The window of opportunity is closing fast. Beat up on North Carolina? Not in this time warp.
All the speculation that the Tar Heels would take their lumps this season is proving to be nothing more than wishful thinking. They're 6-1 going into tomorrow night's game against Dartmouth, and it has not been against a patsy schedule filled with, well, Dartmouths.
They have wins over Vanderbilt and Stanford and Georgia. Their only loss was a two-pointer to Villanova.
Carolina lost Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace to the NBA, and just like that found itself picked fourth in the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference media poll. Time warp? The last time the Heels finished worse than third was 1965.
They started the season ranked 20th in the AP poll. Four weeks later, they're up to No. 10. What's intriguing is the way they're winning. Carolina has three freshmen and only one senior in its top seven. And it uses a lot of 1-3-1 zone defense.
But the bottom line looks very familiar. The Heels are tough on defense, holding the opposition to 39 percent shooting. They're patient on offense, hitting 49.6 percent. They have strong veteran leadership in point guard Jeff McInnis (18 ppg, 6.7 assists) and small forward Dante Calabria (16.4 ppg, 22 for 44 from the arc). And they have 7-foot-2 Serge Zwikker as the last line of defense.
When Carolina barely held off Richmond, 83-76, last month, a distraught Calabria -- the lone senior -- said he considered it almost like a loss. Coincidence or not, Carolina won the next three games by 18, 24 and 11 points.
It's obvious the Heels can hardly afford a major injury. At some point, Antawn Jamison (14.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 62 percent shooting), Ademola Okalaja (6.7 ppg) and Vince Carter (9.3 ppg) probably will look more like the freshmen they are.
But this is still Carolina and it's still Dean Smith (he's 40 wins behind Adolph Rupp's all-time record of 876). Smith's teams have won at least 21 games each of the past 25 seasons.
In a year when the Atlantic Coast Conference appears more balanced than ever, it would be rich irony if a "down" Carolina team turned out to be the winner.
Filling the (Dollar) bill
If there was any question how important Cameron Dollar is to UCLA, it was answered in Saturday's 73-63 win over Maryland in the Wooden Classic.
Playing essentially with three fingers on each hand because of painful injuries, Dollar had to bail out Toby Bailey at point guard in the final 12 minutes against Maryland's pressure defense. His "save" came at a time when coach Jim Harrick wanted to hold Dollar out for the Pac-10 season.
"I use my hands on defense more than anybody else in the country," Dollar said. "I like to hand-check, push you off a little. This hinders my whole game."
Against Maryland, Dollar had a strange line: seven rebounds, four fouls, one point, one assist and three turnovers. Yet his presence steadied the Bruins down the stretch.
Dollar will try to help UCLA beat Maryland one more time yet. While playing one season at St. John's Prospect Hall in Frederick, he lived with several teammates in coach Stu Vetter's huge house. Among those teammates was Nate James, now a senior at St. John's who is ranked by talent evaluator Bob Gibbons as 30th best prep player in the country.
UCLA has made James a high recruiting priority, and is RTC competing against Maryland, Duke and Syracuse.
James had a chance to see Dollar last weekend when St. John's played in the Nike Extravaganza in Irvine, Calif. The team practiced at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.
John Wooden, winner of 10 NCAA titles at UCLA, does not care for the histrionics he sees in today's game.
"TV has made a significant change in the game," the retired coach said. "It's made actors out of players, coaches and officials. There's far more showmanship than there used to be. If I wanted showmanship, I'd go see the Globetrotters."
They said it
* Florida State coach Pat Kennedy after a brutal 79-61 loss to UConn: "They beat us every which way you can get beat. I just can't remember us playing that horribly. We had a bunch of individuals show up and the team went somewhere else."
* UMass coach John Calipari on former Dunbar star Donta Bright: "Donta Bright is the best finisher in the country. You saw that [in a 65-57 win over Boston College last week]. He may be the worst starter, and I don't mean starting games, but starting plays. Finishing plays, there's no one better."