Oakes’ Outlook: Rory, Djoker & Phil The Thrill

This past weekend, the sports world offered up more than the yearly tradition of the second leg of the Triple Crown being bagged by the Derby champ. Here’s hoping American Pharaoh can finally break the drought and seal the deal in a few weeks time up at the Belmont!

But back to the point. It wasn’t merely horse racing (and I must add, a wildly entertaining Brad Paisley concert at Walnut Creek) that piqued my interest. Three leading icons from the ‘country club sports’ stuck out most. And two of them, in true Paisley style, were ‘crushin’ it!’

-Rory McIlroy ruthlessly undressed Quail Hollow Country Club Saturday. He carded a cool 61 in breathtaking fashion. Rory had everybody else in the distinguished field playing for second before the final round ever began. He has a way of doing that. Remember the PGA at Kiawah or the US Open at Congressional? The 26-year-old Scot has no weaknesses. He smacks the ball a mile and has deft touch around the greens. And when he gets his putter going like he did in Charlotte, it’s over. Case closed. It’s beautiful to watch. I know our culture has an unhealthy addiction to crowning the next ‘best ever.’ But man, I tell you, when Rory is at his best, he’s one of, if not the best, to have ever played the game. And yes, I’ve seen Jack and Tiger play.

BOTTOM LINE: If Rory stays healthy and motivated, the sky’s the limit. I’m not betting against him snagging 10-13 major championships before all is said and done.

 


-Novak Djokovic is a human ball machine. But better. He’d break down the ball machine if push came to shove. The thing would short-circuit with the relentless depth and power of Novak’s groundstrokes. No Djoke! My favorite player of all time is Andre Agassi, and I thought he had the most punishing and consistent forehand and backhand we’d ever see. I’m afraid I stand corrected. Truth don’t lie! Novak confirmed that belief with his fourth title in Rome over the weekend. His comfortable run to the trophy was capped off with a 6-4, 6-3 throttling of the great Roger Federer. You’ve heard of that guy, right? The 33-year-old Federer, who many have crowned as the GOAT, was no match for the athleticism and clean hitting of the Djoker. But Fed need not hang his head. Most tour pros have little chance to hang in there these days with the gluten-free ‘ball machine’ that is Novak Djokovic.

BOTTOM LINE: If Novak continues this kind of form, and I see no reason it won’t, he’ll win the French Open and the US Open this year and push his grand slam title count up to 10.

 

-Phil Mickelson has been at at the forefront of the golfing universe for well over two decades now. And he has always seemed to conjure up a bigger, more enthusiastic following than any of his peers. Why is this? I don’t now Phil personally, but he seems like a nice guy and an honest one at that. He recognizes when he chokes, when he makes a bone-head decision, but at the same time, past shortcomings don’t deter him from moving forward, visualizing that next shot at glory. That’s why we call him ‘The Thrill.’ But above all, he seems like one of us. Phil invites us in to share in the highs of his successes and the lows of his struggles. We feel like we made that miraculous up and down with trademark ‘Mickelson magic’ and we also feel our stomachs turn when he pushes a four-foot putt by the hole. He makes us want to pull for him. And maybe it’s this single trait that has me, along with so many fans around the globe, hooked. This past weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship was no different for Mickelson. He teased us. Friday, he surged, turning that 71 into the 66 he’s long talked about. The driver was connecting and the putts were rolling in with accompanying thunderous roars from the throngs of adoring supporters. The thought began percolating around the grounds…Phil could win. But it was all for naught. Saturday came…and so did the double bogeys. And so, the beat rolls on for Phil. His quest for the final missing piece in the career Grand Slam will continue this June at the US Open at Chambers Bay.

BOTTOM LINE: Many analysts say the US Open course fits his eye perfectly. But I’ve heard this story before and am in no place to make a pick here. Really, though, you just never know with Phil. He’s maddeningly heroic and frustrating at the same time. But that’s why we love him.

For more of my sports take, follow me on Twitter @mattdoakes

 

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Oakes’ Outlook: Omaha – Book It. 

Something was just plain weird about college baseball last year. There was a disturbance in the force…even Yoda thought so. But the Tar Heels could sense it even better than their little green friend.

What were they to do? No work to knock out. Plenty of time to hit the beach. Yessir, June was inexplicably an idle month for Carolina.

Head coach Mike Fox has made a trip to Omaha for the College World Series a permanent fixture on his calendar. But those plans fell through in 2014.

