Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Highlanders have a chance? One rhyme with little reason

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Well, Lil Wayne likes their chances.

Sort of. Maybe. Actually, I can't really understand what the famous rapper is saying, entirely. But he does mention Radford. This we know. That's a start, right?

Allow me to explain why this is significant. In the locker room of the Greensboro Coliseum on Wednesday, when discussing today's matchup against top-seeded North Carolina, I asked Radford forward Phillip Martin how often he's heard someone in the national media give the Highlanders a shot at winning this game.

"Not often, really," Martin said. "It's basically Carolina right out of the first round moving into the next game. What's funny is Lil Wayne the rapper, on MTV he actually mentioned Radford. He said we're not here for nothing."

Intriguing, no? So later, when guard Kenny Thomas told me that broadcaster Jay Williams -- a ex-Dookie, remember -- was the only one he'd heard give the team any love, I tried to sound au courant.

"What about Lil Wayne?" I said.

"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Shout-out to Lil Wayne!" Thomas said. "He's my favorite rapper. I know his words were: 'You've got to watch out for Radford and VCU.'"

This I had to see.

"Is this a clip I could Google or something?" I asked Thomas.

"Oh yeah!" Thomas said. "All you've got to do is type in 'Lil Wayne' and 'bracketology.'"

So I did. And I strongly encourage you to do the same. If you can make any sense of the 1-minute, 12-second clip, I salute you. I think he was breaking down the bracket. He might have been talking about the economy for all I know. It was really hard to tell.

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I could make out the part about RU, however.

"You got teams like Radford," Lil said. "You've got teams like Virginia Commonwealth -- shout out to Maynor and Sanders, I love those boys ... [several seconds of unintelligible rambling] ... Those teams didn't come there for nothin'."

So there you go. Radford didn't come here for nothin'. That's as strong of an endorsement as we're going to get.

I'll be honest: I didn't come down here to write about Lil Wayne. I didn't come down here to write about Little ol' Radford, either.

I came to write about the mighty Highlanders. The Big South champs. The guys who were going to challenge UNC, perhaps becoming the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1. The guys who have the girth inside and the guards outside to get it done.

Then it hit me: What am I, nuts?

They're 25-point underdogs, the longest shot on the board. And that's after UNC coach Roy Williams said there's a "huge probability" that ACC player of the year Ty Lawson will not play. That's after USA Today ran a huge story on the Highlanders on the front page of its sports section, enlightening the masses on their fine season.

So we've got to be reasonable here. I like these RU players. I like their coach. I like their story.

But man, I hate their chances today.

The guys on the team understand. And bless their Cinderella hearts, they don't give a rip. They love Art Parakhouski, their 6-11 center. They love Amir Johnson, their 5-9 point guard who's played out of his mind down the stretch. They love Thomas, their senior captain. They love Joey Lynch-Flohr, the All-Big South post player who's been told he's a "Poor Man's Tyler Hansbrough."

One problem: UNC has the actual Tyler Hansbrough. And Deon Thompson. And Wayne Ellington, an uber-athlete who often impresses more than any of his teammates -- even the injured Lawson.

And then there's the whole 16-seed-has-never-beaten-a-1-seed thing. That's kind of hard to ignore. Even Martin admits he never advanced a No. 16 in his own bracket -- before this year, of course.

Arby's restaurants are so confident that the trend will continue that they'll give everyone in America a free sandwich if a No. 16 wins.

"I won't be eating any," Hansbrough said.

And sadly, we probably won't be, either. Asked how many people nationwide would make such a pick -- more specifically, how many would pick the Highlanders in their bracket -- Johnson didn't hesitate.

"None," the RU point guard said.

Except maybe our new pal Lil Wayne. Let's fast forward to the end of the clip and see who the rapper has in his Final Four.

"It's going to be Pittsburgh, Louisville, Connecticut, those type of teams," he says. "And Carolina. That's who I got 200 on. Carolina."

Sigh. Hard to blame you, Wayne.

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