“I thought that Kansas would be the Champion, but now I believe it will be the Tar Heels” - Tommy Ogburn, Eden, N.C., Retired from Sales (life-long UNC supporter)
Saturday’s Final Four Semi-Final game looms at the apex of the universe of NCAA basketball. The match-up in the second game of the night pits the (Carolina) blue bloods of UNC against the rising power program of Oregon. It’s a long 2,853-mile drive from UO to UNC and each team’s respective fans live in two different worlds, but Carolinians have plenty to say about that team from Oregon.
Sports is big news and big business in North and South Carolina. The region overflows with colleges and universities. South Carolina is known more for its football programs because of the Clemson Tigers, USC Gamecocks, ECU and Coastal Carolina. Clemson is the reigning champion after playing in two consecutive FBS national championship games. The two state’s colleges annually produce many NFL draft picks.
North Carolina competes in the ACC on the storied “Tobacco Road.” It is a perennial basketball power located in Chapel Hill only a few miles away from Duke University and not far from Wake Forest. The Tar Heels are going to their 20th Final Four, the most all time. The list of basketball alumni is long and includes James Worthy, Chris Ford, Michael Jordan and scores of other elite players. Kentucky and UCLA are tied for second with 17 Final Four appearances.
The sports fans in the Carolina’s are rabid. Their rivalries and sports history run deep. This year’s Final Four in Glendale, Arizona holds teams and entices fans from both the University of North Carolina and the University of South Carolina. This is UNC’s 44th appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the last 51 years. An unmatched record of consistency in winning. It has won the third-most (5) championship titles. USC’s Gamecocks have never appeared in the Final Four and haven’t even made the tournament in 44 years. Its team has never won even a single tournament game until this season. It is a mere 230 miles that separates Columbia, SC and Chapel Hill, NC., but they are worlds apart in their basketball fortunes.
Each of us holds our own worldview. Some comes naturally from our gene pool. The rest is formed by surroundings, experiences, education and the people we know. North versus South. East versus West. What are people of the Carolina’s saying about Saturday’s game and the Oregon Ducks? I asked a few of them and here is what they said:
TaChawn Brooks, Richland County, S.C., Student-Athlete; “I take Oregon, because I don’t like North Carolina”
Kelly Gremlich, Seneca, S.C.; On-air personality (Sports-talk radio,WCCP, Clemson, S.C.)
”The Tar Heels have experience from last year’s run that will yield them an advantage”
“UNC has the ACC’s POY, Justin Jackson, on the wing. That will help North Carolina.”
On Ducks Coach Dana Altman: “He’s been around the block,” “He’s been successful over the long run,” “His teams compete,” “Like the way he’s built this team,” and “I think that having Gonzaga and Oregon in the Final Four is good for NCAA basketball.”
”People here don’t know Oregon. The games are often late at night and we don’t get the channels the games are on.”
“The UNC ‘bigs’ are hard to beat and will make it difficult for Oregon.”
James Waldrep, Simpsonville, S.C.; U.S. Army, Retired (SCHS Football Official)
On Coach Altman, “I don’t know that much about him. He seems to have a similar style to Roy Williams.”
“Many people around here could not tell you much about Oregon and some couldn’t even find it on a map.”
“Most people don’t know the athletes that play in the West. They know kids from here and this region, and may have followed them for some years. It’s probably the same out there.”
“It may be an advantage for Oregon that the game is in a Western venue for fan support.”
“The Ducks may be better off out there without so many ACC officials.”
Vicky St. Lawrence, Salisbury, N.C., Education, Retired
“N.C. will win because they have been there before, have more big game experience and they are hungry for redemption. They are mostly players that were there last year and lost at the very end. That game hurt.”
“The ‘Heels have the grit to win. We are stronger under the basket.”
Jamie Hyatt, Irmo, S.C., Teacher
“My heart is for South Carolina. If I was betting I would go with Gonzaga.”
“The big arena in Glendale may be an advantage for UNC. Oregon has not experienced that and may have perceptual problems”
“Coach Williams tends to focus more on, “do what we do and take it to the other team” than adjusting to his opponent.
“Both have strong outside players. It will depend on who is on that night. North Carolina has a stronger game underneath and will likely win the rebounding battle.”
When all is said, and done, and in respect of regional differences and local preferences, sports fans are sports fans. The primal fan behavior is more similar than different, even though our teams of choice are not the same.
Roy Williams is not as reserved in dialogue as our own Dana Altman. His coaching career has been marked by colorful quotes, locally called “Royisms,” that give voice to his opinions. One of my own favorites is this gem:
On President Donald Trump‘s tweets:
“Now everybody has got social media, and we don’t need The New York Times to find out what in the dickens is going on in the country. You know, our president tweets out more bulls**t than anybody I’ve ever seen.” – Roy Williams
I don’t add that quote to this story as a political statement, but it illustrates the personality of the man in contrast to Dana Altman.
Have Hope Ye Duck Faithful
Mike Rutherford noted in his article, Oregon is the Final Four surprise we should have seen coming, , for SBNation: ”While the flair of Lonzo Ball‘s UCLA Bruins and the late season flexing from Allonzo Trier and Arizona captivated us, it was the Ducks who were overwhelmingly picked as the favorites to win the Pac-12 back in October. And while the two upset losses they suffered in November knocked them off the national radar before most people had even started paying attention, it was the Ducks who began the season ranked in the top five and with a No. 1 vote in both major polls.”
J. Ernie Byrider, Greenville, S.C., Retired, “Oregon was rated, pre-season in a magazine I read, as the #1 team in the country.”
The opinions of many will change in the case that Oregon rises to the challenge and snares the national title. This is a team to be reckoned with and a team that can win it all on a given night against any opponent. Just ask UCLA, Arizona, Michigan or Kansas how dangerous the Ducks can be. Bring on the Tar Heels and let the rumble in Glendale begin.
Top photo credit: from Google Maps