CHARLOTTE — Saturday a woman in a Bark for Sark T-shirt ambled into a downtown Charlotte pizzeria.
North Carolina fans sat at a table. Some others in Michigan gear flanked them next to a posse donning Duke labeled scivvies. That Washington fan is a lonely person here in the new, progressive south as Charlotte labels itself throughout the city.
Heck, even Duke is on North Carolinas side. When asked for a quick scout of the Tar Heels, Duke All-American candidate Nolan Smith giggled and deferred.
Im not going to give any tips, Smith said. North Carolina Im on their side.
So will the majority of the crowd midday Sunday when the Huskies play the Heels. Chapel Hill, NC, is just two hours up the road. Friday there were more North Carolina fans in the building than Duke fans.
The proximity of placement for North Carolina is no sin. Its the way the tournament operates since accounting was taken more into consideration. Someone has to travel, thats just the reality. In 2009, Washington played in Portland. It also lost in the second round despite a decided crowd advantage. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams repeated himself Saturday on the topic.
I still never been beaten by a building, Williams said. I use this example: in ’95, everybody was saying, “Boy, if we get past the first two rounds,” I was coaching at Kansas and say the regionals in Kansas City, we’ll be great. We made it past the first two rounds, we got to Kansas, got our butt beat really quickly because it is the other team.
I think the game will be decided by the players, not the fans. If it was, I’d buy all the tickets I could buy and make sure all my buddies got in, if that was going to make a determining factor.
The flip-side for Washington is the likelihood of Duke fans in the building waiting for its game, and the possibility of Michigan fans also waiting, to jump behind the Huskies. Thats typically how it works for the underdog in the regionals. As much as the geography works against Washington, thats one of the curious benefits.
When presented with this scenario, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who was jovial throughout his press conference, became direct.
Huskies point guard Isaiah Thomas has manged to twist this into an us-against-the-world approach, as he is wont to do. Thomas smiled when asked about the perceived homecourt advantage for North Carolina. Maybe its not perception since the Tar Heels are 28-1 overall in tournament games played in North Carolina, including winning 24 consecutive.
I love it. I mean, our backs are up against the wall,” Thomas said. “We have very few fans here. Feels like everybody is against us like it’s been the whole season. So it’s nothing new. We know it’s going to be a lot of baby blue in the crowd. We’re ready for it. It’s the NCAA Tournament. You have no excuses.
Like I said before, I can play in my home town and we can end up losing. You got to be the more mature team and really, really fight through adversity because there’s going to be a lot in games like this.
Charlotte is labeled a city of few homegrown residents. Many of the people here have trickled down from the Northeast in pursuit of jobs in the banking industry, warmer weather or both. Even North Carolina star freshman Harrison Barnes dismissed the circumstance.
Being able to play in Charlotte will help us a little bit because we have a nice fan base, Barnes said. They have fans here, too, so it will be kind of like a neutral site.
Too much is being made of the site. The Huskies arrived on the East Coast Tuesday. Internal clocks are set for the early tip. Fans in the NCAA Tournament have reduced influence because of the size of venues.
I think were playing pretty good basketball, and I think were playing it at the right time, Romar said. Well see what happens Sunday.
Whatever it is, the crowd will have little influence.