In the offseason, all the players sang the same tune – let’s get back to where the program belongs.

Coach Fox famously posts the weather in Omaha up on a whiteboard in the training room. It’s programmed into the hearts and minds of the Tar Heels – a second home.

That’s pressure, for sure. But, as they say, pressure is a privilege.

For the majority of 2015, though, things looked eerily familiar. Poor run support. Fielding errors. Injuries. Late game collapses.

Was it the end of an era? Hold your horses.

Even though UNC’s six-game winning streak was snapped by UNC-Greensboro earlier this week, the Tar Heels have quietly righted the ship.

JB Bukauskas (UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas (UNC Athletics)

Most of that turnaround is thanks to the pitching staff. J.B. Bukauskas, most notably, has turned in some impressive innings. He’s got loads of firepower and what’s more, he’s a freshman. Junior Trent Thornton has a versatile arm, equally ready and able to step in for relief work as well.

But for the most part, UNC’s hitting has been streaky and surely not as opportunistic as Coach Fox would like.

The Tar Heels used to be filled with a batting order lined with .300 hitters. Now, they have two. You used to not be able to pitch around hot batters because everybody was on fire. Opposing pitchers had to run the gauntlet – no reprieve. The scoreboard operator got a wild workout.

These days, he’s usually got time to finish his hot dog, type out a report and call his buddy from back home. But it’s time to get used to the here and now. Scratching and clawing. Get used to it. Nothing’s going to come easy.

And now, after this exam break, we’ve reached the home stretch of the season. Crunch time. And the Tar Heels know it. They’ve seemingly flipped the switch – sharper, more focused, swinging freer at the plate. Those things bode well, especially in an ACC that really has only one clear frontrunner – Louisville.

The Cards only have two conference losses. Yeah, that snuck up on me too. Traditional powers from the Sunshine State – FSU and Miami – are predictably potent. But that’s it, folks. After that, we come to Carolina.

As much as UNC has struggled, it finds itself in fourth place in the watered-down ACC. A four seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament sounds cozy to me – made all the more comfortable by the venue.

Fittingly, Durham’s gem, newly-renovated Durham Bulls Athletics Park, will host the tourney. If you have the chance, get out to see some of the action. The DBAP’s got it all these days – fun entertainment, Moe’s, fun for the children and even a new brewery.

But back to the Tar Heels.

The UNC pitchers have gotten plenty of help from great defensive play during their recent run of success. (UNC Athletics)

The UNC pitchers have gotten plenty of help from great defensive play during their recent run of success. (UNC Athletics)

There’s a couple determined warriors that want some redemption – Skye Bolt and Benton Moss. Moss can be streaky, but he has a knack for reaching back and getting that clutch strikeout when needed. Bolt, on the other hand, is an excellent fielder and has plenty of firepower at the plate. These two fiery competitors could provide vital leadership to push UNC over the edge.

But let’s be honest: there’s nothing flashy about this team. You won’t find any of these Tar Heels topping any of the ACC statistical categories. Deficiencies abound.

So yes, I know there’s been nothing spectacular about these Tar Heels. But “spectacular” may not be necessary. The tide is turning. They’ve got just enough – cagy veterans, a couple freshman ringers and one heck of a coach who knows how to navigate the postseason journey.

So here it goes – my bold prediction. Go ahead. Do it. Book those tickets now. Omaha’s a pretty nice spot to be in June.

Follow me on Twitter @mattdoakes

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Oakes’ Outlook: Final Four ‘Breakfast Club’

We’re at the ultimate destination of the college hoops season. The Final Four. With all its mystique, tradition, unforgettable moments and hype, it rarely disappoints.

I don’t think we need to worry about a letdown in 2015 either. Out of the vast array of possible permutations and calculations, the bracketology gods have delivered us a shining gem.

You say it’s the stars on these rosters – Jahlil Okafor at Duke. The freshman sensation plays a brand of offense rarely seen in the history of the sport. He gets two feet in the paint and it’s lights out – basket. It’s as automatic as the rising sun.

Not to mention, we’ve got the National Player of the Year frontrunner – Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. The guy plays with a versatility that has opposing coaches scratching their heads. In Kaminsky, you have a physical seven-footer who can even pop threes. Not to mention, he’s as tough as nails and cool under pressure. The higher the stakes, the better he plays. Now that’s the total package.

