be interesting to see how he's treated Friday night when Charlotte -- which suddenly can't score 70 points per game anymore -- hosts Portland. What if Gerald makes the winning shot at the end? Wouldn't that be ironic?

3) I'm rooting for a Duke-UNC final Sunday in the ACC tournament. Since both held serve on their respective home courts, would be great to get the neutral court tiebreaker. The draw sets up pretty well for both of them, but the ACC is always peculiar, and I'd say there's only a 40 percent chance that both will get to Sunday's final.

4) Carl Edwards has to be the early favorite for the championship right now. If not for some bad luck, he'd already have a substantial lead in the points race. He really could have won all 3 of the first 3 races if things had worked out a bit differently.

5) Am really looking forward to seeing Blake Griffin tonight in Charlotte. I love the way SportsCenter puts up a "Blake Griffin alert" on many of his highlight dunks now. The Bobcats are reeling after that terrible West Coast trip, but then again the Clippers are only 5-25 on the road this season.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jeremy Shockey: I like it

I'm so tired of hearing about mediated labor talks, player-owner disputes and the expiration (or extension) of the current CBA.

Maybe that's partly why I'm so in favor of the Carolina Panthers' signing of Jeremy Shockey, announced today. It means we can talk about football again -- thinking about what third-and-7 looks like instead of what a seven-hour negotiating session must sound like.

I know there are risks involved with Shockey. He's been injury-prone recently. He's blunt. He's a character. And he's 30 years old, which is nearing old age at the tight end position.

But there are also rewards. The last "senior" tight end the Panthers signed following his stint in New Orleans, Wesley Walls, was the best at the position the team has ever had.

New coach Ron Rivera has spoken about finding one guy at TE to be Carolina's threat, rather than the 3-headed monster of mediocrity that played the position last season. This looks like Rivera and his staff doing something pro-active, trying to see how much tread Shockey has left on the tires. The guy has the Super Bowl ring the Panthers all want, he's a multiple Pro Bowler -- he's worth a shot.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thoughts on No.1 pick

If you haven't read this story yet from Joe Person about the eight primary candidates for the Carolina Panthers and their No.1 pick, you should. Go ahead, I'll wait.

OK, finished? Now here are my thoughts on what the Panthers should do with that No.1 pick they earned by virtue of their 2-14 record in 2010. I haven't moved much off my position stated in this blog a month ago -- that the best option is to either pick Auburn DT Nick Fairley or trade the pick.

But I am OK with one more option now, too -- drafting Auburn QB Cam Newton.

As I've said before, Fairley reminds me of Kris Jenkins in his prime at Carolina, before he got too fat and his knees could no longer support that enormous body. Jenkins made life so much easier for everyone else on the defense -- but particularly the Panther linebackers and their defensive ends -- because he either took up two blockers on every play or he disrupted everything.

Like Jenkins, Fairley has his own baggage. But I’d still pick him over Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers. I’d do that in part because the Panthers need DT help more than DE help (this is assuming they keep Charles Johnson, of course).

But... and this is a big but... I'm all right now with drafting Cam Newton, too.

The more I think about it, the more I believe picking Newton would be worth the risk on character issues and strong-but-erratic arm issues. He wins everywhere he goes, and he's charismatic and he plays what is easily the most important position on the field. I like him more than Blaine Gabbert, who strikes me as a little too similar to Jimmy Clausen. Keep his father way, wa-a-a-a-y away from everything, and I think he could work out here, too.

So with less than two months to go before the draft, I'm restating my position from my Jan.28th blog just a little. With the No.1 pick, I believe the Panthers should either pick Fairley, pick Newton or trade it away.