Thursday, March 08, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Everybody sings the blues sometimes

ATLANTA - Greetings from the Carolina-Duke Invitational. I think I speak for everyone when I say I can't wait to get this bloodletting underway.

A full slate of exhibition games gets us started today, and boy, are we all excited. Nothing's better than sitting back and watching the peasants joust.

Who will emerge from today's octet of also-rans and earn to the right to be Tar Heel and Blue Devil cannon fodder? N.C. State? Miami? Virginia Tech?

Folks, it could be anybody.

"Obviously, this is the start of a new season," Tech coach Seth Greenberg said Monday, "and everyone has a clean slate."

Good one, Seth! See, that's the great part about March. Everything starts anew. The strategies for the teams may vary, the personnel may differ, but everyone comes to Philips Arena today with the same goal: to be one of the lucky ones that advance far enough to match up with - and -subsequently, get blasted into orbit by - Carolina or Duke.

With apologies to The Masters, this is a tradition unlike any other.

Do I sound a little more obnoxious than usual today? Yeah, sorry about that. I used to be a champion of the underdog story and a fan of upsets galore, a strong believer that anything was possible.

But that old me is dead.

I guess I should break it to you: I've decided to join the so-called "Carolina Mafia" - those media members who think college basketball does not exist outside the Tar Heel State.

Resistance was futile.

My final stand as an outsider came this week, when I voted for Virginia's Mike Scott for ACC player of the year. That's a little like voting for Ron Paul for president; you're throwing your vote away, and you know it.

But this time, there was a small, naive part of me that thought, "How can you be so sure? The establishment might surprise you. They might look at Scott's season objectively, taking into consideration all the things working against him - the double teams, UVa's slow pace, the lack of other consistent scoring options - and decide that somebody outside of Carolina had the best year of anybody."

Ha-ha! Joke's on me. See those results? Scott got a measly 14 votes. Tyler Zeller of UNC got 45 and sprinted away with the award.

Never mind that UVa would have been one step above Towson (1-31) without Scott, much less an NCAA tournament team. UNC, which is peppered with NBA talent, would have been a top-20 squad with or without Zeller.

Never mind that Scott earned ACC player of the week honors four times, while Zeller got the nod just once.

Two voters didn't even put Scott on their all-conference first team. They just loaded theirs up with Duke and Carolina blue.

Someday, if I rise to Grand Poobah status in my new organization, perhaps I'll be able to do the same.

The funny thing is, this Carolina-centric mentality actually works in favor of coaches outside of the promised land. Florida State's Leonard Hamilton took ACC coach of the year honors, despite finishing in the exact place (third) that his team was picked in the preseason.

Recent recipients of this award include Gary Williams (during one of his so-so years), Seth Greenberg (twice) and Dave Leitao. The thinking seems to be: "Look at how many games these guys were able to win, considering they're not coaching at Duke or Carolina!"

I voted for Duke's Mike Krzyzewski for ACC coach of the year. Maybe that sounds crazy, given that he didn't win the regular-season crown. But I looked at his roster and didn't see overwhelming talent. Yet I still saw 26 wins and a 13-3 ACC record. Thought that was pretty good.

I'll learn.

Don't worry. I'm not going to go all ESPN Radio on you guys and write only about the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Heat. This is a seasonal shift only, from November to March.

It's just easier this way - especially when you come to the ACC Tournament. Nobody outside of Carolina or Duke has won this event since 2004. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels have combined to win 14 of the past 15 ACC Tournament titles.

So you might argue that it was the performance of those other teams, not some media allure, that put me in this god-forsaken place.

If that's the case? Please, somebody make me look stupid this week.

It's been one day, and I'm already dying to come back.

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