I’m not used to being the Enemy. One of the Bad Guys*.
But somehow this weekend, the basketball team from my grad school alma mater – The University of North Carolina – became the villain in a “Hoosier-esque” story arc that was manufactured around this year’s Final Four in Detroit.
The Michigan State Spartans were the Big 10 Conference champs (and a #2 seed), which would hardly qualify as a “Cinderella” most years. But this year, the Big 10 was “down” and the plucky Spartans (or so the media storyline would have you believe) embodied downtrodden “real” America – going through a tough time, but pulling themselves up by their bootstraps (err- sneaker laces) to improbably win it all. It was going to be the feel good story of the year – especially for the poster state of economic woes, Michigan**. The “D” word (Destiny) began to be thrown around.
Of course, in any narrative, a protagonist needs an antagonist and there were the Tar Heels. Full of blue-chip recruits, they were made out to reek of privilege. North Carolina could only have been set up worse if their campus was on Wall Street instead of Franklin Street. As chance (or fate, depending who you listened to) would have it, the Finals were in Detroit and so the Spartans would have essentially a home game, with probably 60,000 of the estimated 70,000 wearing green. They had beaten #1-seeded Louisville and #1-seeded UConn impressively. Why not one more Goliath, right?
Well, there was a Team of Destiny last night all right. The Heels jumped out early, hitting shots, making steals and overwhelming a Spartan team that was unprepared for that onslaught and/or spotlight. By the first TV timeout the lead was 10. By the 10-minute mark it was 20+. They dismantled MSU the same way they destroyed every team-on-a-mission (Villanova, Oklahoma, Gonzaga) they played, winning every game by double-digits going away. Simply put, they were the best team.
The crowd at Ford Field was silenced before they really had a chance to get going and the remainder of the game was an exercise for Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg to remind people that MSU could come back with just a couple of well-placed turnovers and key shots. The biggest cheers in the second half occurred when MSU managed to briefly get the lead under 15, but the Heels were playing it out – keeping the lead comfortably in the 15-20 range. You had the sense that if Roy Williams had flipped a switch, they could have rattled off another 15 point run.
But only The Bad Guys would do that.
Congratulations UNC!! GO HEELS!!
*We save that for Duke.
** I wonder who people in Ann Arbor rooted for?