Oh yeah, but we haven’t even mentioned the brightest star of all. The Kentucky Wildcats, collectively, have eight of the best players in all of college basketball on one roster. The platoon system hasn’t got as much play as we thought at the beginning of the year, but man, the Wildcats could make a run to the Final Four with two separate teams. No joke. It’s an embarrassment of riches led by Willie Cauley-Stein. Length, athleticism, poise, speed. Yikes!

And we’re not even scratching the surface to the immeasurable talent that will be on display at the Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday.

But whoa! Hold your horses. Who’s holding the reigns to these thoroughbred athletes? You got it.

Good coaches get good players and in turn, coach those good players to big wins. This game’s not a mystery, folks.

And so, it should come as no huge surprise we’ve got four coaching legends ready to wage battle this weekend in Indianapolis on the game’s grandest stage.

It’s what has me most intrigued about this Final Four – the coaching matchups. The common thread is success at the highest level. But there’s no one set prototype for the man it takes to achieve that success. You need look no further than this year’s quartet to validate that claim. It’s “Breakfast Club: Pt. II”:

Bo Ryan (WISC) AKA ‘The Teacher’ – This isn’t Bo’s first rodeo. The guy’s been around the block. But frankly, I’ve always thought he’s never got the credit he deserved. He’s been racking up significant victories since 2001 at Wisconsin. But back-to-back Final Fours last year and now this season have him in the national spotlight. But Bo isn’t in this business for the spotlight like some of his peers. Bo’s more of a throwback. He merely likes to coach, or should I say ‘teach’, his kids. The basketball court becomes a classroom for Bo. And wow, his students are ALWAYS prepared for their exams. He’s always had air-tight, disciplined teams who A) don’t turn the ball over and B) take intelligent, high-percentage shots. That’s a good combo. And now that he’s secured the offensive firepower to go along with his trademark teachings, the sky’s the limit for Bo’s Badgers.

John Calipari (UK) AKA ‘The Recruiter’ – We all know about this guy. Love him or hate him, get used to him. Now that he’s at Kentucky – the nation’s premier job – he’s not going anywhere? And why should he? Even before he got the name brand to go along with it, Calipari has always stockpiled talent like he’s preparing for the apocalypse. He took Memphis to the Final Four for crying out loud. Anybody heard of Memphis lately? Calipari has single-handedly transformed the landscape of college basketball. It’s like an arms race now, except UK is the USA – that’s trouble for everybody else. Each year, Calipari promises young high school kids an irresistible deal – come to one of the best college basketball programs in the land, play for the best fan base in the country, win a national championship and then ink your multi-million dollar deal in the NBA. Who would be dumb enough to turn that down? Not to mention, Coach Cal is a charismatic closer who connects with kids in this business – he knows what makes them tick…pop culture, fame, winning and money.

Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) AKA ‘The General’ – Coach K needs no introduction. He’s built a program into national prominence, so much so, that Duke basketball has become synonymous with college hoops excellence. They are the standard. Year in. Year out. Coach K is the reason why. Schooled by Bob Knight in his time at Army, Coach K learned how to run a tight ship. He’s demanding. He controls Cameron Indoor – his players, his staff, his fans and some would say, even the officials, with a strategic whip. Each game, he enters the arena with a brisk, methodical march that indicates he’s ready for battle. But in the process, he has earned the respect of his peers and players. He accepts only one thing – winning. Losing is not an option. You do as he says. His players have no problem following his orders. Why? They want to win too. They know K prepares his troops for battle better than anybody. Yes, K has changed a bit – he’s started to adopt Coach Cal’s ‘one-and-done’ model. He’s even been using a lot more zone defense. I know these things must have pained him. But if the rules change to the game, you have to adapt to win. K loves to win.

Tom Izzo (MSU) AKA ‘The Boxer’ – Izzo’s like Rocky. Everybody seems to love the guy for his big heart and his relentless fighting spirit. He doesn’t have the talent like most of his competitors, but yet he finds a way to squeeze the most out of what he’s got. That’s admirable. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always pulled for Izzo. The true underdog that really shouldn’t ever be an underdog in the first place. Izzo sports a remarkable 13-9 record in the NCAA Tournament with the lower seeded team – that’s a record. It’s hard to quantify the intangibles. Izzo’s teams always have plenty of that – heart, pride and toughness in spades. Sometimes, I feel like Izzo could coach anybody, and I mean anybody to the Final Four. He makes young men believe. Truly believe. That’s half the battle right there. I had a coach who told me competition is 80% mental and just 20% talent. Izzo no doubt prescribes to that doctrine. Backed into the corner with his kids? No problem. That’s where they like it. Izzo and company will come out swinging, and you can bet they’ll get their money’s worth this weekend.

