Shanoff's W.U.C.: UNC, Hansbrough in Must Win

Today's Calls: UNC vs. Michigan State, Tyler Hansbrough vs. History, MLB Opening Day vs. the Weather, Red Sox vs. Rays, Jordan Schafer vs. A-Rod, UConn vs. Louisville, Will Bynum vs. AI and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: Win or bust. Those are the stakes for North Carolina and Tyler Hansbrough tonight. ↵

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↵Anything less than a national championship ends UNC's season in failure. Does it end Hansbrough's career in failure, too? ↵

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↵If you judge the greatest players — and Psycho T is on the short list — resumes are incomplete without a national title. If UNC loses tonight, Hansbrough goes down as this generation's Ralph Sampson — entirely dominant, but not a champion. ↵

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↵But if UNC wins tonight, Hansbrough takes his rightful place among the best college players of the modern era: Christian Laettner, Carmelo Anthony and Hansbrough. Probably a few others, but the point is that it's a very short list. ↵

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↵Getting to the national-title game — a first for the Heels in the Hansbrough Era — just isn't enough. That puts the "must" in "must-win." ↵

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↵So is this UNC 2005 or Kentucky 1998? With the way Michigan State has played the past two games — against teams every bit as good as UNC — it would be crazy to count them out. (Picking MSU to beat UConn on Friday was my best — heck: only — right-on prediction of the Tournament.) ↵

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↵I am rooting for Michigan State — when was the last time a No. 2 seed qualified as a Cinderella story? But the preseason pollsters, the President and a plurality of fans were right when they picked UNC to sweep the bracket: ↵UNC as champs. Hansbrough as validated. ↵

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↵Rematch of Dec. 3 blowout: UNC clobbered Michigan State by 35 back in early December on this very Ford Field court. But as Mike DeCourcy points out, these teams aren't the same as they were then. For starters, March hero Goran Suton didn't play for the Spartans. For another, Michigan State wasn't on nearly the roll they’re on now. ↵

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↵Big East's lament: The league — formerly thought of as arguably the toughest conference ever — went from five teams in the Elite Eight to zero teams playing for the national title, with UConn humiliated and Villanova routed. Kudos to the Big Ten on shutting up the critics ... including me. ↵

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↵(But let's not overdo this: Just because one team in a league makes the national-title game doesn't mean the entire league is strong. You didn't see anyone claiming that C-USA was some kind of underrated conference just because Memphis made the title game last year.) ↵

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↵Women's Tournament: Courtney Paris owes the University of Oklahoma nearly $70,000, to make good on her promise that if OU didn't win the national title, she would pay back her scholarship. Was that what her team was thinking about when they let Louisville back into a game that OU had complete control over, ultimately letting the Cards win? ↵

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↵That sets up the first all-Big East final in the history of the women's tournament — unbeaten UConn rolled over Stanford, and the Huskies should do the same to Louisville when they play tomorrow night. Up next for UConn: History. Anytime a team finishes a season unbeaten, you should be considered for your placement on the list of greatest teams ever. ↵

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↵MLB Opening Day! The headliner of a loaded schedule comes early, when the Red Sox host the Rays in an early afternoon start, a rematch of last season's ALCS — and a quick reminder that every game will count between the A.L. East's "Big Three." ↵

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↵Meanwhile, there are fears that the bad economy may be MLB's top story line of the season, but I wouldn't judge things based on what should be stout Opening Day attendance — although if folks won't show up today, it's an ominous sign. ↵

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↵Opening Night: Defending champs lose. And Derek Lowe looked really good for Atlanta, allowing only 2 hits and 0 ER in 8 IP. After one game, he is the Free Agent Pick-Up of the Year! (OK, it's just one game.) ↵

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↵Fantasy Stud: Jordan Schafer wins the Tuffy Rhodes Award for hitting a HR in his first MLB at-bat. Not many folks own him in fantasy leagues — that should change quickly. (Who says HGH doesn't help?) ↵

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↵A-Rod Watch: Back in late April? This whole surgery thing is going to be so much less of a "thing" than everyone thought. Who was arguing "postpone surgery" again? ↵

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↵NBA Instant History: Worried about the Cavs' mini-slump heading into the weekend? Don't be. Despite taking a worst-beating-of-the-season from the Magic in Orlando, the Cavs showed why all they need is home-court advantage to maintain control of their destiny. ... Milestones: Jason Kidd 3rd all-time in assists. ... Fantasy Playoffs Stud: Anyone start Will Bynum? He had 26 — in the 4th quarter alone. Who needs AI? ↵

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↵NFL Draft: Lions trying to trade out of No. 1 spot? I don't blame them — Matthew Stafford isn't worth the ransom they will pay to take him at the No. 1 spot, and no other player seems worth the investment there, either. Interesting: If Stafford is so good, why aren't other teams clamoring to move up to get him? ↵

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↵The Last Word: I never thought I could fill out a bracket this bad. Heading into tonight's game, I am in the 12th percentile — as in: 88 percent of the brackets filled out are more accurate than mine. If UNC wins, it could dip into the single-digits. ↵

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↵Barack Obama is in much better shape: He cracked the top third. And with UNC as his pick to win it all, he could see a last-chance surge into respectability. ↵

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↵We would have been both better off simply following the "National Bracket," the aggregate of all brackets in the country — it is currently out-performing 80 percent of all individual brackets ... and, naturally, has UNC winning it all. ↵

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↵Next year, I'm going with the National Bracket. I am a hazard to myself, obviously. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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