If you were too busy to pay attention to college basketball way back in November, you are to be forgiven. With the NFL in full swing, it would be easy to push college hoops to the side; figuring that there would be plenty of time to get back to it after football season called it quits after the Super Bowl. If that’s the way you were thinking, believe me you aren’t alone. However, you would’ve missed one of the great hype jobs of the season. Before any games had even been played, North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes was hyped to be one of the greatest first-year players to ever enter the college ranks. The praise went so high that he was picked to be a preseason All-American-before he ever played in a meaningful game that counted. Then when the games began, Barnes, like many freshmen before him, struggled. And as he struggled, the Tar Heels, picked as high as second in the ACC and ranked in the top 10 when the season began, fell down the rankings, until they eventually fell out of the the top 25. But this past week, the light may be coming on for the freshman. Barnes hit the game-winning three pointer in a win at Miami, then scored a career-high 25 points as the Tar Heels routed N.C. State at home on Saturday. Barnes may have played best game of the season in the win over the Wolfpack, which moved the Heels to 5-1 in conference, just a half-game behind first-place Duke. Perhaps now Barnes, though probably not going to be the All-American he was predicted to become at the start of the season, will start to show the talent that raised those lofty expectations in the first place.
As for the Tar Heels, they seem to be getting on a roll. They have won 8 of their last 9, with the only loss a head scratching blowout at Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels have beaten Kentucky already this season, and played Texas tough, losing by 2 points-a loss that is looking better and better given the way the Longhorns are running roughshod through the Big 12 at the moment. More proof of a Tar Heel resurgence may be found tonight as they travel to Chestnut Hill to take on a Boston College squad that has lost three of its last four and needs a conference win to stop sliding down the standings. Should North Carolina get past the Eagles, it sets up a showdown with Florida State at home on Sunday with second place in the conference on the line.
The loss to the Tar Heels on Saturday should represent a low point for the Wolfpack of N.C. State-not so much that they lost, but how they lost. Herb Sendek was practically run out of Raleigh because he didn’t win enough for some folks there. Maybe those fans should’ve been careful of what they wished for, because under Sidney Lowe, there have been a lot of bright red blazer sightings, but there haven’t been any NCAA tournament sightings so far. Given the way things have gone for the Wolfpack recently, another season conclude with the school on the outside looking in at the big dance. N.C. State has lost five of its last six, with four of those by double figures. Two more chances arrive this week for the Wolfpack to get on track, but they won’t be easy-Virginia Tech comes down to Raleigh on Wednesday, and a date at Cameron Indoor looms on Saturday against Duke.
Elsewhere, Maryland has a three-game winning streak after winning two road games in impressive fashion last week. The wins over Virginia and the Yellow Jackets give Maryland some confidence heading into Wednesday night’s showdown with Duke in College Park. The Terrapins’ tournament resume could use the boost a victory over Duke could give it, but no matter what happens in that game, the Terps can’t afford a letdown with another winnable home game following on Saturday against Wake Forest. Speaking of the Demon Deacons, perhaps I should include them at the top of these posts more often, as they finally broke through in conference with a win over Virginia on Saturday. The Cavaliers had a week they would probably like to forget, losing to Maryland by 24 and giving winless Wake it’s first conference win. The Blue Devils were run out of Madison Square Garden on Sunday by St. John’s of the Big East, losing by 15 in a game that was essentially over after the first half. You can bet Duke will want to get the memories of that loss out of their heads in a hurry by wanting to beat Maryland in what is often one of their toughest road tests of the season.