So this year, the Final Four has gone to the coaches starring in a stirring sequel to “The Breakfast Club”. I’m not complaining. I can hear the iconic ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ running through my head now. Enjoy it. In an age of college basketball dominated by ‘one-and-dones’ and NBA talk, it’s refreshing to see it’s the coaches – a teacher, a recruiter, a boxer and a general – who’ll take center stage again.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattdoakes

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Oakes’ Outlook: March Madness Dreaming

March. In like a lion out like a lamb. So they say, at least. And with the ushering in of spring, there’s rebirth, new life.

Much the same can be said for the the NCAA Tournament that’s become synonymous with the month of March. The parallels are eerie.

Everybody likes their chances right now. From mighty Kentucky to driven Davidson, all harbor hope. All have life.

Whether we fully comprehend it or not, maybe this optimism comes from the melting snow, the sun’s radiance kissing a frozen landscape? Fresh shoots, young blooms. Ah, we rejoice in the rejuvenating nature of spring that accompanies Selection Sunday each year.

In essence, a la March, within the confines of these brackets, everybody’s a lion, stalking prey. Kings of the jungle, soaking up the regal position on the sport’s ultimate pedestal. Eyes still firmly on the prize.

After all, the hearts and minds of the nation will be wrapped up in a frenzy of hoops action. Did you really go with all four No. 1 seeds? Doesn’t Gonzaga always lose early? You mean you picked WHO to the Elite Eight!!??!? Robert Morris? These questions become commonplace within the walls of office buildings, locker rooms of country clubs and around family dinner tables.

Live it up, Dukies! Party on, Wahoos! Bottoms up, Wolfpack! Cheers, Carolina! March Madness – there’s nothing like it in sports.

But alas, ‘nothing gold can stay’, right, Robert Frost? These lions are about to be dethroned. Remember, out like a lamb? And yessir, one-by-one, we’ll add another lamb unwillingly to the herd. In this kingdom, there’s room for only one to truly roar come April.

QUICK PICKS:

ACC OUTLOOK – No. 1 Duke (Final Four) / No. 2 Virginia (Elite Eight) / No. 3 Notre Dame (Elite Eight) / No. 4 North Carolina (Sweet Sixteen) / No. 4 Louisville (Sweet Sixteen) / No. 8 NC State (Rd. of 32)

FINAL FOUR – Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, Villanova

CHAMPION – Kentucky

For every school lucky enough to dance this time of year, the dream lives on. For most, it’s a fleeting visage. For others, it’s a captivating all-nighter. The goal? To make that dream a reality.

Sadly for most, the ‘cutting down the nets’ scene never comes to pass. But that’s secondary. It’s the dream-maker who’s most appreciated. The fact that we are even inspired to dream at all is worth the price of admission.

So thank you, March, for allowing these rapturous thoughts to race through our minds that for a select few, transform into indelible, tangible memories.

Follow me on Twitter @mattdoakes

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Oakes’ Outlook: Heating Up In Greensboro


Oakes’ Outlook: Heating Up In Greensboro

By Matt Oakes


It was quarterfinal Thursday. All the big boys (top 4 seeds) were in action with a spot in the primetime semifinals Friday night on the line. Would any of the top dogs be knocked off their pedestal? Plenty of intrigue always awaits. We’re heating up at the ACC Tourney! Who survived the pressure cooker?

TEAM OF THE DAY: Duke. Complete and utter dominance. The Blue Devils took the Wolfpack to the woodshed and are clearly the team to beat. Enough said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Look over your shoulder the rest of the friggin’ night, okay. Let’s understand that. So if we shoot a poor percentage tomorrow your butt better not come in here.” – Roy Williams sounding off at a reporter’s attempt to jinx his team’s good shooting

QUARTERFINAL 1: No. 9 FSU vs. No. 1 UVA

The Cavaliers stamped their authority early, jumping out to a 7-0 lead and forcing Leonard Hamilton’s hand with a quick timeout. The Coliseum was more than speckled with a little orange – it was littered with Wahoo fans armed with rested lungs.

