Feeling out the Tar Heels’ Tradition
Thursday, March 20, 2014
What do the Providence Friars really know about the North Carolina Tar Heels?
For one, their colors are Carolina Blue and White. Pretty familiar with those. How did they become the Tar Heels? Legend has it the nickname was started in the mid-19th century, when the state's citizens were known as "tarboilers." From there, Tar Heels just kind of "stuck."
Oh yeah. The state university basketball team has been pretty good, too. 18 Final Fours (two more than PC has total NCAA appearances). Five National Championships. Where Dean Smith coached, Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Bob McAdoo played. Let's go back further - with coaches who played there: Larry Brown, George Karl, Doug Moe...and of a more recent vintage, don't forget players like Sam Perkins, Tyler Hansbrough, Rasheed Wallace or Jerry Stackhouse. The list of players wearing Carolina blue is long, and illustrious.
"We've got a juggernaut organization we've got to play against," PC's Ed Cooley said this week, "and I've got to prepare our group."
This year's team is pretty good, too. Not as good, perhaps, as some of the great Carolina teams of the past, but good enough to finish 23-9 this season, 13-5 in the ACC (tied for 3rd).
"I think they have the fastest big men we've played against since I've been a head coach," Cooley pointed out. "They rebound the ball great, they're unbelievable in transition, I think (Marcus) Paige is a national player of the year candidate - we've got our hands full."
Marcus Paige, a 6-1 sophomore guard from Iowa, was 1st team all-ACC and was also named as a 2nd team all-American by The Sporting News. He's the first Tar Heel sophomore guard to be named 1st team all-ACC since Phil Ford in 1976, and led the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game. James McAdoo is a 6-9 junior forward from Virginia who made 2nd team all-ACC, finished second in scoring (14.2 ppg) and led the team in rebounding (6.7 per game). McAdoo was one of the highest rated prep players in the country three years ago, and his father (who played at Old Dominion) is a cousin of Hall-of-Famer and former Tar Heel star Bob McAdoo.
There's some lineage that runs deep inside that Carolina Blue.
"We definitely have our hands full with what we're trying to do," Cooley added. "We're going to be competitive on the glass, because we were the best offensive rebounding team in our league. But it's 'what have you done for us lately,' and we've got our hands full with this game on Friday."
Carolina is 11-2 on the season with a lineup of Paige, McAdoo, ACC all-defensive team forward J.P. Tokoto, Leslie McDonald and Kennedy Meeks. They've averaged almost 80 points per game over the last 13 games, after averaging only 56 points in their first three league games. The Tar Heels were also 5-2 this season against teams ranked in the Top 25.
"The closest team we would have played with their length would probably have been Syracuse a year ago," Cooley pointed out. "They're really, really long at each position. McAdoo is a tough matchup for people, and they block a lot of shots around the basket. But I think we match up great, it's just a good opportunity for Providence College and I can't tell you how excited we are to go play."
The Friars will also face a program that's playing in the NCAA's for a 10th time in the last 11 years, 45th time overall (second all-time to Kentucky), and led by a coach who has won multiple national titles. A legendary program, rife with tradition throughout.
"We are not going to change what we do," Cooley pointed out. "We'll play with our heart, our soul, we're gonna play with passion and energy."
And perhaps, try to enhance the Friars' tradition at the same time, at the expense of those in the Carolina Blue.
Providence's chartered flight from T.F. Green departed Wednesday morning just after 8:00 am, and arrived in San Antonio, TX just before 12 Noon local time. Players, coaches, administrators, cheerleaders and band members, along with media and some family members filled the Southwest flight and descended upon the Alamo City shortly after arrival. The team held practice at the San Antonio Spurs practice facility...the games will be played at the AT&T Center just outside of the downtown area, which is the arena home of the NBA's Spurs...the Friars will take to the interview podium and conduct an "open to the public" workout at the AT&T Center Thursday, with Ed Cooley and selected players scheduled for their time "on the blue carpet" from 5:15 until 5:55 pm Central time, with the open practice taking place from 5:55 to 6:35 pm...the other teams in San Antonio - albeit in different regionals - include Nebraska and Creighton, Louisiana-Lafayette, Baylor, Iowa State and North Carolina Central. UNC, Iowa State and UNC Central are in the East Regional with Providence...the Tar Heels come into the NCAA Tournament with two straight losses, having been beaten at Duke and against Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament. It's the first time in 10 years they've come into the NCAA's with a two-game losing streak...how about this for a stat? Carolina is 142-1 all-time when they shoot 50% or better from the floor. They're 7-1 this season, with the loss coming at Duke in the last game of the regular season...UNC coach Roy Williams is 3rd all-time in games coached in the NCAA's (83), behind Mike Krzyzewski (107) and Dean Smith (92). The game Friday will be Ed Cooley's 1st ever as a head coach in the NCAA Tournament...
