Commentary

BC's upset of UNC rocks college hoops

Originally Published: January 4, 2009
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Now what?

Now what happens to the chatter that North Carolina would go undefeated, be the greatest team in Tar Heels history and challenge Indiana's 1976 undefeated team for historical significance?

Now what happens to the race for the ACC title?

Now what happens to Boston College, the team that tipped off the ACC season by taking down mighty Carolina, from start to finish -- in the Dean Dome?

Now what happens to Pitt, which could become No. 1 on Monday for the first time in school history?

Now what?

"Preseason predictions are made, you move on and play the games," said Boston College coach Al Skinner on the phone as the Eagles' bus drove away following BC's stunning 85-78 victory over the No. 1 Tar Heels on Sunday night. "What this says is that league play is tough. There are no gimmes and we were ready to play."

Skinner, one of the most consistently underrated coaches in the game, is right. Just look at the past week: Big East favorite Connecticut lost at home to Georgetown to start the Big East season; Big Ten favorite Purdue lost at home to Illinois to start the Big Ten season; and ACC favorite North Carolina lost at home to BC to start the ACC season.

"What this says is that all along, we've all thought there is tremendous parity," said Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio, whose undefeated Demon Deacons host UNC on Sunday at Lawrence Joel Coliseum and (gasp) have a chance to put the Tar Heels at 0-2 in the ACC (UNC hosts the College of Charleston in a nonconference game on Wednesday).

"The most shocking of those results is Carolina," Gaudio said. "They are still, I think, the best team in the country. But on any given night …"

"Everyone on a given night can win in our league," said Miami coach Frank Haith, who like Gaudio was watching the BC-UNC game Sunday night. "There are no bad teams in this league. BC was picked 11th. They're a confident team and going into this game you could see they were a confident team. It just shows how competitive our league is. Carolina will bounce back, but our league is going to be competitive."

Miami was picked 12th a year ago and finished with an NCAA bid. BC was picked 11th this season and could be on its way to an NCAA bid after a one-year hiatus.

The key for the Eagles will be to make this win matter in March. A year ago, Maryland beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill. But the Terps didn't make the NCAAs, finishing 8-8 in the ACC and just 18-13 overall.

That's why Skinner was so quick to downplay the significance. The Eagles, after a home game against Harvard on Wednesday, get back to ACC action with home games against Miami on Saturday and then Wake Forest on Jan. 14.

Like Georgetown in the Big East, which followed up its road win at Connecticut with a home loss to Pitt and now has to go to Notre Dame on Monday, the prospect of falling back in the pack after a huge win can happen if a team doesn't protect its home court.

Boston College
Getty ImagesRakim Sanders and Tyrese Rice, right, combined for 47 points in Boston College's upset of No. 1 UNC on Sunday.

"When you beat Carolina, it's always a great win, but you can't harp on it anymore," said BC senior guard Tyrese Rice. "It's great. We seized the moment and it's great for now.

"But we have to be tough and successful in the conference to make it into the 65. This win is over now. We have to protect our home court and before that, we have to take care of business with Harvard."

A year ago, Rice scored 46 points against Carolina. He scored 34 in the first half of that game and the Eagles were ahead by 14. They held a 17-point second-half lead. They lost by 10.

"I told people that a year ago, the idea was to cut the head off and the body dies," Skinner said of defending Rice. "This year, you cut the head off and another head grows. We're heading in the right direction."

Rice said a year ago, the Eagles were in a hurry to end the game. He said they got passive, relaxed and took their foot off the pedal. But that wasn't the case Sunday.

So how did BC do it? Is there a blueprint here?

Carolina will give a team an opportunity to make shots, and BC did, shooting at a 45.7 percent clip. If a team gets to the free throw line in an upset bid, it has to take advantage, which BC did (12-of-16). And most importantly, the team has to prevent turnovers. BC had 10, but also had 11 steals. UNC had 15 turnovers and only five steals.

"You have to match their intensity," Rice said. "I couldn't watch teams play them, because I felt like everyone was playing scared most of the game. You have to match them physically and play as hard as they do. We not only met their challenge, but also presented one, too."

The Tar Heels had trouble defending big wing Rakim Sanders, who scored 22. And Josh Southern might have struggled shooting (1-of-7), but he was a big body to defend Tyler Hansbrough, who was a mere mortal 6-of-15 from the field and missed three free throws down the stretch.

Rice held Ty Lawson in check (3-of-13) and the Tar Heels could never use the 3-pointer (7-of-22, for 31.8 percent) as a run producer.

Rice said Carolina traditionally gets many points off sloppy play and turnovers, something it didn't do Sunday.

"A lot of teams play Carolina and have nerves," Sanders said. "They're almost star-struck. But you go out there and see you can play with those guys. They're the same age. Nothing should separate you on the floor. Just play your game and run your offense."

Skinner said it's not just shots that are available against Carolina.

"You've got to get shots that you want, that's the key," he said. "We're probably slower than a lot of teams they've played. We played more controlled and we're very fortunate to have a point guard capable of doing that. What we didn't try to do is match them basket for basket. We stayed focused and we're disciplined."

The Eagles (13-2, 1-0) lost earlier in the season at Saint Louis and to Purdue in the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York. Prior to Sunday, the Eagles' best wins may have been against UAB in New York, Providence at home and UMass on the road in overtime. Yet none of those teams may make the NCAA tournament.

"We're still flying under the radar and teams won't give us respect that we deserve," Rice said. "We've got to come out and keep playing as hard as we can, getting wins and flying under the radar. We've grown a lot since that Saint Louis game. That was a setback for us. We shouldn't have lost that game, but we've won 10 straight and we want to keep it going."

The Carolina loss creates an opening for Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest -- and who knows, maybe Boston College -- to challenge for the ACC title. The loss also squelches the "greatest team ever" talk.

"I was hearing that they were the best team ever, but that 2004-05 team that won the title, and the Jordan team," Rice said. "You just have to continue to challenge everybody, regardless of who it is."

Pitt will likely deal with that this week as the new No. 1. The Panthers, winners of their first two road games in the Big East (against Rutgers and Georgetown), host St. John's on Sunday.

"I don't think it will change anything for us," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Sunday night. "We've become rivals of schools over the years, rivals of schools that weren't rivals before."

The Panthers probably won't have to deal with as much attention at home this week since the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers host San Diego in the AFC playoffs.

"It doesn't mean much to me, but it will mean something to other people," Dixon said of a possible No. 1 ranking. "It won't mean much to our players. We've been consistently good, but at the same time we haven't won a national championship, so nothing changes."

True.

Carolina's loss does at least change the perception about this season, though. Yes, UNC is still arguably the favorite to win the title.

But BC's shocker now makes the next two months a little more interesting, doesn't it?

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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