But the real story of this game was the anticipated return of Justin Anderson from injury. He didn’t start, but when he finally got into the game, he was met with a standing ovation from the Virginia faithful. Although I didn’t stand with them, boy, it’s nice to see Anderson back playing basketball.



We also quickly discovered why Tony Bennett was named ACC Coach of the Year. He figured out missing shots was no good. And therefore, his Cavaliers promptly knocked down their first six shots. The Seminoles weren’t on the same page, however, struggling to find the basket and what’s more, couldn’t buy and offensive rebound. That hurts.

At the half, FSU was doubled up by UVA, 34-17.

Virginia’s Darion Atkins went down with some sort of leg injury early in the second half. It was a scare for sure, but after a quick respite in the locker room, Atkins was back on the UVA bench.

Meanwhile, the pace of play was grinding to a near standstill. So many timeouts. So many stoppages of play. But on a positive note, some good music was pumping through the Coliseum sound system.

FSU parted the waters so bad on a Cavalier drive to the basket that I almost lost my lunch. Thankfully, I didn’t. But it was a close call. That kind of Ole! defense isn’t in Virginia’s DNA though.

The referees grew some moans of disapproval from the UVA fans. I must say, a couple no-calls on Seminole players seemed to be questionable at best. And I’m not sure official Jamie Luckie knows a travel is not an offensive foul. But nevertheless, FSU cut the deficit down to five points at 39-34 with 9:455 to play. It was a new ballgame, folks!

And nobody knew that better than Leonard Hamilton. So much for his trademark composure. He came out of his shell down the stretch, barking out orders and giving an earful to officials and players alike.

Back and forth down the stretch they came. Both squads were suddenly coming up with enormous shots, trading blows. And would you believe it? With just under six minutes to play, Leonard Hamilton took it too far. The pinstripes got back at him with a technical foul. Can you say game changer?

But ultimately, with the help of a couple clutch makes by Malcolm Brogdon and steady free throw shooting to boot, the Cavaliers put away the Seminoles and booked their spot in Friday’s semifinals.

QUARTERFINAL 2: No. 5 UNC vs. No. 4 Louisville

The offenses wasted no time getting going. Just five minutes in, it was a 9-all tie. Marcus Paige opened proceedings with a three-pointer. Montrezl Harrell was doing his thing inside. JP Tokoto was out of control, settling for jumpers. Not his game.

WAY more toughness was being displayed by the Cardinals. Getting second, third and fourth chance opportunities helps out.

The Louisville dance team threw the gauntlet down as well. They went ALL OUT. No joke. They left the Greensboro Coliseum stunned and may have just created a blossoming rivalry in the ACC – the FSU Golden Girls vs. the Louisville Dance Team. Stay tuned.

Pitino faced off with Roy in an outstanding coaching matchup (Todd Melet)

Pitino faced off with Roy in an outstanding coaching matchup (Todd Melet)

As for UNC, they went stone cold. A six-minute long drought. Ouch. But a Joel Berry three certainly helped make things feel a little better – for the crowd, too, who was mostly wearing Carolina blue.

But it wasn’t enough for Roy. The jacket was off at the 7:34 mark with his Tar Heels down six.

The Tar Heels had clouded vision of offense. Doubt. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were operating with 20/20 vision – drive to the basket. Confidence.

A nasty ‘shake and bake’ cooked up by Louisville’s Terry Rozier helped earn the Cardinals the 37-32 halftime lead.

Out of the locker room. UNC three. Carolina steal. Brice Johnson dunk. Roar. Rick Pitino timeout. Game tied at 37-all.

The highlight came when Harrell nearly jumped out of the gym to jam one home. Man, that dude can elevate. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels continued to plug away. Paige hit a nasty three right in front of me.

Nothing was separating these two teams for the third game this season. Brice Johnson was putting together a productive half of basketball for UNC, keeping his team in touch with the anticipation and intensity building in the Coliseum.

Harrell continued to fly, and I mean FLY, around the floor down the stretch. He’s a freak of nature. He makes the Cards go. Emotional intensity and physical prowess. Deadly combo.

QUARTERFINAL 3: No. 8 NC State vs. No. 2 Duke

Something big was coming. There was a buzz in the air. Like a prize fight. The build-up is half the fun. There was no doubt Duke vs. N.C. State was the main event Thursday in the Coliseum.

