The NIT Championship Game. This is not something I foresaw at the beginning of the season, the middle of the season, or even the beginning of the NIT. So here we are.
You know what? I'm excited. You know this 4-0 win streak ties the best of the season for UNC? It's true. We are a whole new team, and I'm glad to see us play. The wins haven't been all that pretty, but damn if we aren't winning. It's the most fun and excitement that the team has had all season. Is that kind of sad? Maybe. Who cares? It's fun and I'm still excited. Will I rush Rosemary? Probably not, but I love how the fans have gotten behind the NIT. Sort of.
Here's some fun facts about the NIT run: We have been shooting 25.8% from three-point land all tournament long. Deon, once our free-throw shooting champion, has been the worst from the charity stripe in the NIT, shooting 42.1%. We are still winning. Weird, huh? Just thought you should know.
Here's an actual fun fact: Deon Thompson will set the NCAA record for most college games played by a player. Ever. That's weird, but definitely impressive. I don't know how long the record will stand, but I look forward to the fact that when people try to look up this odd little record they will see Deon's name. For at least a while, he has made a mark an individual mark on college basketball history that extends beyond his team's accomplishments. It's a record that doesn't care about wins or skills. It goes to the guy who shows up the most and keeps playing the longest. I can't imagine anything more appropriate for Deon.
Okay, time to scout Dayton: They are a good team. Ken Pomeroy and his magic numbers think they are really good, particularly on defense. Like, really really good. He ranks them as the seventh best defensive team in the nation. For reference, sixth is Butler, and I understand they are playing well in some other sort of basketball tournament. They succeed on defense by forcing bad shots, holding down opponents field goal percentage, and nabbing defensive rebounds like nobody's business.
Defense is the story for Dayton, and that's how they win games. Their offense is fairly mediocre, Ken Pomeroy ranking them as the 93rd most efficient in the country. How mediocre is that really? Well, UNC is 96th, so that should give you an idea. So what we are looking at is a defensive slugfest. However, we may have an edge.
One of the keys to Dayton's defense is getting the defensive rebound. They really excel at this and are one of the nation's very best at keeping the offensive rebounds out of their opponents hands. However, if there is one thing that UNC does, it's snag offensive rebounds. Offensive rebounding and bad officiating are how we beat URI, and since we can't count on terrible referees, let's concentrate on the rebounds. Seriously, it's the only reason we were even in that last game.
And that's about it. We just have to play our game, hope for another stellar defensive game and try to find a way to score some points. There's some evidence that suggests that Dayton fouls too much and that taking it inside and drawing the foul is particularly effective against them, but we were going to do that anyway right? Beyond that, the plan is the same as it's been for a while now: try to win the turnover battle and try to win the rebound battle and hope that will make up for our inconsistent shooting.
This is it: the last game of the season, and there's nothing special to be done. This is our team for better or worse and this season, we win through luck and hard-scrabble, ugly play. We can probably count on the ugly, now let's hope for the luck. I'm excited, optimistic, and already content. This wasn't the season I wanted , but it will do. I'm happy for Marcus and Deon for taking us on this last little tour, arguably meaningless, though it may be.