In the prelude of the NCAA Basketball Championship between the Wildcats from Villanova University and the Tar Heels from the University of North Carolina, all sporting eyes are on Houston for the final showdown. What are a few things that the Baltimore Ravens could glean from the lone remaining number one seed, the UNC Tar Heels, and their run to this level? Granted, the Ravens are a championship organization and don't need to sit at the foot of undergrads with pencil and pad. Yet, like Mother Goose tales, there is wisdom to pick up from the odyssey of even the most novice of others. Here are a couple of themes that would seem to be relevant to the Purple and Black.
1) Finish Opponents. The Tar Heels lost seven times during the 2014-5 season when they were in control of games, including a 10 point lead at Duke. It continued to happen, and then did them in at tournament time, losing a strong lead to a good Wisconsin team. This season, they have learned to put the proverbial foot on the throat of the opponent and fight off their comeback attempts in games. Saturday night, Syracuse attempted to come back, the way that they had successfully done in all of their tournament games including erasing a 16 point deficit vs. number one seed Virginia, but Carolina called a timeout when their lead was down to 7; got the riot act read to them by Coach Roy Williams, and proceeded to go on a 27-17 point run to close out the game. This ability to weather the storm of a teams' comeback effort and remain standing and surging has definitely paid dividends in W's. Imagine what the Ravens' season would have been like had they finished the first opponents at the opportune times that presented: Steve Smith Sr.'s TD catch vs. Denver in the last 2 minutes; stopping the Raiders under 2 minute drive; not giving up the long bomb to Cincy and holding that lead. We're talking 4-0. Just sayin': finish the task.
2) Somebody step up. People rant and rave about the depth of this Tar Heel team, especially in an era of one-and-dones in college basketball; players that play for one year and then are lottery picks for the NBA draft. To have extremely talented players that are seniors, as well as freshman, and in between, is rare. Yet, even with the world of potential, if no one steps up, game over (See: Kentucky Wildcats). The 2016 Tar Heels have figured out that someone needs to step up and deliver in crucial moments of games, not just one person but anyone. Junior Kennedy Meeks stepped up against Syracuse in the first Final Four round. Sophomore Theo Pinson stepped up in the Elite 8 game with some key passes, a layup, and defense. Against Indiana, Senior Marcus Paige made 6/9 threes and set the tone for the game. Versus Providence, All-America Brice Johnson was the Tar Heel lead scorer whom the Friars had no answer for, scoring 21 points with 10 rebounds. The list goes on: In the ACC Championship vs. Virginia, G Joel Berry was the team's lead scorer with 19 points 3/3 from three-point land 6/6 Free Throws.
Many times last season someone needed to step up and make a play for the Ravens, but failed to. What if Crockett Gilmore had caught that 19 yard TD against Denver as time ran out? What if "Buck" Allen had not fumbled against KC, which was returned for a TD? What if Dumervil had not face-masked Bortles against Jacksonville, even though the play never should have been run? The Ravens need to and I believe, will, turn these moments into wins, in 2016.
3) Let different phases of the team win games. Carolina has been grilled all year for their lack of 3-point efficiency. Yet, here they are as the top ranked remaining team, playing for the Championship. They used different phases of the team to build wins and make it to Houston. Against Syracuse, they started the game 0-13 from the three, but dominated with their inside game, shooting 80% for the game inside the paint. That was enough to hold the lead until they began hitting threes, later in the game. In the ACC Championship, their defesne held down a very potent and disciplined Virginia team and limited their shooting to 38% for the game. Before that, their defense wasn't necessarily lauded. In the ACC Tournament against Notre Dame, the Tar Heels caused 17 turnovers which led to a blowout win. So there you have it, Ravens. Being led by offense, defense, and special teams.
This past season, the Ravens were lacking in the defensive secondary for most of the season, and while play improved in the second half, it did not win games because of it. But in the Super Bowl season of 2012, the Ravens won in New Orleans by having a strong showing from Flacco, who bombed the 49ers into submission; a strong showing by the defense, who intercepted a 49er QB for the first time ever, for any team in a Super Bowl, and held them on downs late in the 4th quarter; and then the Special Teams, which basically put the game away with a Jacoby Jones 108 yard TD to open the second half and put the score at 28-6. When all phases click and can win a game, Championships result.
Don't get me wrong--Villanova has plenty of lessons to learn from, as well. They have had an excellent season.
But I am a Tar Heel.
Maybe I will be able to do that article when the stakes aren't so high!