But sometimes, the show doesn’t live up to the hype. This one was a prime example. It was a dud. A stinker. A good memory if you’re a Duke fan. An awful nightmare if you’re a State fan.



Duke shot out of the gates in a hurry, using smart defense and overwhelmingly sharp offense to claim a 26-11 lead with 9:48 to play in the opening half.

Jahlil Okafor was able to rest comfortably on the bench for long stretches. That was scary. Justice Winslow joined him as well. Their services weren’t necessary as Grayson Allen, Quinn Cook and company were doing the deed themselves.

The ‘amoeba zone’ of Duke was frustrating the Wolfpack. In particular, it seemed Cat Barber was completely befuddled. Coach K had not forgotten the loss put on the Devils by NC State earlier in January. I don’t think he forgot about the butt slap either. This was war.

Heck, we even witnessed the ‘Plumlee Air Show’. It was a surprising addition to the night’s events, but it was that kind of night for the men in dark blue.

Mercifully, the halftime buzzer did finally come. The damage, and it was catastrophic, was done. In a dominating performance that took your breath away at times, Duke amassed a 49-22 lead.

I won’t bore you with the second half details. I’ll be honest. I zoned out. Game over. Duke moves on and oh by the way, looks like a legitimate national title contender.

Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3

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Oakes’ Outlook: Greensboro Games

It’s that time of the year. A return to Tournament Town. My drive down I-40 was met with springtime sunshine filtering through a thin layer of wispy clouds. I pumped out some country songs on the local radio station.

Driving past Stamey’s BBQ and the Natty Greene’s beer garden across the street, I knew I was in the right place.

I pulled into the Coliseum parking lot and was greeted with a live golden oldies concert in full swing on the Fan Fest stage. Fans decked out in red, garnet, orange and Carolina blue bustled about. This was 11 a.m. mind you. Anticipation was in the air. Everything felt right.

Perhaps its the purist in me, but it’s too bad the Tournament will depart for its northern tour next year. Sweet tea. Hospitality. Warm weather. This is ACC country. The Barclays Center in New York? Eh. Not so much.

So I’ll try to savor my time down south even more this year. We won’t get another southern swing until 2019 in Charlotte and 2020 back here in Greensboro.

But the spotlight should be on the hoops. That’s why we’re all here after all. Four big-time contests in the nation’s premier college basketball conference are on tap. For four teams, their stay in Greensboro ends. But for four lucky ones, the journey continues.

TEAM OF THE DAY: North Carolina. Paige seems healthy. Tokoto is dialed in on defense. The Heels look formidable. Of course, that could all change in a hurry tomorrow.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.” – FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton. Well said, Coach. Well said.

GAME ONE: No. 9 FSU vs. No. 8 Clemson (12 p.m. tip)

First of all, let’s get this straight FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton is the definition of cool. You can’t outcool the King of Cool. He stands on the sidelines, expressionless, one hand in pocket. Sometimes, I wonder what he’s thinking. ‘What am I going to have for dinner? How did we turn the ball over there? I swear, if I have to say something to one of my guys…’

We may never know…but the action on the hardwood was heating up to keep me distracted any way. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who scored like 30 points in four minutes a few weeks back, was back to his usual tricks, bursting out of the gate for nine points in the first nine minutes.

Another storied ACC tradition continued with a strange twist. The world-famous FSU Golden Girls returned to the Coliseum floor…WITH PANTS. Many folks in attendance were severely disappointed.

Clemson, meanwhile, struggled to find any semblance of an offense for large stretches of the fist half, but as it turned it, only trailed by a mere seven points at the half.

Out of the locker room, it was the FSU perimeter shooting that came to life, giving the Noles some separation from the Tigers at 44-33 with 15:28 to play.

In a touching timeout tribute, a military veteran and his family were recognized at midcourt. He received a standing ovation and then received keys to a new home. Pretty cool stuff!

Back to hoops. The game dragged on for well over two hours and twenty minutes. The last five minutes seemed to last for an eternity. No joke. Timeouts were pulled out of their holsters. The Seminoles, though, despite a serious effort down the stretch to do otherwise, were able to hang on and take the matinee opener, 76-73. XRM finished with 30 points.

GAME TWO: No. 5 UNC vs. No. 12 BC (2 p.m. tip…yeah, about that.)

A Marcus Paige three gave UNC its first lead. The crowd erupted.

