It's hard to rob any of the sweet out of yesterday for the UM basketball team. Ringed by a stadium of hostile UNC fans in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Hurricanes knocked off the Tar Heels 87-77 in the ACC tournament championship -- UM's first time hoisting the trophy.
It's the first time the ACC regular season and tournament champion has failed to grab a number-one spot. Selection Sunday was also the latest example of the college hoops establishment's reluctance to hand the Hurricanes the respect they deserve.
There's a lot behind that. Largely thanks to their '80s gridiron swag, UM is a program other fans love to hate. Also, they've never really done anything notable on the basketball court before. Plus, fighting in the ACC, they've historically been under the sneakers of the big-name, white-knight programs -- Duke, UNC, N.C. State, Maryland, etc. This season, the Hurricanes have dropped a few to less talented teams and also eked out victories by the thinnest of margins.
But we think the main source for that respect deficiency is best summed up from a report we heard from a friend in Atlanta. He told us a few weeks back that some squawkbox on a popular drive-time sports frequency was bitching about how the Hurricanes shouldn't even be ranked in AP polls this season due to... bingo, the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
That smear is going to be stuck to UM's athletic program moving ahead, and it's the uphill climb that coach Jim Larranaga's likable squad of workhorses has fought to overcome -- the real question is whether the NCAA will let them.
Since the scandal broke in August 2011, there's been a cold war between UM and the governing body. That brewed over into the public sector in February when UM President Donna Shalala released a statement saying the university had "been wronged in this investigation."
UM did get a bad deal when the NCAA's investigators began poking around the school. But Shalala's response to the investigation is a pretty incredible move. Usually, when a program is strip-searched by the NCAA, the administration stays mum, cuts a deal sparring the school, and pins the blame to a few coaches. The president of the university does not cry foul and blast back. By doing so, Shalala has drawn a serious line in the ground against the NCAA.
And the NCAA being the NCAA, that means any UM program that becomes a standout isn't going to do so with any help from the NCAA. We're not pushing conspiracy theories here, just saying that UM has been wearing the villain costume for the past two years, and it's probably contributed to a lot of the shade thrown at what the Canes have accomplished this season in basketball.
That said, one of the great things about Larranaga as a coach is that he sails above all this, seemingly scrubbing it from his mind and keeping his players focused on the game and having fun. Just for reference, here's a video of the speech he gave the Hurricanes before the Selection Sunday announcements. It gets right to the feel-good gooey center of why this team excels.
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