My Final Four thoughts (sorry, Boss)

The boss was in a better mood Monday than he might have otherwise been.  The boss – Les High – bleeds Carolina Blue, perhaps not quite as profusely as your Bill Gores or your Guy Longs or even your Donald Ray Basses but, make no mistake about it, the boss bleeds Carolina Blue!

When Luke Maye scored for the UNC Tar Heels Sunday with 0.3 seconds left on the clock to give North Carolina a 75-73 win over the University of Kentucky, he not only propelled UNC to a 20th trip to the NCAA men’s Division 1 basketball Final Four (three more than any other school in history) and a chance at a sixth national championship (the Heels, like Duke, have won the Big Dance five times), he also insured that the boss was in a better mood at our staff meeting Monday than he would have been in had Kentucky won.

The boss wouldn’t have been hateful at our staff meeting if Carolina had lost, and he wouldn’t have been anything but professional. But my guess is that he would have been a just tad bit surly.

I didn’t really have a dog in the fight that was this year’s 68-team NCAA Men’s Basketball March Madness. That’s because I’m a long-suffering N.C. State fan. However, I’m not one of those State followers who blindly hate the Tar Heels and the Dookies; instead, unless they’re playing against each other, I always pull for teams from the “Old ACC’s” Big Four – UNC, Duke, State and Wake Forest. If one is playing another from that group and neither of them is State, then I usually don’t care a great deal about the outcome. I watch with interest, but I don’t have an ox getting gored in such contests.

I’m also a Clemson fan, something that developed when I lived in the Palmetto State several decades ago. Talk about long-suffering when it comes to basketball! While my N.C. State Wolfpack has won seven ACC regular season championships, ten conference tournaments and (ahem) two national titles, the Clemson Tiger basketball team has never won an ACC tournament and only one regular season title, way back in 1990.

Now, before any Carolina or Duke partisans write in to complain that I was writing about State’s relatively fewer national and conference titles than UNC and Duke, let me hasten to acknowledge and cheer Carolina’s 31 regular season conference championships, 18 ACC tournament titles and five national championships, as well as Duke’s 20 conference tournament wins, 19 regular season titles and five national championships.

But I digress…

Crossing back over the state line, the rivalry (read that “hatred”) between Clemson and the University of South Carolina is more intense (or at least as intense, anyway) as anything UNC-Duke, N.C. State-UNC or Duke-State can offer. Admittedly, their rivalry is more on the gridiron than on the basketball court. Let’s face it: the South Carolina universities are mostly known as football schools, while their North Carolina counterparts are more renown as basketball schools. Clemson fan that I am, though, even despite the white-hot rivalry between Clemson and USC, I’ve been pulling for the Gamecocks in this year’s basketball Cinderella story.

And while South Carolina colleges are known more for their football accomplishments than their achievements in other sports, what a run the Palmetto State is having when it comes to recent performances across all major sports and across conferences.

It began last summer when the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers baseball team, who play out of Conway, S.C., a mere hour or so’s drive away from most of Columbus County, made a magical run through the postseason and won a College World Series title in their first trip to the big baseball tournament. They were not seeded, and they didn’t host any postseason games, but they still managed to make it to, and win, a national championship series. (Forgive me for bringing up N.C. State again, but Chants’ run to the national baseball title reminded me a lot of the fantasy trip made by the late Jimmy V. and the Wolfpack enroute to the NCAA national basketball championship in 1983.)

Then, just a few months after Coastal’s improbable national baseball title, Clemson University won the 2016 national football championship by beating Alabama, considered by most until then to be the best team in college football. (It was the Tigers’ second national gridiron championship, the first coming in 1981.)

So … the state of South Carolina is on a bit of a national roll in the three major men’s college sports. After Palmetto State schools’ having won consecutive national baseball and football championships, wouldn’t it be something if they also followed those with a national basketball title?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be pulling for North Carolina over Oregon Saturday in the national semifinals, and I’ll be pulling for South Carolina over Gonzaga (like USC making their first ever Final Four appearance) in that semi-final. If both Gonzaga and Oregon win Saturday, then I’ll watch the national championship game Monday, but without really caring who wins.

If Gonzaga whips South Carolina and goes on to face North Carolina Monday, it goes without saying that I’ll be pulling for the Tar Heels.

If, heaven forbid, Oregon bests the Tar Heels Saturday and meets South Carolina for the championship, then I’ll be rooting for the Gamecocks.

But if, as I hope, it’s North Carolina vs. South Carolina in Monday’s national championship game, then as incongruous as this might sound, I’ll be happy about the outcome, whatever it might be.

I can’t lose.

If the Heels win over the Gamecocks, I’ll be figuratively dancing with ‘em in spirit on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill after the game.

In my heart of hearts, though, if it’s a two Carolinas championship game, I’ll be pulling for South Carolina to win their first national title and continue the Palmetto State’s stretch of consecutive national championships.

Just don’t tell the boss. Please don’t tell the boss.