Related Slideshow: PC’s Top Post-season Teams
There may, or may not, be any debate on this subject among Friar fans. But there might be a debate over where the 2013-14 Providence team ranks among some of the better teams - and better stories - on post-season teams in their history. So...from the early days of Lenny Wilkens and Joe Mullaney, to Dave Gavitt's Final Four Friars, to Rick Pitino, Rick Barnes and Pete Gillen-led teams, we've included them all. Where do the current Big East Champion, Ed Cooley-led Friars fall in this mix?
1972-73 NCAA Final Four
Led by Ernie DiGregorio, Marvin Barnes and Kevin Stacom, this was Providence's best shot at winning a National Title...until Barnes went down with a knee injury in the semifinals against Memphis State. An anticipated matchup for the championship with Bill Walton's legendary UCLA Bruins never materialized. But this team did finish 27-4, and entertained scores of fans across the country...while creating a buzz about PC hoops that still exists today. (rirhof.org)
1986-87 NCAA Final Four
This wasn't the best Friar team of all time...and probably not the most-talented. But it was, perhaps, the most magical. And it did have talent, led by Billy Donovan, Jacek Duda, Dave Kipfer, Ernie "Pop" Lewis and Delray Brooks. But the best attribute of this team was shooting the three, and believing in themselves. These Friars finished 25-9, and lost in the National semifinals to Syracuse. (realclearsports.com)
1996-97 NCAA Elite Eight
This Providence team was one of the most-talented teams ever assembled on Smith Hill...but as the legend goes, had a hard time getting along with each other. Pete Gillen led these Friars to within a missed jump-shot of a berth in the Final Four, but did get into overtime in the Regional Final against eventual national champ Arizona before falling. God Shammgod, Austin Croshere, Jamel Thomas, Ruben Garces and Derrick "Flight" Brown whipped Duke along the way to a 24-12 record, gaining legendary status, fame, and perhaps near-fortune. (friarbasketball.com)
1959-60 NIT Finalists
No, this team did not win the NIT...which at the time was considered the TRUE National Championship Tournament. But it was this team (along with the NIT team in 1959) that helped create the passion for Friar Basketball in Providence, and throughout the state of Rhode Island. Led by Hall-of-Famer Lenny Wilkens, and head coach Joe Mullaney, PC arrived on national scene as well. Big man James Hadnot led the Friars in scoring and rebounding. (providence.edu)
1960-61 NIT Champions
It wasn't the NCAA Championship, but at the time, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) WAS the national championship, and the Friars won it in 1961...defeating St. Louis 62-59 at Madison Square Garden in New York behind Vinny Ernst and James Hadnot. PC finished 24-5, Hadnot averaged nearly 20 points and more than 16 rebounds per game, while Ernst was a whirling dervish on the floor (look that one up)! (providence.edu)
1962-63 NIT Champions
There was one more championship team in Providence history, as two years after the first one, the '62-'63 Friars returned to the NIT throne room by winning 15 straight games to finish the season at 24-4. Former Boston mayor and US Ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn led PC in scoring, along with legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson, Jr. Vinny Ernst was also on this team as a senior, winning two titles in his Providence career. (Flynn & Ernst, providence.edu)
1993-94 Big East Champion
In the Big East era, it's tough to leave this team off of any list...even though they did not have success in the NCAA Tournament in 1994. But PC's first Big East title came after a talented team caught fire in the '94 event at the Garden, led by Rob Phelps, Eric Williams, former Central HS and CCRI star Abdul Abdullah, Dickey Simpkins and Michael Smith - one of the best rebounders the league has ever seen. The Friars finished 20-10, winning the Big East, but lost to Alabama in the NCAA Tournament 1st round. (Williams & Phelps, wordpress.com)
2013-14 Big East Champion
It's hard to say, when they have yet to prove much on the national stage...but this year's Friar team deserves to be ranked with the best in school history just from the story of their journey(s) alone. Bryce Cotton came from Arizona without another Division I offer; injury and suspension depleting the roster; two transfer players playing significant roles; Coach and Providence-native Ed Cooley, whose house caught on fire during the year...it goes on and on. One heck of a ride and a story...and it's still going. (Cotton, twcc.com)
1964-65 NCAA Reg. Finals
It wasn't known as the "Elite 8" then, but the '64-'65 Friars were certainly one of the best teams in the school's athletic history. Finishing 24-2 and ranked 4th in the national polls, the Jimmy Walker-led Friars were beaten by Bill Bradley's Princeton team in the NCAA's, just missing out on the Final Four. Sophomores Walker, Dexter Westbrook and future NY Knick Mike Riordan led this group of Friars, along with James Benedict and Bill Blair. This team may have been coach Joe Mullaney's most talented. (Westbrook & Walker, friarbasketball.com)
1973-74 NCAA Sweet 16
Like some of the other great Friar squads of the past, this team ultimately stubbed its' toes in the NCAA's. But these Friars deserve Top 10 mention as PC's winningest single-season team, finishing 28-4. On the heels of the Final Four, and behind Marvin Barnes, Kevin Stacom, Bob Cooper and Joe Hassett, they were ranked as high as 6th in the nation before losing to eventual national champ North Carolina State. (Gavitt, Barnes, DeGregorio, wordpress.com)