The Tar Heels, getting offensive production early and often from a smorgasbord of players, set a quick tempo early on. That’s always to Carolina’s liking.

The Eagles were no doubt motivated to prove a point. They were riding a four-game winning streak into this one after all.

The all-important ‘points in the paint’ stat was dominated by UNC in the first half with a 20-8 edge.

In a surprising move, Stilman White was even thrown into the fray by Roy Williams, receiving his first meaningful minutes since…well…the Elite Eight a few years back.

Carolina got out in transition. That helped. The Tar Heels also fought relentlessly for second chance opportunities. They converted on a ton of them and were rewarded with a 43-30 halftime lead.

Out of the second half gates, Carolina continued to coast. Nate Britt showed comfort with his shot. Jackson Simmons contributed a beautiful ball screen. Roy continued to toy with his lineup.

The biggest surprise of the game was the relative silence of BC star Olivier Hanlan, at least for the majority of it. After dropping 25 points in the first round, the junior misfired a bit Wednesday, especially from behind the arc. A lot f that had to do with J.P. Tokoto’s fine defense.

Roy Williams called Tokoto the ‘riverboat gambler’ in his postgame press conference. Well, the gamble paid off on this day.

Follow me on Twitter @moakes3

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Oakes’ Outlook: Coming Alive Again

I like to write outside. It’s where I always think most clearly.

That’s one of the reasons this harsh N.C. winter has been so hard for me. I’ve been cooped up indoors. We all have. That may be “A-OK” for some, but not for me. I get stir crazy.

And that’s precisely why I jumped at the opportunity to soak up the sun in the outfield seating of Boshamer Stadium Wednesday afternoon. 72 degrees. Carolina blue skies. I’m all in.

I couldn’t make a beeline past the press box fast enough. A place in the grandstand seating was calling me.

I settled into a seat halfway up the bleachers just past the third base line, stretched out my legs and basked in all the day’s glory. It’s the simple things, right?

I guess you can call me a “sun worshipper.” Yes, I believe in God and all that, but few things make me feel more alive than a summer evening cookout, a Sunday morning jog on the beach, a stroll around the golf course, or a fall college football tailgate. Pretty much anything done outside on a gorgeous day is an irresistible proposition.

sun

But that goes for my work as well. When I was in school, you could often find me perched atop our fraternity’s front bench at 207 West Cameron, flipping through notes, sending out emails or typing up my latest opinion piece for The Daily Tar Heel.

Some days, some of my brothers would leave, go to class, and return hours later only to find me still manning my post outside.

They’d say, “Oakes, you’re still out here?” I’d reply with a smile, “Of course, no place I’d rather be. What a beautiful day.” Really, inside, I was thinking, “Why aren’t you out here? You’re blowing it!”

Don’t get me wrong, I was getting stuff done. Checks on the checklist. Somehow, even the most dense, mundane reading or burdensome assignment becomes enjoyable on a sun-soaked April day.

I still carry on that affinity for the outdoors. Whenever the chance presents itself, I’ll hold team meetings outside our WCHL/Chapelboro studio. Out at the picnic tables. It’s more relaxing. I think my staff enjoys it too. I hope so. Some people, I suppose, could say they get distracted. But I get more creative. That’s good for the majority of my work.

I come up with some of my most cohesive ideas and full-proof plans along the American Tobacco Trail. Those jogs clear my mind and fuel it at the same time (if that’s even possible). But they do. Peaceful and productive – I like that combo.

Feeling the refreshing breeze while gazing up at the puffy white clouds? My oh my. That’s my kind of office.

I know: I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to indulge in my “sun worshipping.” A good chunk of the sports world revolves around the sun. I’m thankful. In fact, when I get a little more advanced in age, I may just move to the Caribbean and open up a snorkeling business. How does that sound? It’s not off the table, folks!

Photo courtesy of tarheelathletichospitality.com

Photo courtesy of tarheelathletichospitality.com

Oh, what a glorious afternoon it was at the Bosh. Rich, green grass. Country songs blaring. Sunflower seeds scattering in the wind. The crack (well, technically, the ping) of an occasional bat. Families with popcorn and hot dogs. Kiddos scampering for foul balls. Light, warm applause.

By the way, the Tar Heels beat the VCU Rams 6-5 in a riveting midweek contest that went right down to the ninth inning.

But the baseball comes secondary. It’s about the experience. Coming alive again. Springtime, long-lost friend, it’s good to see you.

Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3

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