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March 16, 2010While it's a far cry from the glitz and glamour of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina's men's basketball team does play on this March---and given unique circumstances, there is an air of nostalgia to Tuesday night's NIT opening-round game against William and Mary.
UNC, which was given a No. 4 seed in the NIT despite its 16-16 overall record, was not exactly prepared to host an opening-round game in the Smith Center---where offseason renovations have been planned far in advance.
Even the Tar Heel coaches were surprised to hear that Chapel Hill, and specifically Carmichael Auditorium, which itself has undergone an extensive renovation over the past year but hasn't hosted a UNC men's basketball game since 1986, would be the venue for the NIT matchup.
"Coach (Joe Holladay) came back (after finding out UNC was selected for the NIT) and says, 'We play Tuesday night at 9:30 at Carmichael.'" said UNC head coach Roy Williams.
"I said, 'That can't be right. Go call again,' and so he went back and called again and came back and said, 'No, we are hosting.'"
"We were a four seed, so if a four seed is going to play a five seed then the four seed should host," Williams added. "Initially there was no question that I was surprise, but I've been so frustrated that everything is a surprise."
Carmichael, where the Tar Heels posted an all-time record of 169-20 from 1965 to 1986, is certainly a place of many warm memories for Coach Williams.
Williams was an undergraduate at UNC and a member of the Carolina JV basketball team the last time the program won the NIT back in 1971, and he's tried to rub off some of that team's magic on this year's group.
"I'm going to enjoy it (playing at Carmichael)---I hope we sell the tickets," said Williams. "I hope we can fill it up. I think that would really help a great deal to have a great atmosphere in there, because I used to think it was the best. It was so loud."
"They've probably done a lot of things with the PA and the acoustics and those kinds of things so it's probably not as loud but hopefully we'll fill it up," Williams added. "I know it's 9:30 on a Tuesday night and it's the NIT but I hope our people will come and watch the game."
"We talked about this is a new beginning," Williams continued. "I talked to them about 1971---the jump-ball fiasco under the basket, (South Carolina's) Tom Owens lays it up so instead of winning the ACC we lose in the finals."
"We come back to Carmichael and I was there," he added. "There were some students and old folks and (former UNC guard) Steve Previs gets off the bus and said, 'We lost this, we're going to the NIT, and we're going to win the whole blessed thing.' And they did."
"I think all those positive things I threw out there, and I hope some of them stick," he continued.
While naturally the UNC players would prefer to be playing for another national championship, the unique factor of playing in Carmichael is intriguing to senior Marcus Ginyard.
"I'm really excited about that. I'm really pumped about that," said Ginyard. "Just to be able to play somewhere different but still at home, and just the history of Carmichael and the games that have been played there---it's going to be very exciting."
William and Mary's head coach Tony Shaver has plenty of familiarity with Carmichael Auditorium---having played at Carolina from 1972-1975 during the building's heyday as one of the shrines of men's college basketball.
"I've known Tony for a long time," said Coach Williams. "We play golf together and camps 100 years ago. He comes down every fall and we do our basketball discussions---he's always one of the first to let me know 'yes' he's going to be here."
Shaver's team is loaded with solid outside shooters---the team makes nearly nine three-pointers a game to rank in the top 10 nationally---and while they're shooting just 35 percent from long-range on the whole, on any given night they can explode.
Such was the case earlier in the year when they beat ACC rivals Maryland in College Park and Wake Forest in Winston-Salem---proof in and of itself that the Tribe could feasibly come into Carmichael, end Carolina's season, and saddle them with a losing record in the process.
"They beat Maryland at Maryland, which we haven't done that very often with some really good teams," said Williams. "They beat Wake Forest at Wake Forest, so they have the ability to go in some tough environments and beat some very good basketball teams."
"They're unusual in the number of three-point shots that they take---it's mind-boggling," he added. "It is unbelievable. One thing they do is they play to their strength. They play to the strength of smaller guys that maybe don't fit the 'look' test for other schools but they play to their strengths. They shoot a lot of threes."
Two players to really watch are sophomore Quinn McDowell, who is making better than 42 percent of his three-pointers, and senior David Schneider, who is averaging 15.3 points per game.
"They play five guys on the perimeter. They don't really have a low-post player. Sometimes their 'five man' will come out to the top of the key in the middle of the area and have pairs working on either side," Williams added about the Tribe. "They have two guys playing the post for them who haven't taken a single three, and everybody else, including the managers, take 'threes' every game."
"What they do is 'five man' motion and partnership and working for backdoor cuts on the basket and if you help too much on that, then they shoot three's," he added.
It's clear that the UNC defenders must communicate, fight through screens, and avoid allowing William and Mary into a ton of open looks along the perimeter---a recipe for disaster in Carolina's recent 32-point embarrassment at Duke.
While he feels that his team honestly deserved to play at home, Coach Shaver should particularly enjoy Tuesday night's game---and he's clearly bringing a team that wants to humble the Tar Heels even farther while extending their own season.
"Seeing we were playing against North Carolina was very exciting," Shaver said. "The only disappointment quite honestly is that we're playing down there and not at home---I think it's a real injustice. But we'll go anywhere and play anyone right now."
Ginyard agreed with the William and Mary head coach from the standpoint of simply getting to play another day.
"I'm just really excited about another opportunity to play," Ginyard said. "Again, I just want to be out there and have another opportunity with my teammates and to represent my school, and I'm just hoping we'll finish this off better than the regular season."
"It is what it is (playing in the NIT), but you've just got to deal with it," he added.
While it's easy for fans at this point to already be looking ahead to next season, Coach Williams says he's simply not afforded that luxury because of everything that his seniors have given him.
"I'm playing for this year. I don't think I can cheat Deon and Marcus---that's not fair," he said.
"I'm coaching for this year, this team, trying to get this team to win one more game, and then if we do that I'll try to get them to win one more game, and I think that's the best way I can do it," he added.